The End of Advent, December 22-23, 2018

Saturday was nearly a true day off and it was wonderful. Son’s basketball game, football on television, tea at 4; it was nice.

The Fourth Week of Advent this year is quite short, but not nearly as short as last year, thank God. Attendance at the masses was below average (around 284, I think). I’m certain many families are traveling and visiting family out of town. I think for some, there is also a psychological barrier against going to church more than once a week and many will be at mass on Christmas Eve. On the whole, I do wish Advent had a greater observance among the faithful (not just in my parish). The season is so very important and adds immeasurable depth to Christmas when we finally greet Our Lord on that happy morn. I’m not meaning to kick those who haven’t been here, but I hate they are missing so much power and truth in this season.

For the homily, I preached on Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. I took some of what I did at Thursday’s Priest and a Rabbi and went a bit further.

Who wore it better?

Who wore it better?

After the 11am Mass, I grabbed a picture with Officer Josh, one of our off-duty officers who helps with security. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a law enforcement household, but I do not understand the angst surrounding security measures in churches. Churches are indeed a place of peace and Officer Josh is an important safeguard to that peace. If we equate law enforcement officers with violence, then we have a bigger problem. And maybe we do have a bigger problem. I can think of a dozens of reasons why he would be helpful, and none of those involve shooting someone. Our officers are viewed as part of the family, because they are. Nothing gives me more joy than to see them peering through the narthex listening to the homily. Last Christmas Day, we recruited our officer to sing the choir (it wasn’t Officer Josh!). 

After the masses, the cadre of volunteers greened the church and we have a brief, but important, liturgy walkthrough with our servers.

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At home in the afternoon, I wrote the Christmas Eve homily and said Evening Prayer (O Emmanuel).

The Day of Long Shadows, December 21, 2018

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The shortest day of the year. In the summers, I like to take a walk in the evening and I distinctly remember my walk on June 21 and acknowledging with a tinge of depression that after this long, long day, the dark will start to come.

The history of how we keep time is fascinating and worth study. June 21 and December 21 mark the longest and shortest days, respectively. Depending on the calendar and the errors associated with it, the solstices have been marked on other days – such as June 24 and December 24. June 24 is the Feast of John the Baptist and we recall his proclamation: he must increase and I must decrease. In this case the dark begins to increase setting the stage for the Light of the World to pierce the armor of darkness with his birth.

Now on the shortest day of the year we remember St Thomas who, under the shadow of the evening, said that unless he sees and feels the wounds of Jesus Christ, he would not believe he was alive. The shadow of doubt on the day of the longest shadows.

Morning Prayer and Mass in the Church (St Thomas, Ember Day, Commemoration of Advent) and breakfast at Starbucks to write this blog. The office is closed to normal business on Fridays, but there is always work to be done. I made a visit to one of our homebound members, a 94-year-old man who is a perpetual delight. He is nearly deaf and I have to put my lips almost directly on his ear when I speak. That kind of closeness generates a certain kind of closeness. I love visiting him. No matter how his day has been or how he is feeling me, he greets me as if he has been waiting all year for my visit. Officially, I go to bring care to him but selfishly, I go to receive it.

I rested in the afternoon, piddling around the house and desk. I wrote Sunday’s homily after dinner and Evening Prayer (O Oriens) by the gas flame. The St Stephen’s Office readings are similar to the American Prayer Book readings for the Morning, but I hear them differently reading them on my own. The Antiphon is perfect for this day. Those who insist on starting the Antiphons on December 16, consider this connection:

“O Dayspring, Brightness of Light Everlasting, and Sun of Righteousness: Come and enlighten them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death.”

And now the shadows will start to recede.

Confession & Confrontation, December 20, 2018

I have been really lax in making my confession. For a period of time I was making my confession once every month, but it was a two-hour drive each way. I allowed the inconvenient distance to put time between my confessions. My last confession was just before Holy Week. Not good. Sin clogs the pipes. I am like a clogged sink when I wait too long. When I delay, things that should normally pass through my thoughts, feelings, actions, and prayers with grace get backed up. It becomes stagnant and foul.

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That passive-aggressive comment that I would normally let pass through with compassion and understanding is now backed up and lingers. I can’t let it go. I obsess over it and let it grow into something it never should have been. Confession is the spiritual Drano. Instead of just pushing it through, confession pulls the obstructions out. It’s a forensic analysis. So that’s what was clogging me up. A former staff member used to say he could always tell when I made my confession, as I was far more pleasant to be around. 8 months of sludge has left me nearly stopped up. I’ve been irritable, suspicious, tired, etc. When people ask me what they should do for spiritual direction, I always counsel – confess your sins. Confession is spiritual direction as there is nothing else to help you see what’s really going on. Every time I emerge from the sacrament I always feel like Delmar after his baptism from O, Brother, Where Art Thou? “The preacher done washed away all my sins and transgressions!” I would need this today.

Since Christmas is just a few days away, I went closer to home, only about 40 minutes instead of two hours. It is not wise to have multiple confessors and this is not my intent. One should not shop around or avoid one, unless the confessor is indiscreet or truly not helpful.

The rain refused to stop all day, not even to take a breath. The afternoon was spent printing for this weekend and Christmas Eve and Day. We have two copier machines (one of the smartest things we’ve done) and I swear I heard them sigh at the end of the day. I felt like we should rub them down like a horse after a long day working cattle.

After Evening Prayer (O Clavis David) and Shrine Prayers, I gathered my things and headed to Finnigan’s Wake Pub downtown for my monthly Priest and a Rabbi event. Rabbi Mark Cohn and I have been doing this for six years (hard to believe). From September to May we meet at the pub and talk about everything under the sun, mainly drawing on what people want to hear. We’ve been stunned at the staying power of this event. We’ve had to add a second “seating” later in the evening and welcome around 80-100 people each month.

At the first session, Rabbi Mark talked about the origins of Hanukah and I talked about Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. We have dinner together and then we get ready for Round Two. It’s always a different kind of crowd and usually the topic is different from the earlier gathering, which I enjoy as it keeps us from getting too stale.

I don’t know how to do this, as I don’t want to share too much and thereby reveal too much, but I also need to share the story. Toward the end of the second session, a man joined the group and as we were wrapping up, started to challenge some of the statements being made. Challenge is not something we are afraid of, that’s exactly why we are there. Priest and a Rabbi is not an inter-faith effort at syncretism. At no point are we trying to suggest that the Rabbi and I share the same beliefs. We have much in common, but we also have significant disagreements on cosmic issues – namely, of course, Jesus Christ. If nothing else happens, I want people to see us disagree over the most important questions and still have dinner and genuinely love one another. That is something that is unfortunately missing from so much.

So we don’t mind challenge but we don’t take to belligerence. The challenges from the gentlemen became personal, and we quickly and as gracefully as we could, ended the session. It was time for it to end anyway. But the challenges didn’t.  In the corner of the pub, the tenor of the exchange became elevated and was potentially close to getting out of hand. The Rabbi and I did our best to diffuse the conflict but some things couldn’t go unchallenged. I haven’t been in a physical fight since high school and all I could think was the morning headline: Priest and a Rabbi get in a fight in a pub.

And then almost as quickly as it started, it turned. I don’t remember what was said, if anything, that flipped the switch, but the pain from the man became clear. He had a rotten day and he was medicating that day with alcohol (none of this justifies behavior, mind you), and there was real pain. Challenge turn to counsel. Counsel turned to compassion. Compassion turned to charity.

He was embarrassed. Had he not realized what he was doing, he should be, I told him. But you do, and now all is well.

If this had happened the day before, I can only imagine my internal dialogue; it would not have been graceful. It would not have been charitable. Had this happened the day before, I don’t know what I would have said. Because the day before, my spiritual drain was clogged.

O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens: come, and bring forth the captive from his prison, he who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.

I left for home just after ten. The rain was athletic in its endurance. I didn’t care. I was a captive released from the prison and shadow of death. And I was hopeful that on this night, I wasn’t the only one.

A Pearl of Great Price, December 19, 2018

When I entered the sacristy this morning, I heard the words, “Anna is here.” Anna has been in and out of our shelter since the beginning six winters ago. She is complex: highly intelligent, schizophrenic, and a volatile combination of sweet and sour. Everyone on staff has an interesting story and lasting memory of and with her. I will never forget the time when I mentioned in passing Absalom, King David’s son, and she perked up and said, “He whose hair weighed 200 shekels.” What?? As soon as I got to the office and googled “Absalom” and “200 shekels,” there it was: 2 Samuel 14.26.  Don’t lie, you didn’t know that either.  That’s why for this blog, I will call her Anna, after the prophetess.

Anna is the homeless guest most likely to join us for mass, both during the week and on Sunday. Today, she was having a good day. She stayed for Morning Prayer and Mass (Ember Day, Commemoration of the Feria) and talked a parishioner in taking her downtown to the bus station. She always has the most manicured nails – hands and feet (flip flops today). Her nails aren’t painted, but they are clearly attended to and I always notice them. It’s one of those things that causes me to really think about my position, what I don’t know, and how far I have to go. I imagine that if I were homeless, the state of my nails would be the last thing I would care about. But it may be one of the only things I have control over. Why does this surprise me? Just because she’s homeless doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about her hands and feet.

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After mass, a quick run to the neighborhood Starbucks for Grande Dark Roast and Red Pepper Egg Bites, prepared the bulletin for the noon mass, took a call from a colleague, and sincerely thanked my Bible Study participants for coming an hour and a half early to help fold and label the January issue of the Parish Magazine.

Bible Study was next at 10:30 and we spent a great deal of time exploring the parallels between David and the Ark in 2 Samuel 6 and Mary’s visit to Elizabeth in Luke 1. Sunday’s homily will most likely explore Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant.

After Bible Study, a quick dash to the chapel to say the noon mass with unction, and then another mad sprint to meet two friends for lunch. Katie and Paul were both interns with the Abraham Project, our year of service program that ended this year after 7 years. Time flies and I can’t remember which class they were in, but they were from different years. Katie spent a second year working at St Timothy’s when Paul entered the program. They feel in love, I have the privilege of marrying them, and now they are both in graduate school at Emory University in Atlanta. Paul in law school and Katie is at the school of theology (my alma mater) preparing for ministry in the Presbyterian Church. They were in town for a short stop and it was so good to see them. I’m very proud of the Abraham Project and the lives that touched me. It’s been a real thrill to keep up with them as they left to do wonderful things: Peace Corps, graduate school, ministry, etc. Some completely changed their vocational trajectory after the Abraham Project. Some stayed in Winston-Salem and have become a permanent part of our lives. This wasn’t the case for everyone; some left early and unfriended us on Facebook as soon as they crossed the county line and some I doubt I’ll ever hear from some again. But all of them, all of them, made a mark on our community and I trust we made some mark on them and I shall always remember them in my prayers.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham at Rosary.

The Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham at Rosary.

When I returned from lunch I had a pastoral care appointment to help someone find their grounding after life seemed to crumble apart. My spiritual direction is pretty consistent: go mass every Sunday, find a challenging and accountable community, and find a way to really serve others. Don’t let your mind get idle. We get in trouble when we get bored. Discipline your body and make it serve your will. Pray with the Church so the Church can help you pray when you don’t feel like it.

The day came to a close with Evening Prayer (O Radix Jesse), Shrine Prayers, and the Rosary (Luminous Mysteries tonight). On Wednesdays, I’m in prayer for two hours: Morning and Evening Prayer, 2 masses, Shrine Prayers, and the Rosary. I think it was Padre Pio who said that an hour of prayer a day should be sufficient, unless you are busy, then you need two. I completely agree with this counsel. The busier I am, the more time in prayer I need. I would not be as disciplined in prayer without the accountability of a public schedule. Whenever I have found ways to skirt time in prayer, I’ve paid a price. 

The rhythm of prayer in the parish is demanding and can sometimes feel like a burden, but what it does to a soul is priceless.

Certifiably Alive, December 17-18

It’s 9:23 on Tuesday night. The television is on with a minor football bowl game and a pot of Earl Grey warmed by a cosy on my desk. My intention has always been to write every day, not only to share the stories of parish life but also for the discipline of writing. For the past four days, I have been unable, or unwilling, to carve 30 minutes to reflect on the day and tell the story. If you stay with this blog, I will do my very best to share this journey every day.

Monday, O Sapientia! Morning Prayer and Mass for the Advent Feria. My server was Luke, our Divinity School intern. We normally meet after mass on Monday, but after a long and busy weekend, I needed to spend this day putting together the parish magazine, something I started last month. I worked fairly steady until close to noon when I parishioner called to tell me she was on her way for me to write a letter stating that she is alive. I have no idea why. Something, I believe, to do with her pension. I assured her that nothing on that day would be greater than to certify she is alive and well: “To Whom it may concern: it gives me great pleasure to certify that ___________ is indeed, alive and well.”

At noon I sat at my station ready for penitents and their confessions. Hearing confessions, in my experience, is feast or famine. They either come in waves or they don’t come at all. I am committed to finding more times and better times to make myself available for confession. They know I’m available by appointment, but if one is reluctant to make a confession, having to go through the trouble to schedule it is perhaps one barrier too much.

I had lunch with my in-laws who were in town for the weekend. As the meal ended, the server announced that someone had already paid the bill. What on earth would have moved someone to do that? We will never know. Thank you, to whomever.

In the afternoon I received a call from a person who was homeless with children and needed help.  Like the post from last Friday, I often don’t know the legitimacy of these calls. Please don’t misread the cynicism, but clergy of all stripes have been through this. There is such a fine line between helping and enabling. Since the person mentioned homelessness and children, I put a call in to a parishioner who works in finding help and resources for our homeless brothers and sisters. The two of them got together later and I will follow up to see what came of it.

When the mail came, I discovered a Christmas card from a parishioner who is now serving a life-sentence in prison for murder (the victim was also a parishioner). One day I need to write about burying someone one day and doing pastoral care with the murderer the next.  I have given pastoral care to two parishioners accused of murder in my parish. One was acquitted (self-defense) and one plead guilty. None of this is confidential, it’s all quite out in the open but, being in the South, not talked about.

Momento Mori with flowers from Gaudete.

Momento Mori with flowers from Gaudete.

The day ended with Evening Prayer and the O Sapientia antiphon. I know we often make much ado about the O Antiphons, but does anyone actually pray them in the office? They aren’t slogans, they are aids to prayer and buttresses to the Magnificat.

After Evening Prayer I convened my “Worship Committee.” We call it that ironically. It’s instead a weekly meeting with my liturgical leaders and we go over what happened the day before and what needs to happen in the week ahead. It’s very good to be on the same page and these are some very good people in which to do that.

Before bed I read on social media where another conservative/traditional Episcopal priest is swimming the Tiber. I don’t know this priest personally, but the world of social media makes it seem like everyone is a friend. I wish him well. I know people are wondering when I will do the same. Intellectually, I am certain I would be happier in the Roman Catholic Church. Aesthetically I would be happy as a clam in the Eastern Orthodox Church. But my heart, as conflicted as it often is, remains in Anglicanism. I simply don’t feel called to anywhere else. I don’t know how long the current church will tolerate an anachronism like me, but that my very well be the cross Our Lord has given me.


 Tuesday morning I had every intention of getting up early and making the final push on the parish magazine. It didn’t happen. At church by 7:30, Morning Prayer and Mass for the Advent Feria with a commemoration of William West Skiles, deacon and monk. Deacon Skiles, according to Peter Anson, is the first person in permanent monastic vows in the Anglican Communion since the Reformation and he lived less than two hours from Winston-Salem. I have developed a devotion to him since our youth trips to Valle Crucis, which was once his monastic domain and where he is buried. I was pleased to successfully lobby his inclusion on the diocesan calendar for this day – the day of his burial in its present location. The date of his death is December 8, but there is a very important feast already taking that spot.

Administrative frustrations got the best of me at the start of the day and I did not start off on the right, or calm, foot. I would be a horrible poker player. My neck and ears turn red when I’m agitated. To amplify that ‘tell’, I’m bald! Staff meeting is normally at 10:00 on Tuesdays, but I cancelled it to push through with the magazine, as it needed to print that afternoon. A brief pause at 11am to bless blankets, shawls, and other knitted items from our knitting ministry team.

Confraternity

Confraternity

At noon I was downtown at our Confraternity gathering. We talked about gentleness as used in the Philippians text on Gaudete Sunday. Gentleness is not the same thing as passivity. To be gentle is to recognize the fragility in the other and our own power to crush. The conversation is always lively and the food is always good.

A rush back to the office and final proofs of the magazine and the print button was pressed. No turning back now, even after I discovered I left 2018 on the front of the magazine. I’m livid! More publication work, this time the digital e-news that goes out on Tuesdays. So much of my week is sharing information and telling stories. I love it, but the mechanics can be tedious and time consuming. I am not, by nature, a patient person.

Evening Prayer followed with O Adonai as the antiphon and then Shrine Prayers. Some text messaging, emails, tidying, and this portion of the day was finished.

God was in the whirlwind, December 14, 15, & 16

What a whirlwind.

Friday morning, Morning Prayer and Mass (St John of the Cross, commemoration of the Feria). I had intended on getting my funeral homily for Saturday and Sunday’s homily done, but in the words of Forrest Gump, we had lots of visitors. The office is closed on Fridays but somehow it always seems to be one of the busiest days. Members of the family came by to prepare for the funeral reception, a parishioner stopped by with some medical news, and a man came by looking for assistance with gas. As policy, we don’t keep cash on hand, so I went with him to a gas station and bought him a gas card.

When people come in looking for financial assistance, sure, it’s a crap shoot. Sometimes they are scheming and want money for things other than household necessities. Sometimes people will ask for gas cards or food cards and then sell them for things other than household necessities. Sometimes you can tell quickly whether someone’s story is legit and sometimes it is impossible. In every case, the person standing before you is in need. I tend to err on the side of help. I believed the gentlemen and I hope he continues on the path he says he’s on. In that moment, it wasn’t for me to judge the trajectory of his life. He simply asked for gas. If he doesn’t use it that card for fuel in his car, that’s on him. If I don’t help him, that’s on me.

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Saturday was full. Christmas Pageant practice in the morning and a funeral at 1pm. I had a vestry social that evening so I couldn’t stay for the funeral reception. Half of the family is from Sierra Leone and this family always, always has the best receptions. I did pause long enough to have, what I call, a Sierra Leone hushpuppy. Instead of cornmeal and sugar, it has rice and other wonderful things. The evening was spent with the vestry at our Advent social and then my son’s basketball game at 8pm (sinful to have a game so late).

Sunday was Gaudete Sunday and the congregation was resplendent in rose. I preached on Luke’s Gospel and the human tendency to act as if our sins aren’t actualized unless they are discovered, a false assumption. I also confessed my failure in having more opportunities for people to make their confession, something I vowed to remedy. After mass, I had a vestry meeting, and then after the meeting – The Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever. I do hope you will look at this pictures. It was sound theologically and beautiful. It wasn’t a spectacle of children put in positions to look cute. It was a re-telling of the story of Christ’s birth and what that means for us. It had solemnity and wasn’t a spectacle. I am very proud of the children and youth.

A whirlwind to be sure. And in this one, God was to be found.

Feasts and Friends, December 13, 2018

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The feast of St Lucy. A feast with all sorts of wonderful traditions, her day now passes with little attention, at least over here. She was a virgin who died during the Diocletian persecution in the early 4th century. Mass was from the American Missal, something I use a couple of times a week. I am fond of the American Missal and find that it is perfect for small congregations and that it lends to greater devotion for both the priest and the faithful. By using the American Missal weekly, I’ve painted myself into a bi-ritual corner. While the liturgy itself is largely the same as 79 BCP Rite I mass, the rubrics and calendar diverge enough to force some real focus. The 79 BCP essentially only has major feasts and lesser feasts, while the modern Roman Rite and Common Worship in the Church of England have solemnities, feasts, and memorials (or Principal Feasts, Festivals, and Lesser Festivals in the parlance of Common Worship). The American Missal still retains the complicated order of ferias and feasts of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th class. Some of our observances are from the Church of England, Rome, the American Missal, and the 79 Book of Common Prayer (and Lesser Feasts and Fasts). Trying to synthesize it all is a challenge and for the most part, I switch to the practice of the missal. So today was the feast of St Lucy, a double, from the common of a Virgin but not a martyr. While the American Missal uses that common is something I have not had time to explore.

The morning was spent preparing the Sunday bulletin and newsletter. At this time I am the primary communications person and there is a fair amount of time spent on necessary publications. We’ve tweaked things a bit beginning with Advent, always trying to find what people will actually read and remember all the while keeping tabs on cost and time. It’s a constant process.

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The highlight of the day was lunch with my new friend John Shelton Reed. Dr. Reed is a sociologist and historian who specializes in Southern Culture, Barbecue, and Anglo-Catholic Social Politics – three of my favorite things! I read his wonderful work Glorious Battle years ago and every page has something highlighted or underlined. I’ve corresponded a couple of times over the years wanting to arrange an Anglo-Catholic Barbecue, as he only lives 90 minutes away, but schedules were hard to align. We were finally able to make it happen this spring and it was a glorious, no pun intended, event. We’ve been in regular contact ever since. What a joy to actually get to know someone you’ve long admired. Tragically his wife and co-author died this fall. I had not seen John since the funeral and we got together at Real Q barbecue with another friend.

I picked my car up from the garage - $358 and a new battery (long story) later, the car now starts up like a homesick angel. I just hope the angel is not one of death!

An interesting story came to my attention in the afternoon as I was finishing up the newsletter. An evangelical pastor in my home state of South Carolina bought his wife a $200,000 Lamborghini SUV. I don’t know the man and have no intention of judging, although I think the purchase was unwise, no matter how much money he has (and certainly don’t put it on Instagram!). He did, however, make an interesting point. Defending his purchase, he said no one is upset at the amount of money he spends on paying for his kid’s college tuition. Most “good” schools are around $50,000 a year. Times 4, that’s $200,000, the same as the car. Are they apples and oranges? Yes. Yet, I’m not sure a $50,000 education is that much better than a $15,000 one. Maybe it is, but the point is worth considering. I do take issue with his theological understanding of the cure of souls. I know he is not a priest nor does he claim to be one, so our theological point of departure is different. Defending the purchase, he said was speaking and acting as a husband and not as a pastor. I’m not sure that distinction is possible. Holy Orders (and I realize he and I are talking about different things) and Holy Matrimony are both sacraments and one makes an indelible mark on the soul and the other is indissoluble. Neither can be turned off or on. The attempt to do so leads to sin. The whole debate struck the contrast between something I saw on a friend’s Facebook page (picture below), from a work, I think, by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. Quite the contrast in theology. By mega-church standards, I live a life of modesty and simplicity. By global standards, I live like a czar. Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange’s admonition is important and sobering.

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Evening Prayer, Alma Redemptoris, and Shrine Prayers. Left the church in the dark, ending a feast of light.

Our Lady of the Snows, December 12, 2018

As much of a pain as the snow has been, it is beautiful. I’ve never really paid attention to the holly trees, but today it looked like a greeting card. I do hate, however, when it gets dirty. It’s depressing because it’s not what it was, what it should be.

…thou shalt wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Oh how quickly it turns, both the snow and the soul.

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Mass today was for the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I must confess to never having a strong devotion to the Patroness of the Americas, partly because of how her image is used in cultural kitsch instead of devotion. I am tainted by the fact that I can win a velvet Our Lady of Guadalupe at the county fair if I knock over four milk bottles with a baseball. This is something I need to work on. In my homily I addressed why Mary is so important and how we neglect her at our own spiritual peril. The more we focus on Mary, the more we focus on Jesus. Blessed John Henry Newman’s confessor said that one cannot love the Mother of Our Lord too much, as long as he loves her son all the more. By focusing on Mary, we preserve the orthodoxy of Jesus Christ. Mary gave birth to Jesus, thus he is fully man. Yet Mary was a virgin, thus he is fully God. Her various titles, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Walsingham, Our Lady of Lourdes, Fatima, etc., remind us that her protection – and spiritual protection flows from fidelity – is local. Her witness and her light is the reflection of the light of her son and is contextualized to wherever we may be. Loving Jesus is not for a distant people in a distant land. It’s for here and for us.

Mid-morning I led the weekly Bible Study. I was surprised by the numbers with the roads still difficult in many places (school continues to be out). Using the readings for this coming Sunday we talked about how we tend to operate under the assumption that our sins aren’t actualized unless they are discovered. John the Baptist disagrees.

Mass again at noon with unction. A quick drive-thru lunch of grilled chicken and a kale salad and a pre-martial counseling session at 2pm. For years I have used a resource called Pre-Marriage Awareness Inventory. Most couples roll their eyes at it first, but then appreciate the process. I always tell couples that no matter what I say regarding the fitness of their relationship, I assume they are going to get married anyway by someone else (they universally nod their heads in affirmation). My job is to make sure they have the best possible shot going forward. I use the awareness inventory to force conversation about topics couples usually avoid, namely communication, money, sex, and religion. For someone, either the husband or wife, there is not enough of one of those. For the past several years I have also used genograms from Family Systems Theory and I have them map their emotional family trees. I find this extraordinarily helpful for the couples. On the whole, however, I am not pleased with my pre-martial preparation and this is something I need to address in the near future.

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Evening Prayer was next, followed by Shrine Prayers, and the Rosary. I blessed three rosaries at the conclusion. Fitting, I thought, on the feast day.

The day ended with the Christmas Pageant rehearsal, which if I may say, could be the Greatest Christmas Pageant Ever. It’s old fashioned, sound, and powerful. As it should be.

On the ride home the night was brighter because of the snow. Dirty as it may be, it still can reflect the light.

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Business Plan, December 11, 2018

Morning Prayer, finally, back in the church (Advent Feria). As lovely as sitting by the fireplace is, it’s hard to do. I’m easily distracted. I rush. A surprising crowd at mass in the morning. Even though it has only been two days since I’ve said mass/received communion, it has felt like two weeks.

The morning work involved working on a funeral for the weekend, which will, liturgically, see a merger of two different cultures, neither of which is my own.

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I went to lunch with our choirmaster, who was my first hire nine years ago. We worked out details for the 2019 liturgical calendar. Ideally, this would have been done months ago, but all of us in the office are raging Type B’s with idiosyncratic Type A behavior.

After lunch I had a meeting with parish finance leaders and representatives from our new bank regarding financing for our capital campaign. This is uncharted territory for me, which is why it makes me nervous and also why I need it. This has been a fascinating experience and not the easiest sell over the whole parish. Many individuals have supported the campaign with significant gifts and pledges (nearly 2 million) but the support is from a minority of the parish. It’s a different kind of campaign. It did not come from a grassroots movement to build a classroom or parish hall or something that is easily seen as practical. I found myself presenting the “business model” to the bankers. Once upon a time, people might have given to the church so that priests would say requiems for their souls once they had died. They might have given out of a real sense of gratitude. People today may still give for the same reasons, but the motivation to worship and support is harder and harder to generate. Our “product” is a saving, transformative relationship with Jesus Christ. We “market” that product through inspiration. How does one deliver inspiration? Through charitable works? Yes, and many have asked why we aren’t focusing on our homeless shelter. Mainly because, as important as this has been for us, we want to be out of the shelter business. This is one business model where we don’t want consumers! And it’s working. Last year on December 10, we had 17 guests in our shelter. This year, with 14 inches of snow on the same day, we had 8. That’s good news. God willing, in three or four years, we can close down the operation because it is no longer needed. The same thing is true about our young adult year of service program. For seven years we hosted The Abraham Project, a powerful ministry to and with young adults. We nearly bought a house for the project. The needs have changed and fewer young adults are doing year-of-service programs and we had to close our project this year. What is the one thing that will always be current, always be necessary, and will always inspire? The worship of our Lord. The altar and the font. Adoration is the best and longest (as in eternal) investment we could ever, ever make. There is nothing more practical, but the results are often delayed.

I am grateful for wise minds who understand markets, points, interest rates, zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

The conceptual drawings.

The conceptual drawings.

More admin after the meeting and off to Evening Prayer.

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For some time now, we’ve read a portion from the Rule of St Benedict at Evening Prayer. I borrowed this practice from Norwich Cathedral, which is near to my heart. Norwich Cathedral was once a Benedictine Priory and they still recite the Rule as a nod to this important heritage. I am also an oblate with the Order of St Benedict (St John’s Abbey in Collegeville, Minnesota). The reading for December 11 was the beginning of Chapter 58, The Order for the Reception of Brethren. What struck me was how hard Benedict made it for brothers to enter the monastery. Test them to see if they are serious. It stood in direct contrast with a video I saw earlier in the day by comedian John Crist called “Virtual Church.” It was satire, but not by much. I know Benedict was speaking to monks, but surely there is something for us learn. The gap between the Holy Rule and Virtual Church is both deep and wide.

After Evening Prayer I gathered my things and went to the empty parking lot to go home. My car, however, had different plans. Rest eternal grant unto it. Always make friends with mechanics. A text message exchange revealed a dead starter.

Good thing we are Easter people.

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A Victorian Day, December 10, 2018

At 4:50am, I woke to the vibrating sound of a text message.
“Do we have power?”
I pulled on the chain to the bedside lamp.
“Nope.”

The next twenty minutes were spent preparing the house, or rather the residents, for a morning without power. Battery powered lanterns in the bathroom. Candles lit in the bedrooms. Blankets on children. A towel tied on the handles of the refrigerator with a sign – “Do not open the fridge – Management.”

No big deal until it hit me – no coffee. I thought about firing up the grill that I had moved to the covered porch and boiling water, but I had thrown away the broken French Press. I don’t know if it was psychosomatic or real physiological withdrawal but my head was now splitting.

With no power and the roads still treacherous in places (it was still snowing), there was no going in the office. I said Morning Prayer by the gas fireplace. I joked on Twitter that I was able to live out my Victorian fantasy, saying Morning Prayer by the light of an iPhone next to a gas fireplace. Just like the Victorians! Despite the pain from lack of caffeine and the disrupted routine, it was so very still in the house. No hums, white noise, blue noise, or electromagnetic whatevers. It was disorientingly beautiful.

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With nothing else to do, I went outside and shoveled the driveway. When I was done and realized it was still a very early hour and that I had accomplished a fair bit in the house and outside, it occurred to me that there may be something to this no power thing.

I recently heard on a news broadcast about a study that showed that we are our most creative when our minds are bored. The study suggested that because we now turn to our phones and devices to occupy our downtime, our creativity is stifled. I was on the verge of a creative explosion, I was about to map out the next great theological work, I was going to finger paint a masterpiece, I was about to do all of this when the power came back on mid-morning. I quickly abandoned creativity for coffee.

At lunch I watched the BBC’s coverage of the House of Commons and the Prime Minister’s decision to delay the vote on Brexit. I am not an uncritical Anglophile and I am certain there are major flaws with the Parliamentary process in the UK, but I would love to see our nation adopt it for a day or so, just to see what would happen. I am speaking from a place of naiveté, I don’t know much about British politics or politicians, but I find it refreshing that opposing sides must debate directly across from one another – ten feet from one another. I find it refreshing that everyone has, theoretically, an opportunity to speak. And I appreciate the forced civility – “my right honorable friend.” It’s a form of verbal discipline that makes the casual observer, someone like me, think that there is a real chance these politicians do like each other, but disagree on policy. That may be light years from the truth, but the appearance of such is surely far better that what we are currently dealing with.

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It was difficult to get too much administrative work done at home. I arranged some meetings, responded to emails, etc., but most of what I needed was at the office. The major triumph of the day was to wash and iron nearly a dozen amices. I don’t wash them as often as I should because I can’t stand the process. The strings inevitably get tangled in an impossible knot and I do not have the natural patience to undo them. This is why I have such a devotion to Mary, Undoer of Knots. Knots, both literal and metaphoric, frustrate me. At our last diocesan convention, Bishop Rodman stated that he enjoys undoing knots. I perked up at the mention of this voodoo. He said that the one thing he had learned over the years is that you have to start where the greatest tension is. Now that is worth some thinking on.

Evening Prayer by the fire. A normal Victorian day.