Thursday, December 24, 2009

The gift of practice -- December 24, 2009

In her new book, An Altar in the World, priest and writer Barbara Brown Taylor suggests that wisdom is not gained by knowing what is right. Wisdom is gained by practicing what is right.

Practice is what this Advent blog has been about. Developing a practice -- or maintaining a practice, or revising a practice. Reflecting on the words of Joan Chittister -- as she reflects on her lifetime of Benedictine practice. And the rightness of it all is that through practice we are drawn closer to the center -- the center of our soul, the center of humanity -- to the place where Emmanuel (God with us) is so eager to be born anew.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Peace: sign of the disarmed heart -- December 23, 2009

One of the ironies of the Christmas season is that immediately after the birth of the Prince of peace, we get violence. The Feast of St. Stephen is on December 26; it commemorates an early witness to the faith who was stoned to death. December 28 is the Feast of the Holy Innocents -- who were the children that Herod ordered to be slaughtered upon hearing of the birth of a potential rival.

We live in a world of violence. There is physical violence -- which may or may not be on an increase; and verbal violence, which -- from my perspective, is most definitely on the rise.

Joan Chittister acknowledges the presence -- if not the reign, of violence in our world. And she talks of peace, which she identifies in chapter 14 as a sign of the disarmed heart. She acknowledges that peace is not something that is ever achieved, but is something "sincerely and consistently sought. It comes, in fact, from the seeking, not from the getting." (page 184)

Seeking peace, then is a commitment to spiritual discipline. It doesn't take away the violence -- or remove us from it. But the desire to seek peace, and to imagine peace -- enables us to live in the midst of violence -- without violence. And helps to generate peace.

I remember someone saying that the reason nuclear weapons have not been used against humanity since 1945 is because millions of people around the world have prayed that they not be used. That their intentional prayer for peace helps to create peace. I also remember Desmond Tutu thanking an American congregation for helping to end apartheid in South Africa. How did we do that, we silently asked. By praying that apartheid come to an end, he said quite clearly. He told a story of a nun in California who lived as a hermit. She wrote Archbishop Tutu a letter to tell him that she got up every morning at 2 am, and for an hour prayed in silence for an end to apartheid.

"They didn't stand a chance," Bishop Tutu said. "The powers of darkness didn't stand a chance against a nun praying in silence -- at 2 am, in California."

And we believed him.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

customs and traditions -- December 22, 2009

Customs and traditions help us see the connection between the human and the holy: "If there is no way to connect the normal with the wonderful, what can possibly give the little things in life spiritual meaning?" (page 173) These words have resonance with earlier passages in Chittister's book -- to live an ordinary life extraordinarily well.

Silence is important. "Silence is an antidote to the turmoil that is manufactured to distract us from the important things of life." (page 171) Silence centers us -- and brings us closer to the divine. Custom and ritual (which are elements of spiritual practice) provide us with a lens to see the Divine.

We are a couple of days away from Christmas. A time when the power of the birth story breaks into the night silence -- and we carry out customs and traditions that both honor that story and bring us closer to it. Take note of the silence. Pay attention to the ritual -- a ritual that you engage in individually, as a family -- and/or as a community. It will serve as a reaching out to a God who is so eager to reach out to us.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Vocation -- December 21, 2009

In the novel Evensong by Gail Godwin, an Episcopal priest gives his wife, another Episcopal priest, his definition of vocation: "something is your vocation if it keeps making more of you."

As I read through Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, I keep thinking of vocation -- and what seems to be Joan Chittister's passion that each and every one of us claim the vocation that will keep making more of us. The Benedictine triangle of obedience, conversion of life and stability is designed so that the follower of the Rule will grow -- will be made more of. The second century theologian Iranaeus remarked that the glory of God is the human being fully alive. To be fully alive, it seems to me, is our vocation. As Joan Chittister puts it, "live life for something greater than your satisfactions and do not let anything or anyone cause you to lose hold on your free and unfettered self."

Instead of being constraining, the spiritual practice is liberating. Instead of shutting down our view of the world, it opens us up to the full complexity and the deep challenge of the world.

And takes us to the heart of God.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Mary's song -- December 20, 2009

On this fourth Sunday of Advent, we hear Mary's song -- the Magnificat: "my soul magnifies the Lord". It is a song of openness -- to receive God's life-changing blessing; and a song of fierceness -- of what that blessing can and will do to the power centers of the world.

For years I paid little attention to Mary. She was the mother of Jesus, whose story was told and sang and depicted at this time of year. But in 1999, I went on an 8-day silent retreat at a Jesuit retreat house in Pennsylvania. Mary was everywhere -- in the liturgy, on paintings throughout the retreat center -- and on pedestals all over the grounds. In my silent time I began to ponder Mary -- and I came to appreciate her availability to God. She didn't have an oversized or undersized ego that needed stroking or inflating. She was totally available to receive God's spirit. In this sense, she was a virgin, because all that was in her soul was the desire to receive God.

That was her purity. That is her witness. And today I honor that gift.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

More on stability -- December 19, 2009

"Stability says that where I am is where God is for me". (page 151) That is being rooted in God; being stable with God. Often we want to be somewhere else, in the idea that God is there, and not here. The proliferation of bumper stickers over the past several years speak to this desire to be elsewhere: 'I would rather be sailing'; 'I would rather be fishing'; I would rather be doing something other than this.

I have a friend who has a bumper sticker on his car: "I would rather be here now". It reflects a commitment on his part to stability -- to a desire to seek God in the moment.

When I began a consistent spiritual practice, I thought -- indeed I hoped, that I would reap no end of immediate benefits. That didn't happen. What did happen is that it increased my desire for God -- and deepened my commitment to the practice.

To quote Joan Chittister as she drills down to manifest the importance of stability: "we don't pray in hope of becoming prayerful. We don't struggle in hope of triumph; we struggle in hope of growth." (page 153)

Stability is a pathway to a level of freedom that we cannot arrive at any other way.

Friday, December 18, 2009

stability: to stay and not run -- December 18, 2009

It's known as the Benedictine triangle: stability, obedience and conversion of life. Stability, which is the title of Chittister's 12th chapter, is the ability to stay and not run. To stay with the situation, the problem, the confusion, the feeling -- to stay with it and learn the truth from it. The temptation is to move on or move away -- or seek a distraction, or give in to a temptation.

One notion of freedom suggests that we are free to move whenever and wherever we want to move. Often, that notion of freedom is more escape. A deeper notion of freedom suggests that if we stay in a situation, and are willing to learn the truth in it -- we become free from the forces that ensnare us psychically and spiritually.

Because those forces no longer have the same power over us.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Truth beneath the power -- December 17, 2009

"Listen for the truth of a thing, not the power for a thing." (page 146) In my experience we may indeed listen for the truth of what is being said or done, but more often than not we react to the power of what is being said and done.

The challenge is to listen beneath the power. That takes work. And the work is to resist the temptation to respond with a verbal salvo after having received one. In conversation, we are more inclined to score points or win arguments than to search for the presence of the Spirit -- which does what the Holy Spirit always does -- bring people and ideas together.

"Listen with a critical ear for the sound of the gospel in everything you do. And don't do what isn't a gospel act, no matter who says so, no matter who orders it, no matter how sacred the institution that demands it....

...Or else power before truth."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Healthy authority -- December 16, 2009

Joan Chittister talks about the dangers of of dependence, license and domination when considering authority: "dependence says that everybody counts but me. License says that nobody counts but me. And domination says that I have the right to tell everybody else what counts at all". (page 142)

Authority, she says, is more than the preservation of law or the maintenance of order. Authority is the call to grow. "Authority is meant to call. Authority is meant to enable. Authority is meant to raise questions. Authority is meant to convert. Authority is meant to shape us in the values of the Christian life." (page 143)

Our world, and our lives in that world (certainly my life) could use a more healthy dose of this notion of authority.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Obedience: holy responsibility -- December 15, 2009

In the modern Western world, most of us hear an average of a thousand messages a day. Some from print, but most from electronics. And the messages suggest that our bodies need to be a different shape, that our hair should be a different color or texture, that we should know different people and/or different things -- and on and on and on. These messages have an impact, which, of course, is exactly their point.

Enter Benedictine obedience (which is chapter 11). Joan Chittister makes the case that obedience is neither about being dependent or dominated. Obedience is about listening: "obedience, in other words, lies in listening and laboring and in knowing what is required of us." (page 137)

The Benedictine rule of obedience calls for listening with the ear of the heart. To listen beneath and beyond the fabricated messages that are constant and endless. To seek to arrive at what Thomas Merton called the "point vierge"; our center, where God's presence is most deeply felt.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hospitality -- the unboundaried heart December 14, 2009

In my experience, the Benedictines have hospitality as part of their spiritual DNA. In the Benedictine tradition, to welcome the stranger is to welcome Christ. It is a key ingredient of their discipline. Joan Chittister laments that hospitality is the missing value of the twentieth century: "hospitality has been domesticated and is now seen more as one of the social graces than as a spiritual act and a holy event." (page 126)

This lament calls to mind the Celtic Rune of hospitality, which I look at from time to time (as it hangs in our kitchen):
We saw a stranger yesterday.
We put food in the eating place,
Drink in the drinking place,
Music in the listening place,
And with the sacred name of the triune God
He blessed us and our house,
Our cattle and our dear ones.
As the lark says in her song:
Often, often, often, goes the Chist
In the stranger's guise.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Stir up Sunday -- December 13, 2009

We get stirred up today, the third Sunday of Advent. Gaudete Sunday, when we hear the clarion call (some would say the harrangue) from John the Baptist.

What stirs me up is John's indictment in Luke 3: "Do not begin to say to yourselves , 'we have Abraham as our ancestor'". I want to be able to say that -- that Abraham is part of my spiritual roots; that I am a Christian.

And John would say, 'so what?' What does that mean? How does that belief shape and challenge life? This faith business is not simply about being able to say that I am associated with Abraham through geneology or genetics; but through relationship -- relationship with the one who created us, a relationship that we have to work at -- and define and re-define -- not just once but all the time.

That stirs me up (and not always in a good way). John the Baptist preaches what Joan Chittister writes -- that we need to have a practice, a rhythm -- that reminds us all of who and whose we are.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Spirit and ordination -- December 12, 2009

I will perform two ordinations today, which may be the greatest privilege one has as a bishop. To convene the gathered community in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, and then to witness that same Spirit eniven us all, but especially those to be ordained, is an extraordinary honor.

In the course of each service, at the prayer of consecration, I will invite the Holy Spirit to fill Shane, and later in the day, Jon. And it will happen. And it will take my breath away -- partly because of the power of it all, and partly because a portion of my Spirit (my release of breath) will be given to each ordinand. They will be in-spired -- in spirited, by everyone who has their breath taken away. And we will celebrate what we already know: that the Spirit does in fact fill each of us -- to be priests and prophets and teachers and parents and friends and companions on the way.

Friday, December 11, 2009

The art of contemplation -- December 11, 2009

There is a thread that runs through Wisdom Distilled from the Daily that claims the spiritual life is not an escape from the world but a deeper engagement with it. In the 8th chapter, Chittister indicates that holy leisure is the foundation of contemplation; and further, that contemplation is not a vacation from life. Contemplation, she writes, is the ability to see the world around us as God sees it. (page 103-104).

I learned this the hard way. Years ago, when I first began making silent retreats to monastic communities, I had the sense that I was getting away from everything and devoting myself solely to God. What I discovered was that not only did nearly everything come along with me, but the combination of space apart and silence brought me closer to the center of the world's distress. And closer to the heart of God, who also sees and feels the world's distress.

The grace in this -- and the deepening desire to continue in contemplation, is that God is a companion on this inward journey. And that what we see is what God sees -- and hears. A TV reporter once asked Mother Theresa of Calcutta what she did when she prayed. 'I listen', she said. The reporter then asked, 'what does God say to you?' 'Oh, she replied, God is listening too.'

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Holiness of work -- December 10, 2009

Work, Joan Chittister writes, is what we do to continue what God wanted done. We were not put on earth to be be cared for. We were put on earth to care for it. (page 86,87)

That is our work. Which is not always easy, because work for me often ends up being what needs to get done, and God's intentions get lost in the process.

I carry my work a little more lightly when I think of it as holy rather than as duty. When I can see my work as integrally connected with God's ongoing act of creation, I live with a greater level of freedom.

I am working at that.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Re-balancing life -- December 9, 2009

For six years I led 8 day CREDO conferences for clergy. The curriculum was designed to help clergy assess their financial, spiritual, vocational and physical life -- and then invite them to rebalance those dimensions of their life, and to devise a "CREDO plan" for living into the future. In almost every case, the clergy indicated that their lives had gotten out of balance. The week spent together in community, with guidance from the faculty and support from one another, enabled the 30 or so clergy who were present to claim what was important and then dare to live into it.

In her 6th chapter -- "A blend of harmony, wholeness and balance", Joan Chittister renders an indictment that almost everyone's life is out of of balance. I knew that. My guess is that we all know that. She claims that we lack awareness.

I would suggest that the need for a Copenhagen Conference on climate is, in part, the result of a global lack of awareness, and a desire to rebalance humanity with the earth. We have a lot to do.

At the end of the chapter, she has a paragraph that captures the problem -- as well as the opportunity: "All we lack, now that life has become so speeded up, is the will to slow it down so that we can live a little while life goes by. We need to want to be human as well as efficient; to be loving as well as informed; to be caring as well as knowledgeable; to be happy as well as respected." (page 78)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Do you seek God? Seek within yourself and ascend through yourself.

Advent is a season of preparation -- for making space for God who will come among us. The intention of reading Joan Chittister's book, and the intention of reinforcing or creating a practice of faith, is to help us not just to make space, but to reflect on the space we make -- to ask the questions:
how am I in relationship with God now?
what is God up to now?
where am I being called to make a commitment or take an action?

When I don't make space, there is no end of distraction and detail in my life and psyche that will try and take over whatever space I think I have. So instead of living with purpose, I end up chasing after those distractions and details which badger me into submission or confusion.

I am much taken with the question of St. Augustine (page 56): " Do you seek God? Seek within yourself and ascend through yourself."

I take that as an invitation, if not a challenge, to make space in the soul for the one who dares to be Emmanuel, God with us.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The challenge of humility -- December 7, 2009

Somewhere along the way in Advent (and every day for Morning Prayer), we hear Mary and her Magnificat: "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my Spirit rejoices in God my Savior." The 5th chapter of Joan Chittister's book is entitled "Humility: the lost virtue". In it Chittister describes the Mangificat as humility at its best. Being humble before God. She also describes humility as the center of the rule -- that it leavens the entire document and indeed the entire way of life.

The Magnificat --which is a song to humility, is the antidote to pride. We know of pride. Certainly I do. The bottom line with pride is to think, to believe -- to live, as though we don't need God. That we can get by totally on our own. Writer Parker Palmer refers to this as functional atheism, which is to say that we believe in God but live as though God doesn't exist.

The Rule of Benedict has twelve degrees of humility. Lots to think about. What stands out for me in this long list is that humility demands that we "hold only to give and that we gather only to share."

May it be so.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Candles in the darkness -- December 6, 2009

Today, the church will light two candles on the Advent wreath. Not much light to shine in this deepening darkness of December. But it is enough. The two candles give us enough light to explore the darkness -- to see into the far reaches of our soul.

My instinct -- and our culture's training, is to turn on all the lights. Kill the darkness. But the Advent light helps us -- not to destroy the darkness, but to see in the darkness. To help us learn and discover where else God lives in us.

Ever since I was a child, we had an Advent wreath at home. And we dutifully lit the appropriate carol. And then we sang lots of carols. As an adult, we still light the candle -- but sing just the first verse of "O Come, O come Emmanuel". It has become part of the rhythm (the regula, the rule of my life).

An important part -- for it helps me to honor the darkness.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Community as one -- December 5, 2009

A few years ago, the US Army issued a recruiting slogan: "the Army of One."

I was bothered by that, because it seemed to play into the hyper-individualistic attitude of our culture. An attitude which Joan Chittister challenges in her fourth chapter. Perhaps the Army wanted its recruits to think of the Army as one. But we are so geared to think of our personal needs first and foremost, the Army realized that it was not creating the concept of community -- and so the slogan was dropped.

Community is the antidote to individualism. When we are redeemed by the living Christ -- it is we who are redeemed. It is a community redemption. Salvation for self has little worth if it does not include the journey of others. It is one thing to have a personal relationship with Jesus; it is something else -- and more powerful, to have a communal relationship with Jesus.

Community can be wonderful. Community can also be very hard. While in seminary, I remember going to Henri Nouwen (who was on the faculty) with a community problem. The administration of the school wasn't treating a student very well. The student -- my friend, was having serious mental health issues -- and the dean and staff seemed (from my perspective) to be doing its best to distance itself from the student. I was ready to give up on community.

I relayed all the slights and injuries that this student received to Henri, expecting him to rise up in full dudgeon -- as I had done. Instead, he looked at me, smiled and asked -- "what do you expect?" He didn't know the particulars of this case, but he told me that communities try and act with kindness and justice toward one another, but they don't always succeed. Get used to it, but don't give up on it. Because when community does work, the glory of God is revealed in extraordinary ways -- because we are as one; and transformation happens in a way that are not possible when living as an army of one.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Competing forces and deep water -- December 4, 2009

Years ago I did a fair amount of white water canoeing. One of the biggest dangers on river with heavy rapids is to get caught on a hydraulic, when the force of the flowing river is met with equal force by an opposite wave of water. If the canoe goes over (which it most often does when hitting a hyrdaulic) the instinct is to try and keep your head above water and then work your way out. That is when people get into more trouble, because the force of the water from opposite directions is too much to fight against. This is when people often drown.

The counterintuitive wisdom is to go down -- below the aquatic frenzy; to go down to deeper water where there are currents that can lead one to safety.

I am reminded of this wisdom when Joan Chittister remarks that Benedictine spirituality is not an escape; but is rather a spirituality that fills time with awareness of of the presence of God (page 30).

That sounds like going deeper to me.

For many years my goal in Advent was just to keep my head above water. I used up an awful lot of energy, and I inevitably ended up in the same place where I started. I now see the Advent season as an invitation to the depths-- beneath the frenzy and into the darkness; where there is a promise (and an experience) of a force and light that leads us to hope.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Living life extraordinarily well -- December 3, 2009

Living the ordinary life extraordinarily well, Joan Chittister writes. That is the invitation -- indeed the challenge, from St. Benedict many centuries ago. Chittister goes on to say that Benedictine spirituality is more a commitment to principles than to practice.

I find that to be a help, because it challenges me to determine -- not just once, but again and again, what is most important in my life? And the practice flows from that ongoing discernment. I can't exactly say that I am then living my life extraordinarily well, but I can say that it is being lived with more intention -- and a deeper appreciation of God's creating mystery.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Afghanistan and Advent -- December 2, 2009

I kept looking for light in President Obama's speech last night. I may have seen some, but in this early morning darkness, I am not sure. The pundits are proclaiming -- and I, and I suspect many of us, are pondering. Will the President's plan work? Is it just? I know the President wants us all to see light in the darkness that has enshrouded our military engagement in Afghanistan, and I deeply admire him for expressing that desire. It is complex, confusing -- and much as we might like to wish otherwise, it won't go away.

In the northern hemisphere, Advent comes at a time of deepening darkness, a darkness which culminates with the shortest day of the year on December 21. The ancients developed a practice to respond to the growing darkness of the season: light a candle. The tradition of the Advent wreath brings light (the candle) and life (an ever green bough) into the home when the deepening darkness and cold is telling the psyche that neither will survive.

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." (John 1:5) Light destroys darkness. So we look for light. We look for it, claim it, celebrate it -- and build on it. Not an artificial light that we think we can turn on and off at will; not a light of false optimism -- but a true light, Christ's light, which shines in everyone.

The Advent promise is that the light is there.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December 1, 2009

Life is worth practicing, a friend of mine recently wrote. Practice has its roots in a Greek word, praxis, which refers to an action that is taken in order to reach a goal.

For centuries, Christian practice has involved regula, which is Latin for "rule". I prefer to think of regula as a railing, something to hold onto as one ventures toward a goal. In recent years, I have found more and more need for a railing -- because of the steep slopes that fall away from it. On one side of the railing is the slope of distraction. And the distractions are increasing. It is estimated that a person living in the US receives an average of 1,000 electronic messages a day -- telling us that our hair needs to be a different color, that our bodies need to have a different shape, that we need to know and buy and do different things. These messages are constant and consistent -- and after awhile we wear down and are tempted to believe them.

On the other side of the railing is the slope of temptation -- the temptation to think that we don't need God. That we have enough energy and wisdom -- and electronic devices of our own, to get us through life.

Besides, God is busy. There is the economy and Afghanistan and tragedy for God to worry about. We are led to think that we can get by on our own.

I have found that the railing of practice is a much needed anchor to the distractions and temptations that we face. Life, as my friend has said, is worth practicing.

Monday, November 30, 2009

November 30, 2009

Joan Chittister describes Benedictine spirituality as spirituality of the open heart. Simple, I suppose, but I have learned that it is not easy. I have often found my heart hidden or hardened -- hidden by everything that life throws at me; hardened from everything that life throws at me.

Open the heart, we are taught. Give from the heart. The heart, which is the wellspring of the Spirit, needs tending. Thomas Merton, perhaps the most influential Christian mystic of the 20th century, said that the challenge for Christians is to give from our heart. But he also said that this is an impossible task if our hearts are not in our possession.

Like most of us, I have a lifelong inventory of tasks, worries, disappointments and losses that have had the effect of taking my heart away from me for a time. But I also have learned that there are people -- who, with an abundance of heart, have helped to find and fill my own. And there are spiritual practices -- of community, worship, study, service, playfulness, physical activity -- that bring me back to my heart and open it up.

And there is prayer. In these first five chapters, Joan Chittister talks a lot about prayer as a practice that opens the heart and brings us into an awareness of the presence of God. The function of prayer, she says, is not the bribery of the infinite -- but is instead an activity that "provokes us to see the life around us in fresh new ways." (page 28)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

November 29, 2009

Most years, (and this is one of them) I experience a bit of psychic whiplash as we turn the corner from Thanksgiving and run right into Advent. But here it is – today is Advent I. A season of preparation for the Coming One. Lots to get done, we tell ourselves. Year end finances to figure out, shopping to do, SAD (seasonal affective disorder) to get through, greetings to give.

During these next four weeks -- on this blog, I invite you to join me in an exercise of soul preparation. Not to abandon the tasks of the season, but to approach Advent with a spiritual intention, which should (if the wisdom of our spiritual ancestors has any bearing) help to give the pre-Christmas tasks in a different perspective.

Joan Chittister’s book, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, will be one guide. She writes with eloquence and passion on the challenge to live with spiritual focus in a culture that sends us in several directions at once. I will refer her book in my reflections (and part of my Advent intention is to post to this blog several times a week). I invite you to refer to the book as well. If you don’t have the book, I still invite you to reflect on your spiritual intention for this Advent – on the blog, with a friend or in a group.

I have a deep desire for God. That desire is deepened, and spiritual discipline is heightened, when I am in conversation – and in communion, with others who have a similar desire. Thank you for considering this opportunity.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An Advent Invitation to an Online Book Discussion

I would like to invite you to join with me in a shared discipline this Advent season, as together we engage in the deep mysteries of our faith as we prepare for the coming one. I've selected a book, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily by Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun who has written widely and with great wisdom about how to live the faith in a frantic world. What I will be doing is responding to her book on my blog on a regular basis and invite you to write your responses to Joan Chittister, to me, or to whatever God is writing on your soul. And that way we can deepen our community with one another, our relationship with God, and endeavor to create a community of practice with one another.

Wisdom Distilled from the Daily:
Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today
by Joan Chittister

Note: This book replaces the one originally announced at Clergy Conference, Joan Chittister's "The Rule of St. Benedict: Insights for the Ages," which is temporarily out of print.

The book will be divided among the four weeks of Advent as follows:
  1. November 29 - December 5: Chapters 1 - 4
  2. December 6 - 12: Chapters 5 - 8
  3. December 13 - 19: Chapters 9 - 12
  4. December 20 - 23: Chapter 13 to the end
I will post my responses to the book on this blog, and you are invited to post your own insights and reflections as well in the comments section at the end of each post.

While I am looking forward to reading everyone's reflections on the book, I regret that I won't be able to respond to individual comments.

A limited number of free copies of the book will be available from Episcopal House. For more information please contact Kitty Kawecki, Director of Resources & Training, at or 973-430-9902.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Marriage Equality and the Vatican’s Invitation

I am in support of marriage equality. Many of us in our diocese have been hard at work to help bring marriage equality to New Jersey, which will be taken up by the Legislature in this lame-duck session in Trenton (between now and when the new Governor takes office in early January). I pray that it passes – so that all couples who have relationships marked by fidelity and commitment can have their unions recognized. It is one thing to have the relationship blessed; it is quite another thing to have that relationship honored in emergency rooms or on insurance policies or in a courtroom. The introduction of the 2007 Civil Union law was intended to support these rights. It hasn’t. Instead, it has exposed a separate but equal mentality in the state, which is indeed separate yet anything but equal.

There is formidable opposition to this opportunity, which also needs to be honored. There are religious convictions that are deeply held and long-standing. People who are opposed to marriage equality often cite the tradition that marriage should be between a man and a woman. But a closer look shows that the historical tradition of marriage is that of a contract between two men: the groom and the father of the bride. When a woman was given in marriage, she was given by her father to her husband, and in this exchange the woman surrendered her name, her rights and her property. At the end of the ceremony, the couple was pronounced to be “man and wife”, and in that pronouncement was a community announcement as to who was in charge. Only in the last thirty years or so has this inequity been scaled back so that marriage is more of a partnership than a relationship of dominance (couples are now introduced as “husband and wife”).

But there is continued resistance in many quarters to this emerging equality between partners in a marriage. And I can’t help but think that some (but certainly not all) of the opposition to same-gender marriage is in part a rejection of equal partners in a life-long relationship (because it is not immediately clear who calls the shots).

Which brings me to the recent overture by the Vatican to invite disaffected Anglicans into the Roman Catholic Church. A lot has been said and written about this development. I am not sure how it will be played out. Yet I can’t help but hear the beginnings of another contract between men – from men who have institutional power in one tradition offering a place to men in another tradition who have felt their institutional power undermined and don’t want to give it up. Women are no doubt included in the invitation from Rome, but I don’t think that disaffected women Anglican priests will be allowed to keep their clerical collars should they make the switch.

I take inspiration from Jesus who insisted on the equal value of every human being. I take great joy in the Episcopal Church and in the Diocese of Newark in its invitation to all people to be a part of the Christian community – and that whatever their gender or orientation, their gifts will be honored – and that their life-long relationships can be blessed.

Friday, October 23, 2009

My response to the Westboro Baptist Church protests

There has been some attention in the local media this week over protests that have been planned by a group from the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, KS, targeting a high school and a number of Jewish organizations located within our diocese. This group, and their leader, Fred Phelps, thrive on the media attention they get as they travel around the country spreading their message of hate. While this group is most well known for their intolerance of gays and lesbians, no one seems beyond the reach of their hatred.

Confronting the members of this fringe group seems to avail little. They are not interested in rationally arguing a position; they only wish to use fear and intimidation to spread their message. The media attention that they get by starting fights only furthers their goal of spreading their message of hate to the broadest audience.

We can ignore many of the actions of this small group of extremists in the hope that the media too will deny them the publicity that they seek; we cannot, however, ignore the message of hate that they are spreading and the effect that message may have on our neighbors. Therefore I have written to the organizations being targeted, telling them that as Bishop of the Diocese of Newark I abhor the actions of this group and their message of hate; offering the support of the diocese; and letting them know that they, and all who are unfairly targeted by hatred, will be in my prayers.

I invite the people of the Diocese of Newark to join with me in these prayers, as we remain steadfast together in our mission of “…engaging the world with the hope and justice of Jesus.”

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Spirit of Ubuntu

For several months, I have been making the case that we are all in this together. Put another way, we live together in ubuntu. Ubuntu is a Bantu word introduced to the church by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. It means “I am because you are”. Ubuntu was the theme of General Convention. Ubuntu is a Gospel challenge. Ubuntu is becoming a key element in the ether of the Episcopal Church.

Ubuntu stands in some tension with a defining philosophical concept in the Western world: cogito ergo sum (“I think, therefore I am”). First coined by Rene Descartes in the 16th century, this concept has enabled people to claim their unique identity and their essential integrity. Which has been a good thing. Yet when left alone – without the balance of ubuntu, or the notion that we are all in this together, or a commitment to community – it creates rampant individualism; and leads people to take refuge in separate silos, holding on to what they have – sealing themselves off from the rest of the world.

Theologian John Mbiti has tied ubuntu and cogito ergo sum together: I am because you are – and because you are, therefore I am.

When I am under stress or confused or overly tired, my psyche’s default place is to retreat into my secure silo. To live with an illusion of safety, encircled with a cloak of certainty. It then becomes all about me. This is a common response. I am convinced that the current health care debate is less a political struggle than a psychic, if not a spiritual one: that the stress of the economy and the uncertainty of the future has caused people to aggressively protect the health coverage they have. There is only so much insurance or health care to go around, this argument goes; and so you better get what you can. If others lose out, well, that’s the pity.

The real pity is to think that we live in isolation and independence from one another.

I am grateful for the emergence of ubuntu in our church. I see it as a corrective to rampant individualism. I see it as an invitation to discipline and the strengthening of community.

And what is the discipline of ubuntu? At least three things. First, to live in gratitude, not just for one’s own blessings, but for the blessings and hopes of others. I have discovered that the discipline of gratitude is the best antidote to fear. Second, to pray. Every day. And to pray – with intention, for others; especially for those “others” whom you have kept (for whatever reason) in a different and distant silo: the people we don’t understand, the people who drive us to distraction. When we pray for others, we are creating ubuntu.

The third way is to have a discipline of giving. Giving from the inner recesses of the silo (which breaks open the silo). Giving regularly. Giving abundantly. Most of our churches have started – or will soon start, their annual stewardship campaign. My hope and prayer is that these programs will be more an exercise in people’s need to give than the churches’ need to receive. That the stewardship enterprise will reveal the spiritual truth that our wealth is measured by what we give rather than what we own. That our giving generates the gift of ubuntu.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Hope and Fear in the Halls of Congress

Lynette Wilson photo
From left, Maryland Bishop Eugene Sutton, Connecticut Bishop James Curry, Newark Bishop Mark Beckwith and Maine Bishop Stephen Lane.

We call ourselves “Bishops Working for a Just World”. The group has been around awhile, since before my time as bishop. Our mission is to convey a moral imperative for justice – and to act together on behalf of that commitment. Six of us gathered in Washington DC earlier this week to discuss how we can incorporate community organizing into our mission – and to do some lobbying on Capitol Hill. The staff from the Office of Government Relations, which promotes the policy agenda of the Episcopal Church as it is established through General Convention resolutions, briefed us on policy, set up meetings with Senators and members of Congress, and accompanied us through the halls of government.

While there were several directives from General Convention around a variety of issues, the focus of discussion in the offices -- and demonstrations outside the offices, was about health care. The particulars of health care policy are complex and ever-changing, and are very difficult to follow; but the feelings of resistance to a reform of health care policy are raw and real – and are being released in increasing bursts of verbal violence. Those outbursts need to be challenged and curtailed; and norms of behavior need to be established or in some cases re-established – not just in town hall meetings or in joint sessions of Congress, but at the dinner table, in Vestry meetings, in the classroom, wherever people share communal life.

And it won’t be enough. We can – and should, try and manage the behavior, but the fear that underlies the verbal violence is harder to get at. And that fear is real and raw – quite powerful, and easily manipulated. The fear has been fueled by an economic recession – which brings loss to many – loss of jobs and savings and insurance coverage; and leaves many others at the edge of loss, in the uncomfortable place of being among the ‘worried well’.

“Fear not”, Jesus tells his disciples. Scholar and modern prophet Walter Brueggemann argues that “fear not” is the primary message of the Gospel. The challenge sounds like we all have some psychic switch that we can push that can make fear go away. Which is part of the problem. It seems that more and more people are pushing their fear switch, which releases even more fear and ratchets up the level of verbal violence. “Fear not” is not a management directive, but an invitation to go to the depth of fear and have it transformed by the holy one who has already been there – and who has promised to take the journey with us. And who has promised – mysteriously and sometimes miraculously, to transform the fear into hope.

As people of faith, we have the opportunity to reframe the conversation – by welcoming the hope. We welcome hope through the discipline of seeing Christ in the face of the stranger, acknowledging the presence of Christ in the heart of the person with whom we strongly disagree; by giving from a place of gratitude and abundance. It is hard work. It is holy work. This welcome is radical hospitality in its purest form – and it can move us down through the confining and confounding arena of fear to a deep and liberating place of hope.

Each of the six bishops on the Hill yesterday witnessed to the moral imperative that the health care issue begs in terms of universal access, and greater efficiency and affordability. When the final health care bill is presented (and everyone we talked with figures it will be ready by Thanksgiving), it will have political fingerprints all over it. That is to be expected, because that is how the system works. But beneath the details and political negotiations, there is another moral imperative to frame the process in terms of a hope that casts out fear.

My hope is not a wish, but a deep trust that God’s grace and our ongoing commitment can set us free.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Strike Zone, Professor Gates and the Archbishop

One of the important things baseball players need to learn early each game is the dimension of the home plate umpire’s strike zone. The rule book spells it out, but in reality the strike zone is whatever the umpire says it is. The players have to figure out if the umpire’s zone runs a bit high, or favors pitches that are low. Players adapt to the umpire’s perspective – and calibrate their split-second decisions to swing or not to swing accordingly. A relative harmony exists if the umpire is consistent. But if the umpire changes the strike zone in the course of a game, players get disoriented and squawk, managers kick up dust – and home plate umpires have the authority to toss offenders off the field, which they do with great flourish.

A couple of weeks ago, Professor Henry Louis Gates of Cambridge, Massachusetts and Harvard University, no doubt felt that the local strike zone had radically changed when, after having difficulty getting the key to open the door of his house, a Cambridge policeman appeared in his kitchen (having being alerted to a possible break-in) and demanded identification. Professor Gates squawked -- and the officer/umpire handcuffed him and carted him down to the station. Charges were soon dropped when details were sorted out, but conversation about the incident – in print, on the air, in the Rose Garden and around kitchen tables all over the country, has continued, often with great passion.

And well it should. Yet from where I sit – and squawk, the conversation should not be about the details of the incident – or whether or not Professor Gates or Officer Crowley is racist; but on the dimensions of the strike zone of civil rights. The Constitution has spelled those dimensions out, and decades of civil rights laws have reinforced them; but in reality one’s civil rights are whatever an umpire says they are. And for decades, no – for a couple of centuries, the umpire– be it the police department, the school system, the church, a corporation or a community association, has been taught to favor those who are white and punish those who are not.

Most of us have learned this cultural prejudice – and have adapted to it. We need to unlearn it. We need to create a strike zone for civil rights that is fair and consistent for everyone. Our diocesan mandate to anti-racism training speaks to this need for learning and change. It is hard work, because habits die hard. But it is necessary work; indeed it is Gospel work. In response to the number of conversations that have been generated as a result of the Cambridge incident, we are thinking of renaming our work anti-racism “dialogue” rather than “training”, to dispel any illusion that a training can provide some sort of certification that renders one an expert. We are all life-long learners on this one.

Around the same time that the Cambridge incident took place, Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, wrote a twenty-six paragraph response to two actions of General Convention, which offered pastoral generosity to same gender blessings and full inclusion of gay and lesbian people at all levels of ministry. Perhaps out of need, and certainly because of circumstance, the Archbishop has become the de facto umpire for the wonderfully diverse, deeply faithful yet fractious Anglican Communion. Clearly, he wants to hold the Communion together. To his credit, the Archbishop is deliberate in thought – and in expression. He is a gifted scholar. He draws on the insight from scripture and the clarity of prayer. Yet in two places, he refers to homosexuality as a lifestyle (“their chosen lifestyle is not one that the Church’s teaching sanctions [paragraph 8]; “it is that a certain choice of lifestyle has certain consequences” [paragraph 9]). His phrases cause me to squawk, because the Archbishop has tried to change the strike zone.

Homosexuality is not an issue of lifestyle; it is a matter of identity. We don’t choose our identity; we are challenged to claim our identity as God’s gift to us. The Church that I have chosen to serve is about the mission of helping all of God’s children claim and celebrate their identity as imago dei – as created in the image of God. The heartbreak for so many these past decades is that countless numbers of people have been taught to hide or deny their sexual identity – or have been pressured to choose a lifestyle that keeps anxious and angry umpires at bay, at the expense of their soul’s health and their true giftedness.

The Episcopal Church has made a rather courageous decision to reverse this trend, to be honest about who we are as a church -- and to affirm the giftedness of all among us. We are daring to create a strike zone that provides opportunity to all, and does linguistic violence to none.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Reflections from General Convention #3

We are coming into the home stretch of this General Convention. We finish late Friday afternoon. Today a balanced budget for The Episcopal Church was passed in both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops. There were no amendments to the budget, although some were proposed in the House of Deputies. There was virtually no discussion on the budget in the House of Bishops. It was a moment of legislative whiplash which, I suppose, reflected the feeling of futility that nothing could be changed. The lack of debate also honored the extraordinary work of the Program, Budget and Finance Committee that had the onerous task of balancing the budget that at one point was $24 million dollars in deficit. Many cuts were made, which means that lots of departments across the church have been reduced; and many staff jobs have been eliminated. There is a lot of hurt and loss to all of this -- and I don't think any of us really know the implication and impact of this yet.

"Mission" is our Presiding Bishop's echoing metaphor. She describes mission as the heartbeat of the church. She invited -- no, she challenged, us to hear the mission heartbeat in our bodies and souls. It will be more imperative than ever to respond to this challenge with deeper commitment -- given that there are fewer financial resources to carry it out. Thus the Episcopal Church mirrors the experience of the dioceses -- which is, to be sure, also the experience of congregations.

Yesterday, the House of Bishops passed a resolution that said a whole array of things -- but mainly was focused on same-gender blessings and offering generous pastoral sensitivity for dioceses that perform them. The original amendment was almost brought to a vote the day before, but several bishops who were in the minority of the two-to-one vote the day before that (on affirming GLBT people for all levels of ministry) stood up to say that they felt marginalized and vulnerable. The legislative process was abandoned for the rest of the day -- and a group of self organized bishops agreed to meet informally in order to try and move things forward.

This was the hardest moment of Convention for me. It turned out that it was the hardest moment of Convention for the 26 bishops who met that night and early the next morning -- and for 26 different reasons. I felt that there was a movement afoot to scrub the decision of full inclusion; others said that the church was moving too fast for them. We expressed our thoughts and feelings in an Indaba-like atmosphere (which we had learned at the Lambeth Conference a year before). As the discussion progressed, we decided to move beyond creating a process of winners and losers, and instead to intentionally come up with a statement that included the ideas and feelings of as many as possible. We wanted to build a tent that was high and wide enough for as many as possible to gather underneath.

The resulting resolution (which five of us wrote) reflected the diversity of perspectives. When presented on the floor of the House of Bishops, there were more amendments -- and amendments to the amendments; but they were, for the most part, attempts to better articulate what we were about rather than efforts to discredit or distort.

The final resolution passed by a three to one margin. It recognized our diversity. Instead of trying to restrict dioceses -- the intent of the resolution was to trust the integrity and practice of bishops in their respective jurisdictions.

I think it was an important step forward.

Your deputation will be coming home tomorrow -- and over the weekend. Many of us from General Convention will be present next Thursday, July 23 -- from 10am-12 noon,and 7pm to 9pm,at St. Agnes Church, 65 Union Avenue, Little Falls, to tell our stories of Convention and to entertain your questions and hear your concerns. Each session will essentially be the same -- and anyone who wishes to is invited to come.

Mark Beckwith

Monday, July 13, 2009

Reflections from General Convention #2

We are moving forward. Not as quickly as some of us would like, but it seems that more people are coming in the movement forward, and with less rancor. Yesterday afternoon the House of Deputies overwhelmingly passed a resolution that moved the church beyond B033 to allow full inclusion.

The several resolves that were presented affirm both the rights and privileges of gay and lesbian people, as well as expressing commitment to our participation in the Anglican Communion.
This resolution sends a strong message to the House of Bishops, which by all accounts seems to be more cautious than the House of Deputies. I have been working with the Chicago Consultation, which is a group of bishops, clergy and laypeople who are working to advance full inclusion at all levels of ministry. We are continually living in the tension between what we want and what we think we can get through legislation.

I am involved in many conversations about tactics and strategy. There is a level of organization and communication that is very helpful - and a level of mutual respect that seems to be sustaining us all. We seem to be moving forward - not quickly enough for my soul, but I am consoled somewhat by the fact that more people are coming along.

There are a number of bishops here from various parts of the Anglican Communion, including 13 primates. We are learning a lot from each other. At the Integrity Eucharist on Friday evening, the Primate of South Korea told me he was amazed to see so many gay and lesbian clergy join Gene Robinson at the altar for the final blessing. I would guess that at least 100 clergy came forward. It was an Incarnational moment, and clearly transforming for one bishop who had never had such an exposure before.

The pace is gruelling, the legislative work is hard - but the gifts are many. Interspersed between committee meetings and legislative sessions - and all the other claims on our time, are sessions on public narrative. Led by Marshall Ganz of Harvard's Kennedy School, we are learning to tell the essence of our our own story - and connect the story of self with the story of us and the story of now. We have been coaching each other in telling about our passion, and where that passion comes from. We are doing this in diocesan groups. The exercise has not only brought us together, but has - for me anyway, revealed yet again how our stories generate deeper understanding and community. We are discovering that public narrative is an important tool for organizing - and for evangelism.

Blessings on you all.

Mark M. Beckwith

Friday, July 10, 2009

Reflections from General Convention #1

There are lots of things that can be said of General Convention - that it is part county fair, part family reunion and part House of Representatives. That it is the largest bi-cameral legislative body in the world - with 120 or so bishops in one house and 800 deputies (half clergy and half lay) in the other. There are about 7,000 of us in all - with alternates, delegates to the Women's Triennial, visitors, exhibitors, spouses and partners, staff volunteers and international guests - filling up two hotels which flank the Convention Center located two blocks from Disneyland. Our youth delegation arrived this afternoon, which by my count adds up to nearly 50 people here from the Diocese of Newark.

I continue to be grateful, and humbled, to be among leaders in our diocese who -- through their commitment, wisdom, skill - and sheer doggedness, have shaped the mission and trajectory of the Episcopal Church. It is an amazing crew of people.

There is a lot going on. Keeping track of it all is more than one person can do. So we have been meeting during the few moments when the schedule allows; to share what we are seeing and hearing - and to help each other better understand the details and dynamics of legislation, information sessions and public narrative (more on that in a subsequent posting).

So far, the temperature seems to have cooled down on the hot-button issue of sexuality. At committee hearings - and at one very large open forum, most of those who have testified have been supportive of same-gender blessings and display an openness to gay and lesbian clergy serving in the episcopate. No votes have been taken yet in either house, but this all feels very different from 2000, my first convention, when resistance to full inclusion was angry, if not hostile.

So far, after two days of Convention, there seems to be more concern about money or, more accurately, the lack of it. There are wonderful proposals for various ministries, but fewer funds to support them. Yesterday, Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, made a very compelling presentation on the crisis in the global economy. In fact, he argued that our crisis is not economic, but is rather a crisis of truthfulness. He made the rather bold assertion that we have been lying to each other in several destructive ways:

- that truth telling has broken down in our financial world to the degree that we have increasingly tolerated anti-relational practices;
- that we have lied to ourselves about limitless growth in a limited world;
- that we have lied to ourselves about our relation to each other as human beings.

He challenged us to engage in truth telling, which is a practice and a gift that the church can offer the world. And he challenged us to lead - not from a model of economics, but a model of trust.

There is a lot to ponder and pray about - which will be important as we prepare to make some significant decisions for what it means to be the church.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What to do in the Darkness

I have several friends who are dealing with serious challenges in their lives. One of these friends sent me a poem by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre. I pass it on as a poem and a prayer.

What to do in the Darkness

Go slowly
Consent to it
But don't wallow in it
Know it as a place of germination
And growth
Remember the light
Take an outstretched hand if you find one
Exercise unused senses
Find the path by walking it
Practice trust
Watch for dawn.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Confirmation and Community

One might think that eight District Confirmation services would be an ecclesiastical chore, but they have become an unfolding and profound spiritual gift. At each service a veritable parade of confirmands assembles in the side aisle, and before they come individually to kneel before me I remind them that the Book of Genesis tells us that we have been made in the image of God. That we are imago dei. I then invite (in truth I actually insist) that they look into my eyes as I look into theirs – with the expectation that we can see into the center of each other’s souls – and see God’s image in each other.

And it happens every time. The moment lasts for only as long as it takes me to say the Confirmation prayer – maybe fifteen seconds; but on another level, it is a moment beyond time – a kairos moment (as opposed to a chronological or kronos moment, which is measured by time – and gets us to fidgeting and wondering when it will all be over). Kairos moments are moments of deep intimacy – and the intimacy is not between two people, but between two or more people and God. Writer Henri Nouwen would often say that the shortest distance between two people is God. And so it is. The Confirmation services have brought that home to me.

Now the skeptic in me – in all of us, could easily say that this is all carefully crafted liturgical drama. And it is. That it plays on my overly pliable heart strings. And they are. God is indeed in the drama – and God is in the emotions – but what makes it different from a unique moment in time – or an exercise in entertainment, is the transforming mystery and power that it brings.

Henri Nouwen would also often say that the challenge is not for us to see how we are different, but how we are the same. When we are able to look at one another in trust and acceptance we are then able to embrace the fact that we all have known, or will know – joy and pain, blessing and loss. We then become brothers and sisters to each other, bound together by a divine love we can’t exactly explain, but that we can’t live without. The dynamics and the drama play out differently for each of us, but the root experiences are the same. There has been great pressure in our world to segment and segregate ourselves from one another; to look at one another differently, if not disdainfully. To give one another but a passing glance.

The invitation is to see the image of God in the face of one another. We need to look, really look – not as a disinterested observer, but as a brother or sister. It takes practice, and a bit of commitment. And we all are changed by the community of the living Christ that is created when we dare to really see one another.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

I was once asked a trick question in a Bible course I took years ago: what is the first event in the Hebrew scriptures? The creation story, I thought. Nope, said the instructor. It was the Exodus -- because the dramatic story of the journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the promised land was the first event that was remembered by the Jewish people. Were it not for God's deliverance, everything that happened beforehand would have been forgotten or lost.

The second trick question immediately followed the first: what was the first event in the New Testament? The birth narrative, we answered. No again, he said. It was the Easter story, because the event of the Resurrection framed everything else that was written or remembered.

The origins of the Christian movement began with Jesus' public ministry in Galilee and took greater shape with his challenge of the dominant political and religious authorities in Jerusalem. But the power of who he was and what he gave to the world was not fully realized until Jesus was brought back -- miraculously and mysteriously, to life from death. The Resurrection created the movement -- it transformed hearts and redirected lives. With the Resurrection, the twelve dolts who had been chosen to be the charter disciples for the movement, were changed -- almost as miraculously and mysteriously, into competent and committed witnesses. Their faith in the living Christ moved the movement forward -- often at great risk to themselves, by bringing others into the community of hope and joy; and training them to be witnesses as well.

We are inheritors of that movement -- a movement of new life; a movement that is committed to the belief that the power of love not only survives the power of violence, but triumphs over it. Jesus made sure of that.

We are also inheritors of the institution that has been set up to foster the movement -- and to preserve it. The institution is the Church -- that "wonderful and sacred mystery" as expressed in my favorite Prayer Book Collect that is said at the Easter Vigil. Yet if an institution is left to its own devices, its goal will be to preserve itself, even at the expense of the movement that built it. At least six times St. Paul issues a warning of the dangers of the "principalities and powers". Christian history is filled with tragic evidence of the Church engaging in violence for the ostensible purpose of fostering the movement, but closer inspection reveals that there was a stronger commitment to preserving the institution.

We need for the movement and the institution to live in creative tension with each other. The institution of the church is the vessel that fosters the movement by proclaiming the story of new life in the scriptures and enfleshing new life in the sacraments. The institution of the church is designed to rekindle the fire of the Christian movement -- so that the people in the institution will feel committed and competent to carry forth the movement into the world.

The Resurrection is our beginning -- as a movement and as an institution. The Resurrection comes first -- and it comes again and again, moving the movement and transforming the institution.

Let it be so. Happy Easter.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Welcome to the Gates of Hope

Welcome to this new venture in communicating to the Episcopal Diocese of Newark -- and to the wider world.

In the Diocese of Newark, we have claimed four core values -- which correspond to four gates of hope. They are worship, spiritual formation, justice/nonviolence and radical hospitality.

In this new blog -- which I have entitled "For Gates of Hope", I will be writing regularly about life and faith, struggle and hope. I will be writing about what I am pondering and praying.

Mark Beckwith