Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Word became flesh (J. Barry Vaughn, Dec. 30, 2012)

John tells us that “The Word became flesh…” It is a statement that we hear every Christmas. It is especially well liked by Episcopalian clergy, because (as we are often told) the Anglican tradition is incarnational.


But I’d like to step back and look at this idea of “incarnation.” The root Carneus means “of the flesh” or even “not spiritual.” It’s also the root of our word “carnival.” I’m sure you know this but “carnival” is a compound of two words that literally mean “farewell to meat” because carnival immediately precedes Lent and the beginning of the Lenten fast.


But let’s put the idea of incarnation into simpler terms. “The Word became flesh…”


What do you do when you are trying to communicate a difficult and complicated concept to a child? You look for a simple illustration.


In a sense, the incarnation is God’s illustration. God had filled an enormous book with words. It’s a wonderful book, and if you want to know about God, you can hardly do better than read the Old Testament. But words only take us so far.


It’s as though God said, “I give up! I’ve been talking myself hoarse for centuries. I talked to Moses and David and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Amos, and you still don’t get it. Well, allow me to illustrate…”


And the Word… the WORDS of God… became flesh.


The abstract became concrete


The distant drew close


The invisible became visible


The intangible reached out and grasped our hand


All the words that God had spoken… all the words the prophets spoke… all the commandments that Moses received on Sinai… they all took on flesh and blood.


Jesus embodies all of God’s words, God’s thoughts, God’s love. He is God’s living, breathing illustration.


Forgive this somewhat irreverent illustration, but think about incarnation in this way. The internet is a wonderful thing. I love being able to read The New York Times on my computer and Shakespeare’s plays on my Kindle. But it’s not the same thing as holding a copy of the Times or a leather-bound copy of Romeo and Juliet. And when you receive an important email, it’s not enough just to read it on your computer screen. So what do you do? You print it out. You make a “hard copy.”


In a sense, that’s what the incarnation is all about. Jesus is the “hard copy” of God’s message. He embodies God’s message.


The incarnation was a unique and unrepeatable event. But the principle, the idea of incarnation is all around us.


It’s all very well and good to write love letters to our sweetheart. At least, I hope that people still write love letters! But when we really want them to understand that we love them, we have to look them in the eye, take their hand, and put our arms around them.


English poet Richard Crashaw wrote,


“Welcome, all wonders in one sight !
Eternity shut in a span !

Summer in Winter, Day in Night !
Heaven in Earth, and God in man !

Great, little One ! whose all-embracing birth

Lifts Earth to Heaven, stoops Heaven to Earth !”


That’s what the incarnation means: In Jesus’ birth, God embraces us, literally wraps the divine arms around our humanity, blesses us in all our messy humanity—


Our flesh and blood


Our tears and fears


Our life and our death.


And God invites us to do the same, to be agents of the incarnation by extending its reach, to wrap our arms around those we love and those we don’t love… the whole and the broken… the sad and the happy… the cheerful and the fearful…

Oh, come let us adore him!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

On a day when men were numbered (J. Barry Vaughn, Dec. 24, 2012)


On Sept. 23, 63 BC, a son was born to a prominent Roman family.  They gave him the name Gaius, but when Julius Caesar adopted the young man, he took the name Octavian.  Elected consul in 43, the Roman senate gave him the title "Augustus" on Jan. 16, in the year 27 BC.


Sometime around 3 or 4 BC, the Gospel of Luke tells us that the divine Augustus ordered "that a census should be taken of the whole inhabited world." (Barclay's translation)


In the distant, backwater province of Judea, men and women descended on their ancestral homes.  Hundreds streamed into Bethlehem, a small, dusty village about 5 miles south of Jerusalem.  Among them were a peasant couple from another dusty village, Nazareth, up north, in the Galilee.  Their names were Yosef and Miriam, or as they have been anglicized, Joseph and Mary.  And again Luke tells us that while they were in Bethlehem, Mary went into labor and their first child, a son, was born.  They named him Yeshua, Joshua, Jesus, a Hebrew name meaning, "God saves".


Like hundreds of others in Bethlehem, Yosef registered himself and Miriam and Yeshua.  The minor Roman bureaucrat who wrote down their names and treated Yosef with the indifference or contempt that the conquerors feel toward the conquered.  Their names were scratched with quill pens on to papyrus, and the required number of copies were made.  Perhaps a copy was kept in the Roman headquarters in Caesarea Maritima, and perhaps another copy was sent to Rome.  However, it is unlikely that it ever came to the attention of the divine Augustus that a Jewish peasant named Yosef and his wife Miriam had a son named Yeshua.


Augustus presided over a period of extraordinary peace, the pax Romana.  An inscription dating from 7 BC states that "it is hard to say whether the birthday of the most divine Caesar is more joyful or more advantageous; we may rightly regard it as like the beginning of all things, if not in the world of nature, yet in advantage; everything was deteriorating and changing into misfortune, but he set it right and gave the whole world another appearance.... The birthday of the god was the beginning of the good news to the world on his account". (IDB, vol. 1, p. 319)


Then, on August 14, in the year 14 AD, something happened to the divine Augustus that is not supposed to happen to gods:  he died.  The Jewish infant, Yeshua, who had been registered in the Roman census in Bethlehem many years before, was now a young man nearly 20 years old. 


Augustus died; Yeshua, Jesus, lived.  He lived and taught and called men and women to follow him and learn from him and worked miracles and, of course, he ran afoul of the authorities, was arrested, given a mock trial, was crucified, and died... and rose again and lives... and lives... and lives.


About 30 years after Jesus died and rose again, an author we know as Mark wrote an account of the life of Jesus.  Perhaps echoing the inscription that honored the divine Augustus, Mark began his account of Jesus' life in this way:  "The beginning of the good news of Jesus the Messiah..."


One Roman emperor followed another and in the course of time, the rule of Rome fell to one Constantine.  Unlike his predecessor Augustus, Constantine did not accept divine honors.  Instead, he honored the divinity of the Jewish peasant Yeshua and accepted baptism in his name.


Constantine raised a great church in Bethlehem over the site of Yeshua's birth, and today a church still stands over the site of Constantine's basilica.


Several years ago the English author Malcolm Muggeridge visited the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  He was taken aback by the gaudy ornamentation that surrounds the crypt where the birth of Jesus is remembered.


"Who but a credulous fool could possibly suppose that the place marked in the crypt with a silver cross was veritably the precise spot where Jesus had been born?  The Holy Land, as it seemed to me, had been turned into a sort of Jesusland, on the lines of Disneyland.


"Everything in the crypt ‑‑ the garish hangings which covered the stone walls, the tawdry crucifixes and pictures and hanging lamps ‑‑ was conducive to such a mood... How foolish and inappropriate... to furbish up what purported to be Jesus's birthplace with stage effects decking out his bare manger to look like a junk‑shop crammed with discarded ecclesiastical bric‑a‑brac!"


Then Muggeridge began to notice the men and women who descended to the crypt and peered into the shrine where the birth of Jesus is commemorated.


"...each face as it came into view was in some degree transfigured by the experience of being in what purported to be the actual scene of Jesus's birth.  This, they all seemed to be saying, was where it happened; here he came into the world!  here we shall find him!  The boredom, the idle curiosity, the vagrant thinking all disappeared.  Once more in that place glory shone around, and angel voices proclaimed:  Unto you is born this day ... a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord!"  (Malcolm Muggeridge, Jesus, pp. 14‑15)


Even though we are in Birmingham, Alabama, and not in Bethlehem, we can, as the Bidding Prayer, said go "in heart and mind... even unto Bethlehem".  We can go because, unlike the divine Augustus, the divine Jesus lives.


His birth was a sharp, bright spark of light in the midst of darkest night.  It was a flame that has kindled other flames, spreading throughout Judea and Samaria, going on to Rome, and out to the ends of the world.  The light kindled by that birth in Bethlehem was "the light that enlightens every one".  "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it". (John 1.5, 9)


The inscription honoring the divine Augustus was wrong.  The birthday of Augustus is forgotten.  Augustus, the bureaucrats who administered his census, and the papyrus on which it was recorded all lie in the dust.  Jesus, though, who proclaimed that his kingdom was not of this world, rules in the hearts of men and women on every continent.  It is his birthday which "we may rightly regard as the beginning of all things... everything was deteriorating and changing into misfortune, but he set it right and gave the whole world another appearance.... [his] birthday ... was the beginning of the good news to the world ..." (IDB, vol. 1, p. 319)


Glory to God in the highest.  Amen.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

To Sing and Pray Magnificat (J. Barry Vaughn, Dec. 23, 2012)

One of the most interesting and important religious and cultural developments in 20th c America was the birth of the Pentecostal movement. In 1906 at a church on Azusa Street in Los Angeles, William Seymour, the son of former slaves, sparked a revival that resulted in the modern Pentecostal movement and the origin of denominations such as the Assemblies of God, the Church of God, and so on.


The Pentecostal movement was different from other Christian movements in several ways. First and most obviously, Pentecostals claim to exercise the so-called “gifts of the Spirit” mentioned in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, especially the gift of speaking in tongues. Second, the Azusa St movement and many of the groups that sprang from it ordain women and allow them to preach. Third, the movement began as an interracial movement. Not only was William Seymour black but his congregation had both black and white members.


Now, you must be wondering why I’m giving a church history lecture this morning. My point (and I do have one) is that Pentecostalism claims to trace its roots right back to the New Testament, and today’s gospel reading sheds some light on Pentecostalism.


The author we know as Luke not only wrote the third gospel, he also wrote a second volume – the Acts of the Apostles. Luke had a special interest in the Holy Spirit. Throughout both Luke’s Gospel and Acts, the Holy Spirit fills the hearts of believers and empowers them to do and say great things.


Today’s reading is one of the most powerful examples of what happens when the Spirit gets a grip on someone.


Mary, the mother of Jesus, has just learned that she is to be the mother of the one who will redeem the world. Notice that the gospel reading says that “Mary rose and went with haste.” Why the urgency? Mary is running for her life; she is scared to death. Immediately before she gets up and runs to her cousin’s house, an enormously powerful and unearthly being has appeared to her. Just imagine a flying saucer landing in your back yard and its alien passenger giving you a message from beyond the stars. This being told Mary that even though she was unmarried and had never been intimate with a man, she was going to bear a child. Furthermore, her son will be the Son of God and he will inherit the throne of David. That would make anyone get up and run for their life!


So Mary comes to Elizabeth’s house, and when Mary speaks to Elizabeth, Luke tells us that Elizabeth was filled with the Spirit. Then, Mary speaks what can only be called a prophetic message: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my Spirit rejoices in God my savior…”


And there’s the connection with Pentecostalism – women are the main actors in this story.  Elizabeth is filled with the Spirit and Mary delivers a prophetic message. Another important aspect of the Pentecostal movement is that it originated with and has been most successful among the poor and powerless. Mary’s song, the Magnificat, is about God lifting up the poor and bringing down the rich and powerful: Mary sings, “God has cast down the mighty and lifted up those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich empty away.”


Perhaps it has always been like that. Perhaps the poor and those on the margins, such as women, have always been more likely to be filled with the Spirit and to hear God’s message. Perhaps they have always been speaking God’s word and we just haven’t been listening.


I am also struck by another thing in this story that seems to me to have an important message for us at this moment. Mary and Elizabeth were pregnant. They were both preparing to give birth to their first children. I have no idea what that feels like, but I imagine that it is both a thing of great joy and also perhaps a time of some anxiety, perhaps even fear.


There is the fear of childbirth itself and also fear for one’s child. Up until very recently childhood, especially infancy, was a very dangerous time. Children routinely died in infancy and early childhood. Pres. Lincoln lost two children – one before he became president and one while he was in the White House. Nicholas Cobbs, the first bishop of Alabama, lost one of his children after he moved to Alabama. Any of you who have traced the genealogy of your families know that the death of children was extraordinarily common up until the early 20th century.


Even today parents have many things to fear. Childhood is a vulnerable time. And the unspeakable shootings in Newtown, CT, just over a week ago show just how vulnerable children are.


I am not a pacifist, although I believe that Jesus was a pacifist. And I expect some day to have to explain to our Lord why I did not oppose violence the way that he did. But I am convinced that the way to protect our children is not by putting armed guards in our schools. Indeed, I am convinced that that would make them more vulnerable, not less vulnerable.


We live in a violent world and childhood seems to be an especially violent time. The world of childhood is saturated with violence in the forms of video games, movies, and television. We need to do something to reduce all forms of violence.


Parents, teachers, and clergy should do everything in their power to protect children, but we can never protect  them from all dangers and risks, nor should we. Learning how to manage risk and even danger are parts of growing up. Children have to learn how to manage risk from crossing the street to driving cars.


I believe that the way to protect our children is by creating the world that Mary dreamed about in her song, her Magnificat – a world in which the poor are lifted up and the hungry are fed. Will it be a perfectly safe world? No, of course not. God does not promise us safety; God promises us a good world and summons us to join with him in creating it.


So, I invite you to sing and pray Mary’s Magnificat. In particular, I invite you to pray for our children who are still too often the most vulnerable among us.


I want to conclude with a prayer for children by Marian Wright Edelman.

We pray for children
Who sneak popsicles before supper,
Who erase holes in math workbooks,
Who can never find their shoes.

And we pray for those
Who stare at photographers from behind barbed wire,
Who can't bound down the street in a new pair of sneakers, 
Who are born in places we wouldn't be caught dead,
Who never go to the circus,
Who live in an X-rated world.

We pray for children
Who bring us sticky kisses and fistfuls of dandelions,
Who hug us in a hurry and forget their lunch money.
And we pray for those
Who never get dessert,
Who have no safe blanket to drag behind them,
Who watch their parents watch them die,
Who can't find any bread to steal,
Who don't have any rooms to clean up,
Whose pictures aren't on anybody's dresser,
Whose monsters are real.

We pray for children
Who spend all their allowance before Tuesday,
Who throw tantrums in the grocery store and pick at their food,
Who like ghost stories,
Who shove dirty clothes under the bed and never rinse out the tub,
Who get visits from the tooth fairy,
Who don't like to be kissed in front of the carpool,
Who squirm in church or temple and scream in the phone,
Whose tears we sometimes laugh at and whose smiles can make us cry.

And we pray for those
Whose nightmares come in the daytime,
Who will eat anything,
Who have never seen a dentist,
Who aren't spoiled by anybody,
Who go to bed hungry and cry themselves to sleep,
Who live and move, but have no being.

We pray for children who want to be carried and for those who must,
For those we never give up on and for those who don't get a second chance.
For those we smother ... and for those who will grab the hand of anybody kind enough to offer it.

Let’s pray for the children and give them all a better world. Amen.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Keeping a hopeful Advent (J. Barry Vaughn, Dec. 2, 2012)

Several years ago First Baptist Church of Hayden, Alabama, the church in which I grew up, got its first Advent wreath. But it had five purple candles, not the usual four. Why are there five candles, I asked? And I was told that this year there were five Sundays between Thanksgiving and Christmas!


But Advent is not the Thanksgiving to Christmas shopping season. Advent does not begin on “black Friday” and end when the stores close on Christmas Eve. In a sense, Advent is really not about Christmas at all. Advent is its own season, and it has a message which is at odds with the message we usually associate with Christmas.


What makes Advent so different is that at the beginning of Advent we run right smack into the prophets. On the first Sunday of Advent, here comes Jeremiah, right on time. And behind him comes another prophet – the apostle Paul.


The prophets don’t tell us anything about Santa Claus and reindeer or sleigh bells and snow. Jeremiah says, “I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” Paul writes to the Thessalonians, “May God so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”


And on the first Sunday of Advent, the prayer book borrows words that Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans and bids us pray  that God will “give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light…”


How different this is from the message that we are getting all around us. God will execute justice and righteousness… Jerusalem will live in safety… the coming of the Lord Jesus with all his saints… the works of darkness… the armor of light…


In other words, get ready… be prepared… the darkness is closing in… look for a place of safety…


The message of Advent is a message of hope, not optimism. The difference between hope and optimism is partly a matter of prepositions. Optimism is optimism THAT. We are optimistic THAT  we will get a job, THAT the doctors will find a cure, THAT the pretty girl we talked to at a party will return our call.


Don’t misunderstand me: Optimism is a good thing.  Psychologists tell us that although pessimists have a better grasp on reality, optimists are more likely to act to improve their conditions and look for solutions to problems.


Hope is something else all together. We do not hope THAT; we hope IN. We hope IN God. We also hope DESPITE the circumstances.


Optimism pretends that it is always Christmas and never Advent. Optimism pretends that it is always sunny and never dark, always summer and never winter. But Hope (as Paul says in his letter to the Romans) knows that the hour is late and that “it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed;  the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day…”


Hope knows that it is precisely when the darkness is deepest that the day is at hand and the light draws near.


So what makes the message of Advent so different from the conventional message of the Christmas shopping season is that Advent offers us hope, not optimism. Advent acknowledges the darkness. Advent is honest with us. Advent tells us that we are facing tough times, that the fight will be long and hard. Advent does not hide the suffering that is a part of human life. While the rest of the world is humming “Santa Claus is coming to town,” Christians who keep Advent are singing


Lo! He comes with clouds descending,
Once for favored sinners slain;
Thousand thousand saints attending,
Swell the triumph of His train:


Hope knows that we cannot have Easter without Good Friday, resurrection without crucifixion. Hope is not a utopian vision of the future. Hope recognizes that history is complicated, difficult, and sometimes tragic.


Once again, Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Lo, he comes with clouds descending,” helps us understand Advent. Hope knows that just as the Risen Christ still bears the scars of his crucifixion, we also bear the scars of our struggles, the wounds that life inflicts on all of us.


The dear tokens of His passion
Still His dazzling body bears;
Cause of endless exultation
To His ransomed worshippers;
With what rapture
Gaze we on those glorious scars!


But Advent also teaches us that those scars can be redeemed and those wounds can be transformed into sources of strength. Hope walks into the future on legs that were once paralyzed by fear.


In Paul’s letters, he often brings together faith, hope, and love. For example, in his first letter to the Thessalonians from which we heard today, he says, “We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”


The most famous place where Paul speaks of faith, hope, and love is in the 13th chapter of First Corinthians: “These three abide – faith, hope, and love – but the greatest of these is love.”


In other words, hope abides. Hope lasts. Hope is eternal. You can’t say that about optimism. Eventually, optimism runs out of steam; it hits the wall of our mortality, our finitude. But not hope. Hope goes on and on because to repeat what I said before, we do not hope THAT; we hope IN. We hope IN God.


An eclipse of the sun occurred during a meeting of the assembly of one of the 18th century American colonies. Some members of the assembly panicked, believing that the end of the world was at hand. One of the delegates moved that the assembly adjourn so that the members could return to their homes and prepare for the end. But one of the delegates spoke up and said, “Mr. Speaker, if it is not the end of the world and we adjourn, we shall appear to be fools. But if it IS the end of the world, then I choose to be found doing my duty. I pray you, sir, let candles be brought in.”


In Advent, Christians bring in candles. We bring light into the dark world around us. In fact, the world IS ending. It has always been ending and always will be ending. But we have hope – NOT optimism – because we believe in a God who does new things and who is with us even to the end of the world.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Loci communes

Throughout history (especially before books became easily available) people kept "commonplace books". “Commonplace" is a translation of the Latin phrase loci communes and commonplace books were collections of quotations, ideas, observations. For years I've been keeping a list of memorable and thought-provoking quotations and thought I'd share them here.



“If you think life is a vending machine where you put in virtue and get back happiness, then you’ll be disappointed.” (Maggie – Jake’s girlfriend in HBO’s series, Six Feet Under)


In everyone there sleeps

A Sense of life lived according to love.

To some it means the difference they could make

By loving others, but across most it sweeps

As all they might have been had they been loved.

That nothing cures.


Philip Larkin



"Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.  Nothing we do however virtuous can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love.  No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint.  Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness."


--Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History.



"There is more simplicity in a man who eats caviar on impulse than in the man who eats Grapenuts on principle..."


--G.K. Chesterton.



O God, if we thank you for bread and meat, for home and family, for work and friends, for comfort and security, and have no pain of heart, no anguish that others are homeless, helpless and starving, then leave us without your blessing until we learn the ways of mercy.  Deliver us from the sin of indifference and bless to us what we now enjoy by the courage and kindness with which we share it.


--Samuel Howard Miller.



We thank you when we look back on our life... even for what brought us disappointment, pain, and suffering, because we now know that it helped us to fulfill that for which we were born.  And when new disappointments take hold of us and words of thanks die on our tongue, remind us that a day may come when we will be ready to give thanks for the dark road on which you have led us.


--Paul Tillich.




So, I come back to where I began, to that other King, one Jesus; to the Christian notion that man's efforts to make himself personally and collectively happy in earthly terms are doomed to failure.  He must indeed, as Christ said, be born again, be a new man, or he is nothing.  So at least I have concluded, after having failed to find in past experience, present dilemmas, and future expectations, any alternative proposition.  As far as I am concerned, it is Christ or nothing.


        --Malcolm Muggeridge



St. Augustine:  "Perfection consists not in what we give to God, but in what we receive from him". (C. Williams, The Descent of the Dove, p. 72.)



"All is ordained, but man is nevertheless master of his own actions".


--Rabbi Akiba, Ethics of the Fathers

(as quoted in Weintraub's Disraeli, p. 171.)



Even in our sleep, pain we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, until, in our despair, against our will, comes wisdom through the awful grace of God.





Who loves fifty people has fifty sorrows;  who loves twenty people has twenty sorrows; who loves no one has no sorrows.





Before you can have a love, you must have an unrequited love.


--Jack Miles, God:  A Biography, p. 243



St. Therese of Lisieux. "When Jesus tells us about his Father, we distrust him.  When he shows us his HOme, we turn away, but when he confides to us that he is "acquainted with Grief," we listen, for that also is an Acquaintance of our own."


quoted by Kathleen Norris in The Cloister Walk, p. 27.



Sebastian Moore, OSB.  "God behaves in the Psalms in ways he is not allowed to behave in systematic theology."


Norris, Cloister Walk, p. 91



There are some griefs so loud

They could bring down the sky,

and there are griefs so still

None knows how deep they lie.

Endured, never expended,

There are old griefs so proud

They never speak a word.


May Sarton, Collected Poems, p. 77-78.



...I am convinced that we should solve many things if we went into the streets and uncovered our griefs, which perhaps would prove to be but one sole common grief, and joined together in beweeping them and crying aloud to the heavens and calling upon God.  And this, even though God shold hear us not; but He wold hear us.  The chiefest sanctity of a temple is that it is a place to which men go to weep in common.


              Miguel Unamuno, The Tragic Sense of Life (Dover, 1954), p. 17.



...however absurd it seems... [the Resurrection] is a concept of sublime courage and optimism. [footnote:  See Updike, "Seven Stanzas at Easter" in Telephone Poles and Other Poems... and see the poems, each entitled "The Resurrection of the Body", by Linda Gregerson and Eric Pankey, Poetry162 [Apr 1993), 14-15, 26.]  It locates redemption there where ultimate horror also resides -- in pain, mutilation, death, and decay.  Whether or not any of the images and answers I have surveyed in this long book carries conviction, those who articulated them faced without flinching the most negative of all the consequences of embodiment:  the fragmentation, slime, and stench of the grave.  It was this stench and fragmentation they saw lifted to glory in resurrection.  To make body crucial to personhood is to court the possibility that (to misquote Paul) victory is swallowed up in death.  But if there is resurrection, then what is redeemed includes all the fragments that concerned Tertullian and Athenagoras as well as the love for which Dante and Mechtild strove.  We may not find their solutions plausible, but it is hard to feel that they got the problem wrong.


--Caroline Walker Bynum, The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336, New York:  Columbia Univ Press (1995), p. 343.



Spinoza said that if a stone could think when thrown across a river, that stone "would believe itself to be completely free and would think that it continued in motion solely because of its own wish".


--quoted by William Willimon in The Intrusive Word, p. 10.



Man is a son of God on whom the Devil has laid his hand, not a child of the Devil whom God is trying to steal.  That is the first truth of all religion.... "We called the chess-board white, we call it black;" but it is, this chess-board of our human life, white not black, -- black spotted on white, not white spotted upon black.


Phillips Brooks, "The Light of the World", p. 9, in The Light of the World (1904).



I think my prayer unanswered when really God not merely is answering it, but has been answering it for years, before ever it knew enough of itself to be prayed.


Brooks, "The Silence of Christ", p. 131, in The Light of the World (1904).



"What a wonderful sunrise... especially for such a small place".


--friend of E. Stanley Jones observing a sunset in India.



The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence.  To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.  More than that, it is cooperation in violence.  The frenzy of the activist neutralizes his work for peace.  It destroys his own inner capacity for peace.  It destroys the fruitfulness of his own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.


Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, p. 86.



Music was as vital as the church edifice itself, more deeply stirring than all the glory of glass or stone.  Many a stoic soul, doubtful of the creed, was melted by the music, and fell on his knees before the mystery that no words could speak.


Will Durant.



...the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies in search of something in which no one believes, but to which no one objects; the process of avoiding the very issues that have to be solved, merely because you cannot get agreement on the way ahead.  What great cause would have been fought and won under the banner, "I stand for consensus"?


Margaret Thatcher



Life is completely fair; it breaks everybody's heart.





From childhood on he had seen that might makes right, that man is stronger than chicken -- man eats chicken, not vice versa.  That bothered him, for there was no evidence that people were more important than chickens.  About his decision [to become a vegetarian], he commented, "So in a very small way, I do a favor for the chickens.... If I will ever get a monument, chickens will do it for me".


Isaac Bashevis Singer



It's often been said, boldly, that the saints in heaven rejoice over their sins, because through them they have been brought to greater and greater understanding of the endless endurance of God's love, to the knowledge that beyond every failure God's creative mercy still waits.


All we can be sure of is that whatever the deficiency and the drying-up of human capacity to love, the killing of love by pain, there is still, at the heart of everything, a love that cannot be killed by pain.


Rowan Williams , A Ray of Darkness, p. 52.



…in the church of the resurrection, the darkness of the cross is a promise of a love beyond our failure and cowardice and death.


Williams, A Ray of Darkness, p. 104.



A human being is holy, not because he or she triumphs by willpower over chaos and guilt and leads a flawless life, but because that life shows the victory of God’s faithfulness in the midst of disorder and imperfection.  The church is holy – and this congregation here present is holy – not because it is a gathering of the good and the well-behaved, but because it speaks of the triumph of grace in the coming together of strangers and sinners who, miraculously, trust one another enough to join in common repentance and common praise – to express a deep and elusive unity in Jesus Christ, who is our righteousness and sanctification.


Williams, Ray of Darkness, pp. 114-115.



A man's work is nothing but a slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.


Albert Camus (quoted in Douglas Shand Tucci, Boston Bohemia, p. 74.)



A friendship will be young after the lapse of half a century; a passion is old at the end of three months.


Arthur Crawshay Hall, quoted in Douglas Shand-Tucci, Boston Bohemia, p. 190.



God is "the fellow sufferer who understands".


Alfred North Whitehead



We are not born all at once, but by bits.  The body first, and the spirit later.... Our mothers are racked with the pains of our physical birth; we ourselves suffer the longer pains of our spiritual growth.


Mary Antin



Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly.  The hard truth is that all of us love poorly.  We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour -- unceasingly.  That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.


Henri Nouwen



"What is sacred space?  It is a place where, as Joseph Campbell put it, wonder can be revealed."


Peg Streep, Altars Made Easy, p. 1.



The way remains closed to those to whom God is less real than a "consuming fire", to those who know answers but no wonder.


Abraham Joshua Heschel.



Thornton Wilder in one of his three-minute plays, The Angel that Troubled the Waters, tells of a man who stood on a day by the pool of Bethesda, praying in fierce agony that God would touch his tortured soul into health.  But the angel, coming, whispered in his ear saying, "Stand back; healing is not for you.  Without your wound where would your power be?  It is your very remorse that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men.  Not the angels themselves in Heaven can persuade the wretched and blundering children of earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living.  In love's service only the wounded soldiers can serve".   (emph added) And in that moment the angel stepped down into the waters and troubled them.  As the lone sufferer drew back, a lame old neighbor, smiling his thanks, made his painful way into the pool and was healed.  Joyously, with a song on his lips, he approached the other, still standing there like a statue of grief, thinking of the things which might have been.  "Perhaps", said he, "it will be your turn next!  But meanwhile come with me to my house.  My son is lost in dark thoughts.  I do not understand him.  Only you have ever lifted his mood.  And my daughter, since her child died, sits in the shadow.  She will not listen to us.  Come with me but an hour!"  "I would make up the full sum of all that Christ has to suffer in my person" (Colossians 1.24).


Paul Scherer, For We Have this Treasure, p. 54.



All wisdom is plagiarism; only stupidity is original.


Hugh Kerr, "Preacher, Professor, Editor", Theology Today, 45:1 (April 1988), 1.



...Gilbert Keith Chesterton described paradox as "Truth standing on her head to attract attention".


The Spirituality of Imperfection, p. 19.



When Rabbi Bunam was asked why the first of the Ten Commandments speaks of God bringing us out of the land of Egypt, rather than of God creating heaven and earth, he expounded:  "Heaven and earth!  Then man might have said, "Heaven -- that is too much for me."  So God said to man:  "I am the one who fished you out of the mud.  Now you come here and listen to me."


The Spirituality of Imperfection, p. 21.



"One of the main functions of formalized religion is to protect people against a direct experience of God".  [Carl Jung]


The Spirituality of Imperfection, p. 23.



Concepts create idols; only wonder comprehends anything.  People kill one another over idols.  Wonder makes us fall to our knees. [St. Gregory of Nyssa]


The Spirituality of Imperfection, p. 30.



Karl Barth once said... that too much Christian preaching speaks about an obligation which must be met in order to receive a gift, whereas the real message of the New Testament is about a gift which then leads us to an obligation.


quoted in William Willimon, The Gospel for the Person Who Has Everything, p. 23.



"'Yes' is all the Christian life is about."


Karl Barth, quoted in Willimon, The Gospel for the Person Who Has Everything, p. 25.



"There is nothing you have to do, nothing you have to do, nothing you have to do to be in God's good graces."


Frederick Buechner, ibid., p. 26.



...Jesus told us about a God whose love contains no "ifs" at all.


Ibid., p. 27.



Only he who is already loved can love; only he who has been trusted can trust; only he who has been an object of devotion can give himself.


Bultmann, quoted in Willimon, ibid., p. 69.



For the productive character, giving has an entirely different meaning.  Giving is the highest expression of potency.  In the very act of giving, I experience my stength, my wealth, my power.... I experience myself as overflowing, spending, alive, hence as joyous.  Giving is more joyous than receiving, not because it is a deprivation, but because in the act of giving lies the expression of my aliveness.


Erich Fromm, quoted in Willimon, p. 75.



One of the charges which the Pharisees leveled against Jesus was that he ate and drank with sinners.  Every time the church eats and drinks the Lord's Supper, it is claiming that Jesus chooses the same kind of dinner companions today!


Willimon, ibid., p. 86.



In a delightful essay, "The Shadow of Great-Grandmama's Dress", in her book, Yes, World, Mary Jean Irion notes that "in matters of deepest importance the church does not proceed on the faith of our fathers, but on the faith of little old ladies".


Willimon, ibid., p. 87.



Both becoming a Christian and becoming a scientist involve incorporation into a community, sharing its accumulated knowledge and wisdom, growing into its outlook and venerating its saints.  Only when one has received a tremendous amount can one begin to make an original contribution.


W.G. Pollard, Physicist and Christian (SPCK, 1962); quoted by Christopher Bryant, The Heart in Pilgrimage, p. 11.



No one is as whole as he who has a broken heart.


Rabbi Moshe Leib of Sasov (Spirituality of Imperfection, p. 61)



Act yourselves into a new way of thinking.


William James (Spirituality of Imperfection, p. 91.)



If you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you can be sure he had a lot of help getting there.





A procession of angels pass before man and the heralds proclaim before him saying, "Make room for the icon of God'".


Talmud, Deut. Rabbah, Re'eh: 4 (Rabbi Joshua ben Levi)



Human love is often but the encounter of two weaknesses.


Francois Mauriac



We don't love qualities, we love persons; sometimes by reason of their defects as well as their qualities.


Jacques Maritain



The last function of reason is to recognize that there are an infinity of things which surpass it.





Life is a maze in which we take the wrong turn before we learn to walk.


Cyril Connolly



There are no wrong turns.  Only wrong thinking on the turns our life has taken.


Zen saying.



Love listens more often than it advises.


Noah benShea



What a nation needs more than anything else is not a Christian ruler in the palace but a Christian prophet within earshot.


Kenneth Kaunda, former president of Zambia.



In his book The Company of Strangers, Parker Palmer defines community as "that place where the person you least want to live with always lives!"


Quoted by Barbara Brown Taylor, Bread of Angels, p. 87.



You think because you understand one you must understand two, because one and one make two.  But you must also understand and.


Sufi saying, quoted by Taylor, Bread of Angels, p. 90.



To have a child is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.


Elizabeth Stone.



How else but in custom and ceremony are innocence and beauty born?


William Butler Yeats



A former principal of Brasenose College, Oxford, preached to the college once a year and would begin his sermons in this way:  "The Greek word allotrioepiskopos, as I was saying last year..."


quoted by Austin Farrer, in "Emptying out the sense", Farrer:  The Essential Sermons.



The more you put on externally [eg, trappings of priestly or episcopal offices], the more you are called to take off internally through a greater intimacy with Christ.


The Most Rev. Frank M. Griswold



Something is your vocation if it keeps making more of you.


Gail Godwin (quoted by Frank Griswold)



....the wrath of God is completely identical with His love.  It is not another aspect of God, but one and the same thing.  God's love for me the publican is His wrath for me the pharisee who tries to exclude the publican.


Harry Williams, The True Wilderness, p. 146.



We have just enough religion to make us hate , but not enough to make us love one another.


Jonathan Swift, Thoughts on Various Subjects (quoted in The Anglican Digest, Transfiguration 1998, p. 45)



When I get to heaven, if I do, I imagine I shall be surprised at three things.  First I’ll be surprised that I’m there.  Second, I shall be surprised at many of the other people who are there.  Third, and most astonishing, will be their surprise that I’m there at all.


William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury.



With regard to undergraduates and their religion I think there are various mistakes which have to be avoided….Another is to imagine that one’s attempt to cope with one’s own insecurities is a desire to bring people to God.  Pastoral lust is the most insidious form of lust because it is the one most easily disguised as virtue.


Harry Williams, Some Day I’ll Find You, p. 211.



Instead of praying, “Speak, Lord, thy servant heareth”, our prayers too often are, “Hear, Lord, for thy servant speaketh”.


Paraphrased.  Williams, Some Day I’ll Find You, p. 211.




"...what is life...when you come to think upon it, but a most excellent, accurately set, infinitely complicated machine for turning fat playful puppies into old mangy blind dogs, and proud war horses into skinny nags, and succulent young boys, to whom the world holds great delights and terrors, into old weak men, with running eyes, who drink ground rhino-horn?



            "... what is man when you come to think upon him, but a minutely set, ingenious machine for turning, with infinite artfulness, the red wine of Shiraz into urine?  ... But in the mean time, what has been done?  A song has been composed, a kiss taken, a slanderer slain, a prophet begotten, a righteous judgment given, a joke made.  The world drank in the young story-teller Mira.  He went to its head, he ran in its veins, he made it glow with warmth and color.  Now I am on my way down a little; the effect has worn off.  The world will soon be equally pleased to piss me out again, and I do not know but that I am pressing on a little myself.  But the tales which I made -- they shall last."


Isak Dinesen, "The Dreamers",

Seven Gothic Tales (Modern Library), p. 275.



I think we have lost the old knowledge that happiness is overrated -- that, in a way, life is overrated.  We have lost, somehow, a sense of mystery -- about us, our purpose, our meaning, our role.  Our ancestors believed in two worlds, and understood this to be the solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short one.  We are the first generations of man that actually expected to find happiness here on earth, and our search for it has caused such -- unhappiness.  the reason:  If you do not believe in another, higher world, if you believe only in the flat material world around you, if you believe that this is your only chance at happiness -- if that is what you believe, then you are not disappointed when the world does not give you a good measure of its riches, you are despairing.


In a Catholic childhood in America, you were once given, as the answer to the big questions:  It is a mystery.  As I grew older I was impatient with this answer.  Now I am probably as old, intellectually, as I am going to get, and more and more I think: It is a mystery.  I am more comfortable with this now; it seems the only rational and scientific answer.




Forbes, 9/14/92.  Peggy Noonan. "You'd cry too if it happened to you".  p. 65.



Above all, the church must celebrate the Eucharist as the dramatic depiction, and as the succession of tableaux, that it intrinsically is.  How can we point our lives to the Kingdom’s great Banquet, if its foretaste is spread before us with all the beauty of a McDonald’s counter?


Robert Jenson, “How the world lost its story”, First Things, Oct. ’93, p. 24.




Suddenly my youth was gone, and my heart was wild,

but the voice at the edge of the night said,

“You no longer need to run and climb like an aging child.


Forget the beach, the woodland and the hill.


There is space for speed and motion still.”


Suddenly my sight was gone;

and the voice in the cloudy dawn eased my pain,

telling me, “You will see again in a new way the lengthening shadows on the lawn, the unseen birds

that bring you in their beaks the newborn day.”…


Suddenly then I had no place to live

But, “You still have much to give.”


You will enter an unexpected door

and I will make you see and be as never before,”

said the voice on the edge of light.


Virginia Hamilton Adair in The New York Times, Nov. 1, 1998.



Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.


G.K. Chesterton



All men thirst to confess their crimes more than tired beasts thirst for water; but they naturally object to confessing them while other people, who have also committed the same crimes, sit by and laugh at them.


G.K. Chesterton



Precisely because of the greatness of God, we don't have to be great at all.  Just in awe.   (Joan Chittister?)


There must be always remaining in every one's life someplace for the singing of the angels -- some place for that which in itself is breathlessly beautiful and by an inherent prerogative throwing all the rest of life into a new and creative relatedness....


That the commonplace is shot through with new glory -- old burdens become lighter, deep and ancient wounds lose much of their old, old hurting.  A crown is placed over our heads that for the rest of our lives we are trying to grow tall enough to wear....  (Howard Thurman)


Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?  Or, as I suspect, does not one believe a word of it?  The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.  It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.  Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares:  they should lash us to our pews.


Annie Dillard (from either Pilgrim at Tinker Creek or Teaching a Stone to Talk)



I would rather, I think, undergo the famous dark night of the soul than encounter in church the dread hootenanny, but these purely personal preferences are of no account, and maladaptive to boot.


Annie Dillard.



Week after week we witness the same miracle:  that God, for reasons unfathomable, refrains from blowing our dancing bear act to smithereens.  Week after week, Christ washes the disciples’ dirty feet, handles their very toes, and repeats, “It is all right, believe it or not, to be people.”


Annie Dillard.



In a written examination where the students are allotted four hours, it is neither here nor there if an individual student happens to finish before the time is up, or uses the entire time.  Here, the task is one thing, the time another.


But when the time itself is the task, it becomes a fault to finish before the time is up.  Suppose a man were given the task of entertaining himself for an entire day, and he finishes as early as noon:  Then his speed would not be meritorious.  So it is when life constitutes the task.  To be finished with life before life has finished with one is not to have finished the task.


Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript.



...Christianity is about water:  “Everyone that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.”  It’s about baptism... It’s about full immersion, about falling into something elemental and wet.  Most of what we do in worldly life is geared toward our staying dry, looking good, not going under.  But in baptism, in lakes and rain and tanks and fonts, you agree to do something that’s a little sloppy because at the same time it’s also holy, and absurd.  It’s about surrender, giving into all those things we can’t control; it’s a willingness to let go of balance and decorum and get drenched. the Christian experience of baptism, the hope is that when you go under and you come out, maybe a little disoriented, you haven’t dragged the old day along behind you.  The hope, the belief, is that a new day is upon you now.  A day when you are emboldened to take God at God’s word about cleanness and protection:  “When you passeth through the water, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.”


Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies, pp. 231-232.



Christ did not come to bring a Bible but a Gospel; the Bible came afterward.  So, preach the Gospel.


P.T. Forsyth



If Luther sounded the trumpet for reform, Calvin orchestrated the score by which the Reformation became a part of Western civilization.


Wendell C. Harden (student in HY101)



Last sentence of John Donne’s last sermon.:  There we leave you in that blessed dependency, to hang upon him that hangs upon the cross.


And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.


Anais Nin.



...for Paul, “flesh” referred not to the whole person but to that in us which resists God...


Countryman, Dirt, Greed, and Sex, p. 204.



Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but in doubt.  It is when we are not sure that we are doubly sure.


Reinhold Niebuhr (quoted by George Stephanopolous)



O Sacred Providence, who from end to end

Strongly and sweetly movest!  Shall I write,

And not of Thee, through whom my fingers bend

To hold my quill? Shall they not do thee right?


Of all the creatures both in sea and land

Only to Man thou hast made known thy wayes

And put the penne alone into his hand,

And made him Secretarie of thy praise...


George Herbert (as quoted by Herbert O’Driscoll in “The View from the Hill of Mars”)



Man is born broken.  He lives by mending.  The grace of God is glue.


Eugene O’Neill (as quoted by Anne Lamott in Traveling Mercies)



The foundations of Empire are often occasions of woe; their dismemberment, always.


Evelyn Waugh



What is the knocking?

What is the knocking at the door in the night?

It is somebody wants to do us harm.


No, no, it is the three strange angels.

Admit them, admit them.


D.H. Lawrence (quoted by Anne Lamott)



This is not He alone

Whom I have known,

            This is all Christs since time began

The blood of all the dead

His veins have shed,

            For He is God and Ghost and Everyman.


George Buttrick (quoted in The Book of Jesus, ed., Calvin Miller, p. 79)



Christ’s command to love God is not obeyed if it is obeyed as a command.


Augustine (quoted by Harry Williams in The True Wilderness, p. 119)



Baptism is the fundamental sacrament of Christianity:  "By one Spirit we were all baptised into one body" (1 Cor. 12.13).  Confirmation appropriates it, the eucharist presupposes it; ordination authorises the expression of the priesthood into which all the baptised are incorporated.  Baptism constitutes the ground of our unity -- the unity that exists and cries out to be realised in shared holy communion.  (p. 304)


The baptismal paradigm, as I understand it, involves a mystical perception of that fundamental ecclesial reality.  It is response to the transcendent mystery of the God who may be loved but not thought, asThe Cloud of Unknowing puts it.  It takes that love of God in Christ as the central Christian phenomenon, and doctrines and dogmas as necessary and valid ways of discerning the mystery, provided we never forget that they are human productions, essentially personal and existential statements....Instead, through the conflictual process itself -- through argument, criticism and attempts to understand one another on the baiss of respect and acceptance -- beliefs may be refined and agreement perhaps discovered.  (p. 310)


We need an acceptance of the principle (inculcated so often by the classical Anglican divines) that there are no theological grounds for breaching communion over an issue, such as the ordination of women to the priesthood or the episcopate, that is not itself a condition of the church's communion.  (p. 311)


All quotations from Paul Avis, Anglicanism and the Christian Church (Fortress, 1989)



He comes to us on Sunday morning and leaves on Tuesday.  While he is here, he tells us stories from the Bible, sings hymns, leads us in prayer.  He listens; with all his being he listens, and does not judge.  The disturbed are quieted; the drunks are calmed; the angry begin to see that there may be ways they can help themselves.  He looks, and he sees; he listens, and he hears.  This alone is an unusual experience for most homeless people:  We are used to being either invisible or an annoyance.  He brings dignity into the lives of those who have lost it.  He is like... he is like a small fire that we warm our hands over.  What else can I say?


Laurie King, To Play the Fool, pp. 122-123.



One night a woman dreamed that she walked into shop.  Much to her surprise, she found God working behind the counter.  She asked God, “What do you sell here?”  “Everything your heart desires,” God replied.  It was incredible.  She was talking face to face with God.  God just told her she could have anything she desired.  “I want peace of mind and love and happiness and wisdom and freedom from fear”, she told God.  Then almost as an afterthought she added, “Not just for me, but for everyone on earth.”  God smiled, “I think you’ve got me wrong, my dear.  We don’t sell fruits here.  Only seeds.”



A Western reporter interviewed Boris Yeltsin several months ago.  When asked what gave him the courage to stand firm and help ensure the fall of communism in the former USSR, Yeltsin credited the story he read of Lech Walesa, the electrician who helped bring democracy to Poland.  Similarly, Walesa stated that he was inspired by reading accounts of the civil rights movement in America led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Dr. King indicated that he was spurred to action when he learned of the courage of one woman, Rosa Parks, who simply refused to sit in the back of the bus.  We seldom know the potential of the seed we sow, but is it possible that the fall of the Soviet Union was in small way brought about by a black woman who refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus?



“Let us risk the wildest places lest we go down in comfort and despair.” And “What is death but a refusal to grow?”


From “Magellan” a poem by Mary Oliver.



They know everything.  Unfortunately, they don’t know anything else.


Comment made about graduates of the French hautes ecoles.  Quoted by Henry Kissinger.



Sign in front of dry cleaners:  “Thirty years on the same spot”.



Most people don’t need discernment; they need courage.  They know what to do.


Douglas Brown, OHC.



People don’t own what they don’t create.


Myron Kellner Rogers



People don’t resist change; they resist being changed.





In living systems the preservation of life motivates change.





You can’t sacrifice yourself until you have a self to sacrifice.


Guy Lytle.



The way real work gets done is by breaking the rules.





“’I did it’ says memory; ‘I couldn’t have’, says pride, and remains relentless.  Eventually memory yields.”





Above me, wind does its best

To blow leaves off the aspen

Tree a month too soon.  No use,

Wind, all you succeed in doing

Is making music, the noise of

failure growing beautiful.


Bill Holm



For me, the Nicene Creed is not a demand for intellectual surrender to a set of non-negotiable propositions; instead it represents the summary of insights and experience garnered from the founding centuries of the Church’s history.


John Polkinghorne, The Faith of a Physicist, p. 6.



All bodies, the firmament, the stars, the earth and its kingdoms are not worth the least of minds, for it knows them all and itself, too, while bodies know nothing.


Pascal.  Quoted in Polkinghorne, p. 11.



It is those who are not seekers who must account for not being so since there are fundamental questions concerning the existence and order of the universe that are vitally important to how we shall live and what we shall hope for.


Diogenes Allen, quoted in Polkinghorne, p. 15.



Man alone can construct and parse the grammar of hope... Of all evolutionary tools towards survival, it is the ability to use future tenses of the verb – when, how did the psyche acquire this monstrous and liberating power? – which I take to be foremost.


George Steiner, quoted in Polkinghorne, p. 16.



"When disappointment occurs, rest assured that God has not let you down.

When things go wrong and you are disappointed, it is because God is

protecting the birth of a greater gift for you that God is preparing to be



The Dalai Lama



There are two sorts of truth:  trivialities, where opposites are obviously absurd, and profound truths, recognized by the fact that the opposite is also a profound truth.


Niels Bohr



If I give food to the poor, they call me a saint.  If I ask why the poor do not have food, they call me a communist.


Archbishop Helder Camara of Brazil



One Christmas Eve the telephone rang in the office of the rector of the church in Washington, DC, that President Franklin Roosevelt attended.  “Tell me,” the voice inquired, “are you holding a Christmas Eve service tonight?”  When advised that there would certainly be a service that evening, the caller asked, “And do you expect President Roosevelt to attend your church tonight?”  “That,” explained the rector patiently, “I can’t promise.  I’m not sure about the president’s plans for this evening.  But I can say that we fully expect God to be in our church tonight, and we feel secure in the knowledge that His attendane will attract a reasonably large congregation”.



Kierkegaard said, “May we be preserved from the blasphemy of men who ‘without being terrified and afraid in the presence of God... without the trembling which is the first requirement of adoration... hope to have direct knowledge’”. 


Quoted in Polkinghorne, Faith of a Physicist, p. 69.



Never prophesy, especially about the future.


Sam Goldwyn.



The further backward you look, the further forward you can see.





Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man.  Communism is the exact opposite.





Many apparently intelligent people in Britain, France, and America felt that “The regime that was founded in October 1917 [the USSR] was good in spite of the disasters following its birth, whereas capitalism was bad in spite of the riches it engendered.”


Francois Furet, The Passing of an Illusion.



What I saw was just the wind blowing.  It was either the wind or the spirit of the house itself, briefly unsettled by our nocturnal absence but too old to be surprised by the errands born from the gap between what we can imagine and what we in fact create.


Michael Cunningham, A Home at the End of the World, p. 336.



And as the smart ship grew

In stature, grace, and hue,

In shadowy silent distance grew the Iceberg too.

Alien they seemed to be;

No mortal eye could see

The intimate wedding of their later history.


Thomas Hardy, “The Convergence of the Twain:  Lines on the Loss of the Titanic”.



Even the most radical sceptic cannot avoid the simple historical question how this simple wandering teacher and his outwardly inglorious death exercised such a tremendous and unique influence that it still remains unsurpassed.


Martin Hengel, Atonement, p. 72.



The Christ that Harnack sees, looking back through nineteen centuries of Catholic darkness, is only the reflection of a liberal Protestant face, seen at the bottom of a deep well.


George Tyrrell



Gregory of Nazianzus:  What is not assumed is not redeemed.



Grenz explains an important distinction between two different ways in which that death might be on our behalf:  “In exclusive substitution the suffering a person experiences in the place of another means that the other need not suffer the same fate.  Inclusive substitution, in contrast, means that the substitute shares the situation of the others (death in the case of Jesus) and thereby alters that situation.” [Reason for Hope, p. 121-2]  It is the latter idea of a participatory transformation – not just of death but of alienation from God (Mark 15.34; 2 Cor. 5.21; Gal. 3.13) –which I find most helpful.  Jesus did not pay a debt, but he redeemed an experience by sharing it.


Polkinghorne, Faith of a Physicist, 138.



The Resurrection is not a miracle like any other.  It is a unique manifestation within this world of the transition God makes for us out of this way of being into another. 


Farrer, Saving Belief, p. 83.




...we must carry up our affections to the mansions prepared for us above, where eternity is the measure, felicity is the state, angels are the company, the Lamb is the light, and God is the portion and inheritance.


Jeremy Taylor, Holy Dying, p. 478 in Selected Works of Jeremy Taylor.



In different terrain [Hazel Motes] sees “Jesus move from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning to him to turn around and come off into the dark, where he was not sure of his footing, where he might be walking on water and not know it”.


Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor as quoted in Bruce Modahl, “Christ-haunted Landscape” (Christian Century, Oct. 13, 1999, p. 963).




"the difference between a believer and a hypocrite is that a true believer

is ten times more aware of the darkness in his heart than is a hypocrite.

the hypocrite thinks he is good;  the true believer knows that his heart is

full of darkness and sin."   


Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections



"Hope despairs, and yet Despair hopes at the same time; and all that lives is the groaning that cannot be uttered wherewith the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us, brooding over the waters shrouded in darkness . . . This no one understands who has not tasted it."


Martin Luther on Psalm 13.



The Beauty of God is the cause of being of all that is.


Quoted in Sara Maitland’s A Big-Enough God, p. 114.



Simple old-fashioned intercessory prayer should not be underestimated.  Ask God to make you joyful.  Joy is a virtue that we need, and a gift we must be always ready to receive.  One of the best ways of obtaining any gift is to make sure the giver knows that you want it.... In my experience God has impeccable manners, that out-of-date virtue of courtesy, and is unlikely to force upon us any gift we have not made clear that we want.  The best way to get any virtue is almost certainly to pray for it.  Pray continually, we are instructed, pray without ceasing.  However it is important to remember that God has an extremely joyful sense of humor:  to pray for joy with an excess of piety, with a total absence of self-irony and humor is to ask for trouble.


Maitland, pp. 176-177.



Anyone who believes that new benefits make men of high station forget old injuries is deceiving himself.





Never underestimate the power of cheap music.


Noel Coward.



A little boy wandered from his South Dakota home some years ago. The parents couldn't find him. State police, Boy Scouts, neighbors and others joined in the search. For three days these hundreds of people moved through the prairie, hoping to find the boy before he succumbed to the elements. On the morning of the fourth day, one of the searchers said, "Let us get organized in one long line. We'll join hands and sweep up and down the prairie until we find the boy. He can't have gone very far. " They formed a line a quarter of a mile long. They made an impressive sight as they began to move through the prairie holding hands. On the third sweep they found the boy. The cold prairie nights had taken their toll. He was lying dead, in a small ditch behind some brush. Gently the boy's body was carried to where the mother was waiting. When they put the dead boy in his mother's arms, there was complete silence for a moment. Then she looked up and said: "Why didn't you join hands sooner? Why didn't you join hands sooner?"

Last week, a couple of days after the Smithsonian released its third Hiroshima script, Elie Wiesel was speaking in Washington at the new U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. He was addressing 120 teenagers from five Middle Eastern countries who had spent a summer session at a Maine camp in the "Seeds of Peace" program. A Palestinian boy in the program minimized the Jews' Holocaust under the Nazis and said bitterly, thinking of his own people, "There are many holocausts!"

Elie Wiesel embraced the boy and told him, "Don't compare! Don't compare! All suffering is intolerable."

--Lance Morrow, "Hiroshima and the Time Machine," Time, 19 September 1994, 94.



    "If we allow pain more of our attention than it requires, we miss some

opportunities for joy."





Trying to teach the meaning of "confession," a Sunday school teacher wanted to make sure the class had understood her point. She asked, "Can anyone tell me what you must do before you obtain forgiveness of sin?"

There was some silence, broken by a small voice piping up from the back of the room, "You gotta sin!"



Within a few minutes the entire community, all holding candles, rallied to keep watch with Sister John.  Their presence turned night into day, midnight sun at the end of the earth.  Nothing was said, but the message was clear:  a Sister might feel lost, but she was never alone.

When she first became a contemplative, Sister John had envisioned a relationship to “souls in need”.  The foundation of religious life, after all, is a commitment to look beyond oneself.  She prayed for the souls of the world every day, and assumed her efforts made a difference.  When it came to her Sisters, however—who were also souls in need, but whose troubles could not be visualized away so easily – she had been stingier, more guarded.  She had never really done anything for them that didn’t serve her own interests.

Yet here they were, staying up all night with her so she wouldn’t have to struggle alone. She had failed to discern God’s will in the matter of whether or not to treat her disorder, but she had seen today how her seizures could become a burden to her Sisters.  To give up her ecstasies for their sake would be, if not a spiritual decision, at least an honorable one.  She looked around the room and tried to etch the scene in memory, praying that whatever her own future might be, God would reward her Sisters for their generosity of spirit.  She rose, bowed to them as a signal that her vigil was over, and returned to the infirmary.


Mark Salzman, Lying Awake (2000), pp. 142-143.



For centuries the Catholics have spoken of the “vocation of wedding,” the idea being, I think, that one who undertakes an intimacy with another mortal will necessarily confront many of the same struggles and confusions as the priest or nun who takes a vow with God:  You will be seen.  You will be known, more plainly than you can ever know yourself, and you will be ferried into regions that offer no comfort, no hiding place.  The essence of the other will now and always be mystery – but to attend to the relationship faithfully you must become real in it, do your most to surrender the self and its defenses; and you will do this a dozen, two dozen, three dozen, and more times every day as you stand naked and your shortcomings and vulnerabilities are exposed. 


Religious melancholy, love melancholy:  in both cases the root of my problem was fear, faithlessness.  How could I claim trust and faith in a God who shall remain ever unseen if I could not put trust and faith in this woman whom I saw firsthand at all hours, and who appeared eminently trustworthy?  So the specific remedy for my love melancholy would be the same as my remedy for religious melancholy:  to have faith, and let that move me beyond my initial, defensive impulses and reactiveness.  To bear this in mind, even as I forgot it dozens or hundreds of times each day:  the self is the least of it.


Jeffrey Smith, Where the Roots Reach for Water (1999), pp. 243-244.



"Man, my friends is frail and foolish.  We have all been told that grace is to be found in the universe.  But in our human foolishness we imagine God's grace to be limited..."

"But we are wrong; grace is infinite.  Grace demands nothing from us but that we shall await it with confidence and acknowledge it in gratitude.  Grace makes no conditions and singles out none of us in particular."


From “Babette’s Feast” by Isak Dinesen



DEAR sisters, dear brothers, two short months ago, when told of his terminal cancer, the Cardinal was, at first, tempted to feel 'if only . . . if only I could start all over again, I would be a much better monk, a much better abbot, a much better bishop.

'But then I thought' - these are now his own words - 'then I thought how much better if I can come before God when I die, not to say thank you that I was such a good monk, good abbot, good bishop, but rather God be merciful to me a sinner. 'For if I come empty-handed then I will be ready to receive God's gift. God, be merciful to me a sinner.'

(The Rt. Rev. John Crowley, Bp of Middlesborough, at the funeral of Basil Cardinal Hume.)



There's a story about Henry Ford, the inventor of the automobile, who was visiting his family's ancestral village in Ireland. Two trustees of the local hospital found out he was there, and managed to get in to see him. They talked Ford into giving the hospital five thousand dollars (this was the 1930's, so five thousand dollars was a great deal of money). The next morning, at breakfast, he opened his daily newspaper to read the banner headline: "American Millionaire Gives Fifty Thousand to Local Hospital." Ford wasted no time in summoning the two hospital trustees. He waved the newspaper in their faces. "What does this mean?" he demanded.

The trustees apologized profusely. "Dreadful error," they said. They promised to get the editor to print a retraction the very next day, declaring that the great Henry Ford had given not fifty thousand, but only five. Hearing this, Ford offered them another forty-five thousand, under one condition: that the trustees would erect a marble arch at the new hospital entrance, and place upon it a plaque that read, "I walked among you and you took me in." (1) The shrewdness of these two trustees reminds me very much of the steward in today's gospel. They took an opportunity that was presented to them and used it to their best advantage. They used the supposed error of the newspaper headline to put Henry Ford in a position where he did not want to look like a cheap-skate. So their quick thinking brought in a considerable amount of extra income for the hospital. From a sermon by Deacon Sil Galvan as received on the PRCL-L preaching list.



You are the children of our fantasies of form, 
our wish to carve a larger cave of light, 
our dream to perfect the ladder of genes and climb

its rungs to the height of human possibility, 
to a stellar efflorescence beyond all injury 
and disease, with minds as bright as newborn suns

and bodies which leave our breathless mirrors stunned. 
Forgive us if we failed to imagine your loneliness 
in the midst of all that ordinary excellence,

if we failed to understand how much harder 
it would be to build the bridge of love 
between such splendid selves, to find the path

of humility among the labyrinth of your abilities, 
to be refreshed without forgetfulness, 
and weave community without the threads of need.

Forgive us if you must re-invent our flaws 
because we failed to guess the simple fact 
that the best lives must be less than perfect.

(“Letter to genetically engineered super humans” by Fred Dings)




Looking at Stars


The God of curved space, the dry
God is not going to help us, but the son
Whose blood spattered
the hem of his mother’s robe


Jane Kenyon



People are often unreasonable,
illogical, and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind,
people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful,
you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank,
people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building,
someone could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness,
they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today,
people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.





It is our task to begin the work, not to complete it (Talmud)



"Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?"

John Keats (1795-1821),



At sixteen, the adolescent knows about suffering because he himself has suffered, but he barely knows that other beings also suffer. (Rousseau)



If God does not exist, [then] human beings and human history can have no other purpose than the purpose they choose to give themselves, which -- in practice -- is likely to mean the purpose which those impose who have the power to impose it (Frederick Copleston, SJ, from his famous BBC debate with Bertrand Russell (slightly paraphrased)) 



Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family to remember that my life was given to God and to this country; that the unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure and that my death is the same as so many other violent ones consigned to the apathy of oblivion.  I’ve lived enough to know I am complicit in the evil that, alas, prevails over the world and the evil that will smite me blindly. I could never desire such a death; I could never feel gladdened that these people I love be accused randomly of my murder. I know the contempt felt for the people here indiscriminately, and I know how Islam is distorted by a certain Islamism. This country and Islam, for me, are something different. They’re a body and a soul. My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who called me na├»ve or idealistic, but they must know that I will be freed of a burning curiosity, and God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father’s and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them. This thank-you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, friends of yesterday and today and you, too, friend of the last minute, who knew not what you were doing. Yes, to you, as well, I address this thank you and this farewell, which you envisaged. May we meet again, happy thieves in paradise, if it pleases God, the Father of us both. Amen. Inshallah.


A monk about to be killed by jihadist terrorists in the movie, Of Gods and Men.



“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” 
― Rumi



 The last thing I want to do is hurt you. But it's still on my list.



 If I agreed with you, we'd both be wrong. 



5. We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.



6. War does not determine who is right - only who is left.  



7. Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.  



8. Evening news is where they begin with 'Good Evening,' and then proceed to tell you why it isn't. 



9. To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.  



10. A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station. 



11. I thought I wanted a career. Turns out I just wanted paychecks.  



12. Whenever I fill out an application, in the part that says, 'In case of emergency, notify:' I put 'DOCTOR.' 



13. I didn't say it was your fault, I said I was blaming you.  



14. Women will never be equal to men until they can walk down the street with a bald head and a beer gut, and still think they are sexy. 



15. Behind every successful man is his woman. Behind the fall of a successful man is usually another woman.  



16. A clear conscience is the sign of a fuzzy memory.  



17. You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.  



18. Money can't buy happiness, but it sure makes misery easier to live with. 



19. There's a fine line between cuddling and holding someone down so they can't get away. 



20. I used to be indecisive. Now I'm not so sure.  



21. You're never too old to learn something stupid. 



22. To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.  



23. Nostalgia isn't what it used to be.  



24. Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.  



25. Going to church doesn't make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car.



Capitalism without failure is like religion without sin. It doesn’t work as well. (Allan Meltzer)



Old Age


The seas are quiet when the winds give o'er;
So calm are we when passions are no more.
For then we know how vain it was to boast
Of fleeting things, so certain to be lost.
Clouds of affection from our younger eyes
Conceal that emptiness which age descries.

The soul's dark cottage, batter'd and decay'd,
Lets in new light through chinks that Time hath made:
Stronger by weakness, wiser men become
As they draw near to their eternal home.
Leaving the old, both worlds at once they view
That stand upon the threshold of the new. 


Edmund Waller