Sermon at St. James Black Mountain 4-14-19

+Porter Taylor

Palm Sunday—4/14/19

Philippians 2:5-11

 

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus

            Who, though he was in the form of God

            Did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited

But emptied himself----he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death

The Greek word for EMPTIED is KENOSIS

            It’s surrender—a complete letting go---

            As our Lord says on the Cross, “Not my will but yours”

We are called to go beyond this false self we present to the world

The self that cares about what we own, and how we look, and what people say about us

            And like St Francis---we unburden ourselves

            We throw all our possessions away

We walk away from our carefully constructed ego to ask God to make us new.

 

There’s a reason we hear the story of entering Jerusalem and ending up at the cross

            At the beginning of HOLY WEEK

We need to know where we are headed and what is required of us to be resurrected

 

We have to let go of our old mind and put on the mind of Christ

            And it’s a mind that reverses all our conceptions.

            Losing is winning

            Giving is receiving

            Dying is the door to new life.

One of the ancient names for the Church is The School of Love

            Because the only way to put on the mind of Christ is love.

                        Love is the hammer that nails us to the cross

Love is the one thing that will move us beyond our ego

 into another way of seeing and being

Think of the difference between Pilate and the thief on the cross

Pilate is a politician---he takes a poll

            He says to the crowd “I have found no ground for the sentence of death”

                        And yet the “loud shouts that Jesus should be crucified …prevailed”

Pilate condemns Jesus to death to keep his consituancy happy.

            As we often hear --- It’s not personal, just business.

 

But As Christians we know differently—

-to put on the mind of Christ is completely personal.

            Because love is always personal.

            The criminal on the cross asks Jesus to be remembered—

To be connected and then he finds his home in Paradise

He has emptied himself of his ego----and found communion.

 

In this time of political slogans and arguments and wrangling

            Let’s remember we don’t’ empty ourselves for political agendas

We empty ourselves for people---we empty ourselves for love---for connection.

 

There’s a sweet and deep book from  a 17th Century Roman Catholic priest named

            Jean-Pierre de Caussade called Abondonment to Divine Providence

            And he writes this “For those who have surrendered themselves completely to God, all they are and do has power. Their lives are sermons. (page 58).

           

If we seek resurrection, then we must let God kill off our old self and our old mind.

            The mind that is ego-driven.

            The mind that needs to label who is good and who is bad.

            Who is right and who is wrong.

The mind that is always concerned about how we stack up.

            Are we smart enough or rich enough?

Do we have the right political views or have we been to the right spiritual workshops?    

            Kenosis is the doorway to putting on the mind of Christ.

            Because Kenosis removes all barriers between us and the Lord

                        And between us and others.

How do we get there?  LOVE

                       

When we empty our minds of who belongs in the righteous circle and who doesn’t          

            Because divine love is without boundaries,

            Because divine love gives us a taste of paradise.

Because to put on the mind of Christ is to stop thinking about where people have been

And to remember that we are all invited to paradise—just like the thief on the cross

 

I think of the moral center of American Literature which is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

If you remember, after many episodes---

Huck has come to see Jim as a friend and not a slave

            But Huck still has remnants of the mind of of the world

            Huck is caught were we are often caught

            His heart says one thing but his mind says something else

Jim is his friend—his only friend---

but the world says JIM is a slave who must be returned to his owner.         

And for Huck this isn’t just obeying the law.

He is convinced if he ignores the law, he will be a sinner and he will go to hell.

He is caught between the mind of the world or the mind of Christ

            The mind that says our differences define us

            Or says that our actions define us—like the theif of the cross---

But then Huck remembers the adventures He and Jim have had

            He remembers that after he saved Jim from capture, Jim said

That Huck was the best friend Jim had in the world and the only one he’s got now.

 

And something happens---something we call kenosis---

            Huck’s old way of seeing the world is emptied---

he became obedient to the point of death

            This is how the novel reads:

“It was a close place. I took up the letter (to Jim’s owner) and held it in my hand….

And then I says to myself, “All right then I’ll go to hell” and tore the letter up.

 

To put on the mind of Christ is to empty ourselves of our old ways of seeing the world.


As Paul writes---If anyone is in Christ---there is a new creation.

Remember Jean-Peirre de Caussade ?

For those who have surrendered themselves completely to God,

Their lives are sermons. (page 58).

            This is the real preaching our world needs today. From you and me.

It’s about Kenosis--- Self-emptying. Putting off the old way of seeing the world

            And putting on the mind of Christ.

 

We stop worrying about our past or our future

            We stop thinking about all those other people who distract us from what matters

            Kenosis---our lives don’t need to revolve around Donald Trump or Nancy Pelosi

The Mueller Report is not the Good News of the Risen Lord

regardless of what is says or doesn’t say.

Those are events—those are activities—

but they are not about salvation or resurrection

            And they make it harder to practice Kenosis.

 

Instead we must attend to what is in front of us right now.

            This space—the hard wood of this pew—the light of the window

            Your breath in and out---the beat of your heart—the person sitting near you

These are the countless doorways to God’s love for you.

            Because the force behind resurrection is always love.

                        Huck’s love for Jim

                        The thief’s surprising love of Jesus on the Cross

            The love that enables us to be fully alive in this moment

 

It’s not that we divorce ourselves from the world.

Huck Finn does a very radical act in not turning Jim—a slave—into the authorities

            But his act is not about anger—not about revenge—not about his ego

            He’s not out to get anyone

No---the Kenosis of love has enabled him to shed all negative and divisive thought

            And act from his heart and his life is now a sermon---today.

Palm Sunday is a map for us

            We are invited to do better than wave Palms and give the right cheer.

                        We are invited to walk ourselves to Calvary

                        And pray for God to crucify our self centered mind and empty our egos

So that with God’s help we put on the mind of Christ—

and become God’s agents to make the world new.

 

Sermon at Christ Church Raleigh March 31, 2019

Porter Taylor   

Christ church Raleigh

3/31/19—-Lent 4

Let’s start with a poem by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai

From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.

The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.

But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.

Today we hear the archetypal story of what happens

            When you are stuck in the place where you are right.

            And thank God we hear the story of what happens

            When doubts and loves dig up the world like a mole, a plow

 

No doubt we have all heard the story of Prodigal son before.

            But I wonder if we have connected it to where we are in this country today.

This story gives us three ways of living—three ways of connecting---three ways of seeing the world.

           

Let’s begin with the elder Son—Mr. Always Right.

            He has always colored in the lines

But he is angry that no one has appreciated his achievements.

            No one threw a party for him to celebrate his merit badges.

And therefore, in a paradoxical way, although he stayed in the house, he is not at home

 

            Remember what he says to his father?

I have been working like a slave for you and you have never given me a young goat

so that I might celebrate with my friends--

The elder son has a limited sense of the divine economy.

He believes that there’s a limited supply of the essential stuff we need

            And if you are not careful—the wrong people will get what is yours.

Therefore---it’s impossible to party---

            Which is to open your hands and receive from the goodness of the Lord

And it’s impossible to give freely because you are always scared there’s not enough.

Worse because of that to be free to live your life.

It’s impossible to move away from a life always thinking about your past wounds

            To give thanks for the moment and truste in the constant love of the father

 

I am focusing on the elder brother because of where we are as a country

            And because of who we are called to be followers of Jesus

Remember what the elder son says?

“But when this son of yours came back who has devoured your property with prostitutes you killed the fatted calf for him

From the place where we are right 

we say It’s “this son of yours” not “this brother of mine”

And from the place were we are right, we focus one moment in someone’s life

For the older brother it’s the dissolute living

            But he ignores the eating the pods that the pigs were eating

            And living in a place where “no one gave him anything”

The older brother has taken a snapshot of his brother’s life to define his brother.

The older brother has projected all of his hurts and resentment onto his brother

            And as a result---he is the one who is stuck.

 

Now here’s where I move from preaching to meddling.

I think about the elder brother and I think about our country

            As a nation we are in danger of defining ourselves by who we are not

            We are more polarized than we have been since the Civil War.

A Reuters poll stated that 1 in 6 Americans stopped talking to a family member

            Or close friend because of the 2016 election--- 1 in 6.

Our country is addicted to thinking one’s political position defines them

                        As if any of stop growing

                        As if any of us don’t have countless attributes to who we are

                        As if any of us are not made in the image of God.

What did Jesus say about what we are to do?

---love God and love your neighbor

            And that love is always dynamic because we live in time.

The younger brother has done some sinful acts

            Is there anyone in here who hasn’t?

But he lives in time, just like the older brother and you and me

            Just like the people who voted for Donald Trump or Hilary Clinton.

We become less that we are when we get stuck---

When we define ourselves or others by one moment.

I am reminded of a young Japanese soldier in World War 2 named Hiroo Onoda

In 1945 in Japan he found a note that said-- “The War ended August 15---Come home.”

            But he refused to believe it---he thought it was a hoax

In the months and years that followed he found other flyers and even newspapers

Saying the same thing but he refused to believe it because the war had become his life

Finally, in 1974 a college student named Norio Suzuki tracked Hiroo Onoda down

            Suzuki tried to tell him  that peace really had come

But Onoda said he would not surrender unless ordered to do so by his commander

So two weeks later the student returned with his commander, now an old man.

            The Major read aloud the orders to surrender

Then Onoda unloaded his rifle and took off his pack and wept like a baby.

He had spent 29 of his 52 years hiding in the jungle fighting a war that wasn’t a war—

He had killed 30 people after the armistice

            This is the older son—and this could be us as a country if we do not remember who we are and why we are here.

 

Which brings us briefly (I promise) to the younger son

All of us go to the distant country---but that’s not the point

The point is whether we “to come to ourselves”

            We remember who we are—and where we belong

I once was lost and now am found---once was blind and now I see.

            We are all sinners in need of redemption

            And it’s helpful to remember that our Successes have little to teach us.

                        It’s why we wear crosses around our necks.

We believe in life on the other side of the cross---

            Most of my growth has come from admitting my weaknesses

                        so that I can discover the strong love of the Lord.      

We learn the two prayers God always hears are “Help me Help me Help me”

            And “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

 

And finally the gracious father

            Remember what he says to the older son?

            “We had to celebrate and rejoice because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life.”

            We all have a past---we have all erred and strayed like lost sheep

            We have all have political views that others in this room disagree with strongly

But none of those define us---

Today’s epistle says “From now on we regard no one from a human point of view

If anyone is in Christ there is a new creation”

My brothers and sisters---Let us remember that at points in our lives

            We have wandered to a distant country and lost our way

            And we have also been stuck in the place where we were right and no flowers will every grow there in the spring.

 

But our calling---as followers of the crucified and Risen Lord

            Is to welcome everyone home---and accept their welcome for us to come home

This is our moment as the Church in a divided world.

            Let us move from the place where we are right to doubt our own correctness

            And let us discover again our deep love of the Lord—and his love for us.

            Let us throw aware our scorecards of who is right and who is wrong

                        And simply go the party the God is always throwing for all God’s children.

 

If we do the poem’s whisper that will be heard where the ruined House once stood

We be for all God’s children saying this:

Sermon at St. James Black Mountain January 27, 2019

Porter Taylor

Epiphany 4C—1/17/19

St James Black Mountain

Today is the day Jesus comes home.

After his baptism and the 40 days in the wilderness, he returns to Nazareth

Where everyone knows who he is--

Joseph's son; the carpenter; the guy down the street.

He goes to the synagogue but that's not unusual,

He often went to the synagogue

It was no big deal.

People were only mildly interested.

Maybe he would say something interesting--

Perhaps they would be entertained.

But they didn't expect much.

Jesus came and read from Isaiah--

All about God changing the world--

Good news to the poor, release to the captives. Sight to the blind.

Yada yada yada.------Same old same old.

Jesus sits down and doesn't say a word.

Then he speaks the word that shook the people- Today.

Today he said, it's all true—Today the scripture has been fulfilled.”

Some people got mad---

(8 verses later Luke reports that some of the townspeople tried to throw him over a cliff)

Some people were bewildered; they wondered what in the world he was talking about--

But most shrugged it off and said "Whatever"

So it was and so it is.

We make these Holy Stories tame by pushing them away from the terrifying present.

It's fine to talk about Jesus as long as he stays in the past, isn't it?

We can theorize over what he really said or didn't say.

We can talk about the newest archeological discoveries

            To prove or disprove whether his words are true.

We can think about the physiology of the miracles:

We can think about it’s possible for the lame to walk or the blind to see.

Or we can tame these Holy Scriptures by pushing them into some future

we never have to deal with.

The 2nd Coming is all myth and metaphor, we say.

It's all about giving people hope so they can endure this present.

But the truth is today is the only time we ever have to be alive.

Today is the only time we have to be released from what binds us

Today is the day the scripture is being fulfilled in our hearing.

The word "TODAY" is the good news Jesus brings.

The good news is that God brings life to the world right now and right here.

If the gospel is just about 2000 years ago or the end of the world,

it may be interesting news, but it's not good news

And if the gospel just gives us hope that one day, all will be well-

It may be optimistic news, but it's not good news.

The good news is not about yesterday or someday-

It's about today.

Today God releases God's children from captivity.

Today God gives God's children sight.

Today we will eat the bread of heaven and drink from the cup of salvation.

Today we can know the Peace that passes all understanding.

And today, Jesus has set this world on a new road as well.

If we believe in God then the old ways of division are gone and the kingdom has come.

Whatever sin captivates us---our greed, our anger, or fear------

we can be free if we open up to what God is doing today.

Which is the only time we have to be alive.

Today Jesus announces that today---the kingdom draws near

Not because it could happen; but because it is happening.

The love of Jesus is a reality.

We can ignore it, but we cannot destroy it.

He proclaims it and it simply is

            If we believe that, then why not base our lives on it?

Why believe more in our politicians’ division

than in God’s reign of justice, peace, and mercy?

If we believe in God’s power and that God loves humankind

Then we are called to live in the kingdom today---here and now.

St. Francis heard God say "Today build my church"

and he began, rock by rock on that very day.

Betty Williams, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1976 , heard God say in her heart

Stop the violence in Northern Ireland today--

And she began knocking on doors telling people God wants them to live in peace that very day.

Desmond Tutu faced a group of soldiers ringing the walls of the Church

And he heard God saying to him--- "Today is the day to be stop apartheid"

In that moment he began speaking to the soldiers brother to brother about a new beginning that very day

He said, "Put down your weapons because you've already lost. "

Not because of what he could do---but because what God is doing today.

I have heard the Lord speak “today” in times of great pain and greath

            When I sat with my dying father in ICU—today you will be with me in paradise

When my wife and I held our adopted children for the first time---today this is God’s blessing

            The truth is everyday is today.

God in Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit is always proclaiming

            Today is the day of the Lord’s favor---

            Today is the day the world will change

We are called to embrace that hope with our hearts and with our lives        

The truth is that this is the only life we have to live

And this is the only moment we have to be alive

            Today is the day the Lord has made let us _______ rejoice and be glad in it.

When Jesus announces the year of the Lord’s favor,

            He is announcing that Republicans and Democrats can work together today

            And there are no more shootings in schools today

No more racial conflict----Job jobs for all wiling workers--Peace in the Mideast today

            A deep awareness that everyone gets to start over

            A world where everyone has enough.

Today--- January 27, 2019---today Jesus has unrolled the scroll and says to us

This---2019-- is the year of the Lord’s favor-----Today.

Sermon--St Francis Episcopal Church, Greensboro, NC 1/20/19

Porter Taylor

Epiphany 2C—1/20/18---- John2:1-11

St Francis Episcopal, Greensboro

 

Let’s start with a quote from the theologian, Alan Jones:

There are only two feelings. Love and fear.

There are only two languages. Love and fear.

There are only two activities. Love and fear.

There are only two motives, two procedures, two frameworks, two results.

Love and fear.

Love and fear.[i]

 

Today’s gospel story is Jesus first public act in John’s gospel

And it sets the agenda for his ministry

            He is always moving us from the house of fear to the house of love.

Now the fear today may not seem earth shattering to us

            But that’s because we are not hosting a wedding reception.

                        What happens if you are the parents of the bride and there’s no wine?

            For that matter, what happens if you are a guest?

 

Will you feel uncomfortable---maybe you try not to look at the host or hostess?

            Maybe you try ignoring the problem---you pretend we aren’t hungry or thirsty

            Maybe it’s becomes the source of conversation---

            “Can you believe Porter Taylor invited us over and there’s nothing to drink?”

                        “Didn’t his moma raise him better?”

            Or maybe you find some to blame—

“I’ll be those Democrats took all the wine and hid it for themselves”

            “You know those Republicans came early and drank all the wine”

                        Or maybe you just leave--- “If there’s no wine I am out of here.”

It’s not accidental that the author of John’s gospel reminds us

that “this was Jesus first sign---and it revealed his glory”

Because this first sign of Jesus is a revolution in the way we see and think and behave.

            Our old way is based on the scarcity principle---

A belief that there’s not enough---

Not enough wine or food or shelter or safety or admirable politicians or fill in the blank.

If we embrace the scarcity principle---then we are always anxious and reactive

Because even if we have enough for today---there’s tomorrow and the days after that

            If we embrace the scarcity principle—then my neighbor is not my neighbor

            He or she is my competitor for a limited supply of what we both need.

When we have that perspective---that way of seeing the world

            Then it’s hard to experience the world as a wedding party.

            Because there’s this anxiety about whether there’s enough.

            And this anxiety shapes the way we see each other.

The scarcity principle keeps us in the house of fear and away from the house of love.

Now, I have not come to make us depressed.

I have come to say that this Gospel---this good news—is exactly the cure

            For what ails us as a society today.

Because instead of finding someone to blame—staying in the house of fear,

This gospel reminds us that we can change the world by our behavior where we are.

            Jesus doesn’t begin his ministry in Jerusalem but in nowhere Cana

                        Which is like starting not in Greensboro but Fuqua Varena

Here is the good news

When we feel there’s not enough—food, leadership, kindness, equality, bipartisanship, fill in the blank_______________

            Instead of fixating on someone to blame

            Instead of walking out and isolating

            Instead of starting a party of our own

Like Mary we must turn to Jesus with our fears and ask for what is needed.

            Mary doesn’t say--- I knew we couldn’t trust the parents of the bride

            Remember who they voted for?

            Or look around and see the neighborhood they live in?

No—she turns to Jesus and simply says this is the problem:

            “They have no wine.”

You know what we call that?  Prayer

            “Okay Jesus—I don’t know what to do with this---it’s up to you”

Notice when Jesus is less than polite, “Woman what concern is that to you or me?”

            Mary doesn’t react; she doesn’t get into with Jesus.

            She doesn’t tell him that he was raised to be more polite to his mother.

She says to those around him, “Do whatever he tells you.”

 

I think about this as I think about our country and our calling as Christians

            We are not called to sort out who is right and who is wrong---

            That doesn’t mean we don’t have principles; it means we don’t have labels.

            It means we don’t waste our lives asserting who is to blame.

We are not in the fear business or the blaming business

We are in the salvation business---we are in the communion business

Our task is to fill the water jars with what we have and ask for God’s transformation.

If you think about it, this story is a different version of the feeding of the 5,000

And in some ways, in John’s gospel it’s the beginning book end

            And the final book end is the feeding of the disciples on the beach.

At the end of John’s gospels,

the disciples have been fishing all night and caught nothing.

Then they see Jesus on the shore and he tells them to cast their nets again

And the scripture says “they were not able to haul it in

because there were so many fish”

 

The cure for what ails us as a society and a nation is not finding who is to blame

No---the cure is the Christian virtues----faith and hope and love.

And like the wedding guests as Christians

We have been commissioned to follow Jesus last words---Feed my sheep

            That means we are not in the label business

We are in the love and communion business

Our job is to throw away our labels and our fears and to invite everyone to the party—

I know-----It won’t be as easy as the wedding in Cana.

            But it’s the same story—it’s always been the same story.,

And the truth is, if the world is to change from fear to love

It will take the love of Jesus and disciples like you and me.

To show us what that looks like here’s a story from the 15th Century.

in Ireland the Ormond’s and the Kildares were locked in bitter conflict.[ii]

            The two clans fought---and the bloodletting inflamed their hatred of one another.

One battle led to another---until finally the Kildares got the upper hand

and threatened to annihilate the Ormonds.

            In desperation the leaders of the Ormond clan went inside the chapter house

of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and locked themselves inside—filled with fear.

For weeks the Kildares surrounded the place and laid siege.

But one day—the Earl of Kildare like the Prodigal son “came to himself”--

            He remembered the WAY

                        And he walked up to the Chapter House door

and shouted for the Ormonds to open the door, and come out and find peace together.

There was no response from inside---

            He banged on the door—still silence.

Then with his sword, “he gouged a hole through the wood of the great door.”

            He knew that the Ormonds each had swords

But he stuck his arm through the hole.

For a moment the world hung in the balance.

            And then his hand was grasped by the Earl of Ormond.

                        The door swung open and the feud ended.

                        And I’ll bet there was a feast and the water turned to wine.

So it was and so it can be—which is why we are here.

There are only two motives, two procedures, two frameworks, two results.

Love and fear.             

Choose LOVE


[i] Alan Jones, The Soul's Journey: Exploring the Spiritual Life With Dante As Guide

 

[ii] Story told by Br. Geoffrey Tristram SSJE on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2007, at the House of Bishop’s meeting.

Christmas 2018

It’s not the shopping. It’s not the decorations. It’s not the music, not the food or drink, not the parties, not the carols, not the wreath. It’s not the outside at all.

It’s birth. Something new happens—regardless of the nowhere setting; regardless of no news, no crowds, no house, no hotel, or no retreat center.   They came to the place of no distractions. Maybe that’s why they were able to focus on the birth.

They paid no attention to the dark times. Let’s remember what kind of ruler Herod was. Weeks after the birth, he murdered all the male babies. Even so, this was the time for the birth.

Our hope and prayer for us and you and this broken world is for birth. No Christmas like the ones we used to know, but something completely new and too outlandish to utter but too essential to relinquish.

For us, 2018 has been filled with good things in our lives---Bam/Porter loves his teaching and students at Wake Forest and Jo’s dream of a studio isn’t a dream anymore because it’s here.  And more.

But you know the world in which we live. You know what it’s like to watch the news or read the paper.

It’s enough. It’s way past enough. The truth is we as a people can’t find our way out of this mess and so our deep yearning must for the birth.

The birth of civility—no more Charlottesville. The birth of kindness—no more disrespect of heroes. The birth of peace—no more people shot in the streets. The birth of home and genuine community--no more despair—47,000 Americans committed suicide in 2017.  The birth of true callings and true relationships and true citizenship--no more irreconcilable divisions and the daily bombardment of what is not our true calling and our true life. No more.

Here’s the thing—as the poet Jane Hirschfield wrote, “Hope is the hardest love we carry.”  This is the time to yearn for the birth and finding our heart’s deep home.   The world’s mess is too deep for presents or ornaments or food. We need God to be born in us and in this world and to make everything new.

As the hymn says, “the bleak midwinter” is the time for us to pray for the birth and to be filled with the hope that God will be born in us and in all persons so that the light will burn so bright no darkness can overcome it.

Blessed Christmas,

Porter

 

 

Porter Taylor

Oct 28, 2018

Proper 25B

 

Let me start with a quote from the poet Wendell Berry:

            “To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it.”

 

Today we hear the story of blind Bartimeaus

            He is by the roadside.

            Which means he is not on the fast track to anywhere.

            He can see everyone else on their way to their important lives

            But he has nowhere to go.

I have been thinking about blindness in this country in 2018.

            And I think one version of it is that we have all joined some tribe

            We are the sons and daughters of someone---

just as Bartimaeus is the son of Timaeus---

and like Bartimaeus to some degree we feel powerless.

            We cannot see clearly why things are as they are.

            We cannot get in the flow of this country---

We know we belong to a tribe---

sons and daughters of Timeaus might be children of Republicans or Democrats or Libertarians or Tea Party or no party.

 

But there’s a sense that the world is passing us by and we can’t get in the flow.

Unlike Bartimaeus, our reaction is often a sort of fight or flight.

            We either find someone to blame---it’s Donald Trump’s fault

Or it’s Nancy Pelosi’s fault or it’s the gun lobbies fault or it’s Green Peace fault

            Or you fill in the blank.

The other option is just to let our world get smaller—

            We say to ourselves “I just won’t think about Washington or politics.”

 

So we either get angry or disassociate/  Fight or Flight.

But neither response gives us life—and neither opens us up for God’s grace

 

No—we must turn to God and call upon God to come to us.

And what when we call—we call for God’s mercy—God’s HESED

            God’s fierce LOVE---The love that is stronger than death.

            The love that raised Lazarus from the dead

The love that enabled women bent over to stand up straight and see people eye to eye.

            The love that gives vision to the blind and hearing to deaf

            And makes the world new and whole and alive.

We call upon that love because we believe it can change us and change the world.

            This is our first calling as Christians—to remember that God is God

            And just because we can’t figure out how to make the world right

            Doesn’t mean God cannot.

Now is a time for deep prayer---because in terms of the mess we are in---

            We have few resources or workable plans.

            “Son of David, have HESED on us.”

Indeed. It’s why we are here.

“To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it.”

 

First, we call out

And then we move our feet.

             Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and goes to Jesus.

If we want the Lord to work to change the world, then we must move towards Jesus

            And ask him to give us sight.

I read an amazing book entitled Rising Out of Hatred

It’s about a college student—Derek Black

who was a hard core Neo-Nazi---

As a teenager he posted articles on websites

talking about exterminating Jews and African Americans

            He said horrible things about immigrants.

But he in college he fell in love with a fellow student named Allison

            And his heart changed his head.

As long as he thought about categories of people, he could write anything he wanted

            He could rail against blacks and Mexicans and THOSE PEOPLE

            But when he thought about specific people---he could not write at all.

Because he had a different way of seeing and gradually he moved his feet.

It’s as if what he heard was “Take heart—get up—the Lord is calling you”

            And in his own way Derek Black said—“Let me see again”

It’s important to know that Derek Black couldn’t get out of his blindness by himself

His girlfriend Allison had to be willing

Both to see his goodness beneath his racism and words of hate

            But also to take the long work of reminding him of who he truly was.

            And she did that—not so he would agree with her—

            She did that because she loved him.

When we move our feet towards Jesus, we move our feet towards our neighbor.

            Like Paul---we move our feet towards Gentiles

            We move our feet towards those people we would overlook if not for Jesus

                        Not to change them—but to share God’s love with them.

Allison fell in love with Derek—and because she loved him., he changed.

 

We call upon the Lord—

Though his grace, we regain our sight and become agents of love

And then we follow where God’s Spirit leads us.

Jesus says “Go—and Bartimaeus followed him on THE WAY.”

 

Once we encounter the living Lord, we can’t go back to our old ways of seeing or being

            Derek Black has find a new way of being with his family

            And a new trajectory for his life.

Because once the Lord touches our hearts then we are called to be agents of love.

 

Remember---in our baptism this is what we promised the Lord:

            Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons?

            And we answered--- I will with God’s help.

And All is all. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer.

            Donald Trump and Nancy Pelosi.

And the people who you ignore or who drive you crazy.

The good news is that God makes us new

and our newness enables others to start over.

 

Derek Black wasn’t the same person anymore.

            And that invited others to embrace a new way of being themselves.

Our calling as Christians is constant conversion—for ourselves and for the world.

We are blind; we gain sight; we help others

After a while we get blind again;

then others help us gain sight;

then we help others and on and on.

That means what we feel towards others is what Jesus felt towards Bartimaeus

And what Allison felt towards Derek.

Compassion—because we are all on this spiral journey towards heaven

            Together—that’s why we are here---to get to heaven by walking together

                        All the way to heaven is heaven.

If you dislike our world as it is---Love deeper.

            Call for Jesus to have HESED on me and you and those you pray for

Then move your feet to get closer to HIM and have him send you into a new land.

Be like Alison who loved Derek Black into wholeness

Be like Derek Black---who dared to change his life

            So that God could use him as a change agent for the world.

Remember Wendell Berry?

To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it.

            We cannot give up on it

            Because we know in our hearts—the Lord has not given up on any of us.

 

 

 

Turning the Page

12/31/17 Sermon

St. James Black Mountain

In 1900 the German poet, Ranier Maria Rilke, wrote these lines:

"I’m living just as the century ends.

A great leaf, that God and you and I

Have covered in writing

Turns now, overhead, in strange hands

We feel the sweep of it like a wind.

We see the brightness of a new page

Where everything yet can happen

Unmoved by us, the fates take its measure

And look at one another, saying nothing."

We sit here today just as another year is ending and like the poet

            We feel caught between these two forces.

            On the one hand, we feel as if there are the forces outside us

that the poet calls “the fates” and they are unmoved by us—

“The world is what it is” we say

            And our world gets smaller.

In the last year, I looked at less news on television

and I read fewer newspapers

and I have less conversation about politics.

In part it’s because our political conversations are so toxic

that we go from zero to a hundred in a second

And in part it’s because I find myself too often in the suburbs of despair

                        Things are what they are—I say.

                                    Do I really think I can change Washington?

And it’s not just me.

According the National Center for Health Statistics, for the first time since 1963,

            Life expectancy in the U.S. has fallen for two years in a row.

Anne Case, an economist at Princeton, says

this is a sign of “frustration and hopelessness…

People don’t have the… hope for the future that they might have had in the past.”

Let us remember that to despair is to be unfaithful

            Because despair or hopelessness limits what is possible.

We think only of what we can do

instead of remembering what God has promised God will do.

Remember what we just heard in the gospel?

            “But to all who receive him, who believed in his name

            He gave power to become children of God”

Our sacred story is about the Word becoming Flesh and dwelling among us and in us

            We do not come to this place merely to hear about great deeds long ago

                        As only historians.

            We come here to eat the bread and drink the wine to be remembered to God

                        So that God is in us—so that God gives us the gift of hope

                        So that God will send us into the world to be agents of the Good News

                        To know that 2018 is a new page where everything yet can happen.

In these 12 days of Christmas, let us not dream of the Christmases we used to know

            Let us dream of the world God intends for all God’s children.

            A world where every person has what he or she needs to flourish—

                        Good schools, clean water, medical care, free from addictions and crime

                        No racism—no fear about anyone one.

And an end to division—to mistrust—

to suspicion about someone else’s motives simply because they voted differently.

            There is room at the stable with the new born Christ for everyone.

The bright page of history turned with the birth of Jesus

            Because God is not above us – removed and detached

            But here—now---inside us and all around us

            Beckoning us to partner with the divine to turn the page

where everything yet can happen.

 

From Fear to Love

Porter’s Reflection

12-20-17

 

Let’s start with a quote from the theologian, Alan Jones:

There are only two feelings. Love and fear.There are only two languages. Love and fear.

There are only two activities. Love and fear.There are only two motives, two procedures, two frameworks, two results.

Love and fear.  Love and fear.

It’s no surprise that we live too much in the house of fear. We are afraid of what is happening in our country and in our world. As a world we have become more afraid of others.  And amazingly enough, more and more people have become afraid of our collective future. Fewer people believe the world will be better for their children.

Yet here we are six days from Christmas.  I wonder if we have forgotten the story we are celebrating. 2,000 years ago, there was a world of fear. Let’s remember that soon after Christmas is the Feast of the Holy Innocents when the King slaughtered the male babies to make sure no rival was coming along from that generation. Fear is not new; it’s as old as time.

But equally old is the pull of love to move us out from our place of being stuck so that we might find new life.  I don’t think anyone wanted to go to Bethlehem. We know Mary and Joseph didn’t and why would the Magi?  No, each was pulled because the force of love is stronger than fear.  And what happened that first Christmas was that love bound people together into a new community and the Spirit then sent them all on a new mission.  Remember the Magi go home “a different way.”

Therefore, in these last days of Advent our task is to listen to where God is calling for us to go in order to witness God’s birth in us and in the world. That journey may be—will probably be—more internal than external.  What’s the most unlikely place you can think of to witness God being born? Can you allow yourself at least in your heart and imagination to go there?  Maybe it’s the Trump estate in Mar-a Largo. Maybe it’s in California with Nancy Pelosi. Maybe it’s on the Mexican border with men and women seeking their way across. Or maybe it’s on Wall Street with all the hedge fund managers.

If we are to be part of God’s making the world new, we must move our hearts and make room for the other.  The gift we lay down is our preconception of who is holy and who is sinful—of who is enlightened and who is misguided if not destructive.  We pray for the ability to see Christ born there—in us and in those other people---so that we all might go home a new way.  This is our Christmas task. It’s not about Santa. It’s about the world being made new.

Preparing for Advent

Porter’s Reflection 11-30-17

Sunday we begin the season of Advent: a holy time of waiting and of expectation. A season of longing for new birth in us and in our world.  As much as I’d like to make a list of books I want to read or even that BMW I keep dreaming about, my better angel tells me to lift my gaze and remember that this is the season of hope; this is the season for yearning for the world that should be and not merely the one that could be.

            As I read the newspapers and think about our national discourse and the eroding of our concern for the common good, I found myself thinking of Paul’s list of the fruits of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit. Remember your Galatians?

Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness,  idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,  envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.      By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness,  gentleness, and self-control….If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

Yes, we need to be civically engaged and yes we need to hold our leaders responsible.  As tempting as it is to look away from what is happening in Washington, DC, it’s an illusion to think that the “jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions” there don’t affect us where we are.  We all swim in the same sea.

No. The way to new birth is by moving away from where we are by taking a step towards where we are called to be. If we want this world and especially this nation to be a place of peace and kindness and generosity and gentleness and self-control, then Advent is the season in which to move towards those. 

I think Advent is less about merely waiting and more about moving our feet to Bethlehem where everyone gets reborn.  It doesn’t’ mean we don’t hold politicians accountable, but it does mean we have a larger agenda: to change the world by changing ourselves. After all, the One who changed the world forever was born in nowhere with only a few stragglers around.

So my intention is to stay away from the Washington madness and the mall madness and instead see if there can be one act each day that will align me to who I think God is calling me to be.

Porter

Thanksgiving

11-22-17

Here’s what the Book of Common Prayer says on page 836:  “Give us the gift of your Spirit, that we may know Christ and make him known; and through him, at all times and in all places, we may give thanks to you in all things. Amen”

It’s the last line which matters. My tendency is to focus on my blessings for Thanksgiving, and I define those by my own personal criteria. I think about what I define as the good moments in the past year and I try to block out the mess in Washington. While this is better than spending all day on Thanksgiving complaining about what is wrong, it’s still short of the mark.

We give thanks we are alive. We give thanks that the Lord loves us for no good reason except he is the Lord. We give thanks that grace is imbedded in each moment of our days and we give thanks that even as the news gets bleaker and our trust in our political leaders diminishes, we trust that God is working God’s purpose out.

In addition, there are two practical reasons for gratitude. At sixty-seven I realize I can’t take the future for granted and I don’t want to spend my time imbittered or angry or disillusioned.  Why should I focus on our politicians when I could be focused on the movement of the Holy Spirit in the world and in me? This isn’t about being in a cocoon; it’s about keeping a perspective.  My allegiance is to God and therefore that’s where my attention ought to be as well.  Politics are what they are, but God is God.

Second, I have learned from Joanna Macy (author of Radical Hope) that great acts begin with gratitude. If we focus on what’s wrong, it’s hard to get our imagination going for what could be and should be.  When we are filled with Thanksgiving, we remember that the horizon of what God wants is so much bigger than the present moment and then we can take some steps towards that.

So  tomorrow I am going to try  saying “Thank you. Thank you for all of it. Because God is in it and even when I can’t see that it’s good; it’s good.”

Porter

 

To be a Saint

On this All Saints Day I am posting a sermon I preached in 2014 at St. James Hendersonville, NC

All Saints Day

Who are the people who saved your life?  When you think of the turns your life has taken,the times when you could have gone one way or another,  Who helped you find your way?

Let me ask this in another way. When you think of situations that you don’t think you can handl; When you need to ask for help, what faces come to your mind? When you think about men and women you admire--Who is that?

Because whoever these people are—they are your saints. Too often we are too smart for our good.  We think of Saints as kind of mythic figures.   Men and women who lived a long time ago.---And lived legendary lives.

We think Saints are people in stained glass windows who lived a long time ago. We think they are saints because of miraculous deeds in their lives   That make them so different from us.

Part of us buys into the Roman Catholic requirement that to be a saint You have to document that two miracles are attributed to you.  Because that requirement keeps sainthood away from us.

Let us remember that our common calling is to be saints.  Sainthood is not about stigmatas---or visions---or levitating-  or making the sun stand still---Or miraculous healings---It’s about being so connected to the love of God in Jesus Christhat this love radiates out from you in your life---as the poet says—“like shook foil”

Saints are God lovers.  St. Ireaneus said “The glory of God is the human being fully alive”  And that’s who saints are----men and women fully alive because they are connected to the source of life.

The great Jewish theologian Abraham Heschel said:  "Eternity is not perpetual future but perpetual presence. God has planted in us the seed of eternal life.   The world to come is not only a hereafter but also a herenow."

You see, there are two states of being----non life and eternal life.
Every experience-every act-every moment fits into one of these two states-
Non life is the life we live apart from God and God's will for us--
Non life is false life---the life of distraction--the life of anxiety---the life of sin
When we are immersed in non life,  we forget who we are as a result, we feel alone---we hunger for communion.

 

The non life is the life apart from grace----a life in a world where nothing comes easily or freely  but we must earn everything we receive and prove moment after moment that we have some worth. In that non life place, we feel cut off from all the living---we feel unconnected
In that non life place, we'll do anything to jolt us into feeling something--anything
Music---films---videos---shopping---alcohol---anything-and that’s where so much of our society lives---


But---there is another place----a place called eternal life.  And it’s where we are connected---to the source and therefore to all that has come before us.   All the way to heaven is heaven.

The saints are a roadway to heaven for us---this is why.  Once when I was a young priest, I was greeting people after Church  A young boy yanked on my alb and said in a loud voice:  Why do we pray for the dead?---

I couldn’t remember anything from seminary—so I said the first thing I thought of  “Because they are not dead—they are alive.”  And they are---we celebrate All Saints’ Day because the dead aren’t dead. They live us and beckon us to live for the glory of God by being fully alive.

  And they comfort us when we are downcast—or in despair.  They intercede for us—and beckon us to be fully alive.  This is true on many levels  We have their lives as a road map for us to modify for our times but still to follow.  So much of my sense of principle and trying to do what is right comes from my Father.  His commitment to being honest and fair beckons me to do the same.  When I have a hard decision to make,  I sense him urging me to do what is right instead of easy. I hear his voice in my head asking “What’s the right thing to do?”

The truth is all love is eternal.  The people who love you and have gone onto greater glory still love you.  And that love makes them saints for you.  The miracles we celebrate are not about levitating or stigmatas or visions

The miracle is that love never dies---we remember the saints in our life and are remembered to them.

We are not Christians as merely as historians.  We are here to be commissioned.  We don’t copy the saints---we let them inspire us to offer our lives for God.We honor them by living our lives for God’s glory.   By making a difference where we are.

Thomas Jefferson said: The way we are going to change the world is by our example  To be inspired by our saints to make a difference here.  So that sometime in the future---on some All Saints Day someone will remember us.

As the hymn reminds us:

They lived not only in ages past;
there are hundreds of thousands still.
The world is bright with the joyous saints
who love to do Jesus' will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes or at sea,
in church, or in trains or in shops or at tea,
for the saints of God are just folk like me,
and I mean to be one too.

Caught as we are

Porter’s Reflection 10-4-17

 

Again. We are here again. Las Vegas is now part of the list. There have been 272 shootings this year in our country. We are here again.

And I feel as if we as a nation will just roll the tape. We’ve had these conversations so often we don’t have to think about our response. Meanwhile this shooting won’t be the last in October much less 2017 or the next year or the next.

Elizabeth Sewell once wrote, “It’s not problems we face. Problems have solutions. It’s some deep rooted utter dilemma.”  Yes,  that’s true, but the grace of God is more true. We as a people cannot say, “That’s the way it is” and try to move on. We are better than that and as people of faith we have a deeper calling.  Christians know that our destination is the New Jerusalem—a city with no guns, no shootings, no hatred—just the peace of being one with God and one another and our calling is to move towards that city so that God’s will can be done “on earth as in heaven.”

There are external actions that must take place. Our country must come near to some sanity about guns and have to reach some clarity about why this is such a difficult legislative issue. My guess is that below the arguments about the 2nd Amendment is money.

But there’s a deeper level to this: mercy. While I am not naïve about Washington and the power of lobbyists and the rights under the 2nd Amendment, I am weary of the same conversation we have after every shooting. We need to ask God to make us new.

I thought of a long rambling but wonderful poem by John Ciardi—“Caught as we are.” It ends like this:

Caught as we are in these and our other conditions —

Which include a distaste for the littleness of our motives,
and, therefore, some wish to live toward some reality.

Terrified by realities. Addicted to evasions. Daring, perhaps
once, to look into the mirror and see and not look away.

Beginning again, then, with those who share with us and
with whom we share the sorrows of the common failure.

Fumbling at last to the language of a sympathy
that can describe, and that will be, we are persuaded,
sufficiently joy when we find in one another its idioms.

Caught as we are in these defining conditions —

I wish us the one fact of ourselves that is inexhaustible
and which, therefore, we need not horde nor begrudge.

Let mercy be its name till its name be found.

And wish that to the mercy that is possible because it takes
nothing from us and may, therefore, be given indifferently,
there be joined the mercy that adds us to one another.

We cannot look at those photos of Las Vegas or see those scenes of parents crying over their loss and not have mercy open our hearts.  We must mark that opening because it’s the doorway into finding a new way to community.  If we are to be agents of resurrection, it will be less by twisting arms and more by opening hearts. It will be less by asserting our rightness and more by leading others who disagree into the common land of compassion.  Because if we don’t think that God’s mercy moves the world, why do we follow the Lord? Why do we wear crosses around our necks?

So. Our pattern has been to be upset for a period and then forget and get on with our lives. I suggest you pick one name of the 59 who were killed and pray for that soul and that person’s family every day because it won’t just be for them—it will be for you and it will be for our country. If we do that, maybe God will open our hearts and the world could change.

+Porter

 

 

 

 

Let Nothing Disturb You

Porter’s Weekly Reflection 10-4-17

Again. We are here again. Las Vegas is now part of the list. There have been 272 shootings this year in our country. We are here again.

And I feel as if we as a nation will just roll the tape. We’ve had these conversations so often we don’t have to think about our response. Meanwhile this shooting won’t be the last in October much less 2017 or the next year or the next.

Elizabeth Sewell once wrote, “It’s not problems we face. Problems have solutions. It’s some deep rooted utter dilemma.”  Yes,  that’s true, but the grace of God is more true. We as a people cannot say, “That’s the way it is” and try to move on. We are better than that and as people of faith we have a deeper calling.  Christians know that our destination is the New Jerusalem—a city with no guns, no shootings, no hatred—just the peace of being one with God and one another and our calling is to move towards that city so that God’s will can be done “on earth as in heaven.”

There are external actions that must take place. Our country must come near to some sanity about guns and have to reach some clarity about why this is such a difficult legislative issue. My guess is that below the arguments about the 2nd Amendment is money.

But there’s a deeper level to this: mercy. While I am not naïve about Washington and the power of lobbyists and the rights under the 2nd Amendment, I am weary of the same conversation we have after every shooting. We need to ask God to make us new.

I thought of a long rambling but wonderful poem by John Ciardi—“Caught as we are.” It ends like this:

Caught as we are in these and our other conditions —

Which include a distaste for the littleness of our motives,
and, therefore, some wish to live toward some reality.

Terrified by realities. Addicted to evasions. Daring, perhaps
once, to look into the mirror and see and not look away.

Beginning again, then, with those who share with us and
with whom we share the sorrows of the common failure.

Fumbling at last to the language of a sympathy
that can describe, and that will be, we are persuaded,
sufficiently joy when we find in one another its idioms.

Caught as we are in these defining conditions —

I wish us the one fact of ourselves that is inexhaustible
and which, therefore, we need not horde nor begrudge.

Let mercy be its name till its name be found.

And wish that to the mercy that is possible because it takes
nothing from us and may, therefore, be given indifferently,
there be joined the mercy that adds us to one another.

We cannot look at those photos of Las Vegas or see those scenes of parents crying over their loss and not have mercy open our hearts.  We must mark that opening because it’s the doorway into finding a new way to community.  If we are to be agents of resurrection, it will be less by twisting arms and more by opening hearts. It will be less by asserting our rightness and more by leading others who disagree into the common land of compassion.  Because if we don’t think that God’s mercy moves the world, why do we follow the Lord? Why do we wear crosses around our necks?

So. Our pattern has been to be upset for a period and then forget and get on with our lives. I suggest you pick one name of the 59 who were killed and pray for that soul and that person’s family every day because it won’t just be for them—it will be for you and it will be for our country. If we do that, maybe God will open our hearts and the world could change.

+Porter

The Hurricane of Kindness

Porter’s Weekly Reflection 8-30-17

 

Kindness

Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness….

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing. 
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
     purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

 

Hurricane Harvey has quieted the noise from Washington. In the midst of such tragedy and heartache and loss, there just isn’t any room for posturing or political maneuvers or backroom deals. It’s as if the political world stopped turning in face of loss but also in the face of compassion.  There is so much sorrow but also so much kindness.  We see those pictures and how can our hearts not open?

I think it’s why at the cross, Jesus makes a new family. He tells his mother that the disciple John is now is son and he tells John that Mary is now his mother. The old blood lines don’t define us anymore. It’s why you see a new sense of family being made in the Astrodome and in rescue boats and in helicopters.

Of course, we’ll forget but not completely.  Because goodness, kindness, love are part of our DNA. We just forget them and then something happens and we remember.   There are moments during this storm that we have glimpsed heaven even in the midst of sorrow and loss. I pray that glimpse stays in our memories and in our hearts. May it be a way for God’s new family to reappear on the far side of the cross because if it does, we as a country might remember we don’t just care for one another when a hurricane comes to our shores, but always—every day.  Because the truth is, there’s always a storm somewhere.

+Porter

 

One World

In the midst of preparing to teach at Wake Forest Divinity School and trying to deal with my performance anxiety since I have been out of academia for two and half decades, I took my usual refuge in books. I started reading The Chalk Artist by Allegra Goodman. It’s an enticing novel about the world of gaming and how seductive yet finally unrewarding it is.

It started me thinking about our use of “alternate”: “alternate reality” or “alternate facts.”  Our world has become more frightened. I am not sure it’s more violent, but that we are simply more aware because of the constant deluge of information. It’s no wonder we turn to something to divert us: something to give us an alternative world.

There’s a saying that stays in my heart: “There is another world, but it’s the same as this one.”  In truth, there is no alternative reality; it’s all one world because God is God of everything.  When I read, I don’t escape the world. I find a way to go deeper into the world. I am not fond of virtual reality, but the issue is more about balancing one’s time than anything else.  Yes, I love to read, but I also have a family and a job and a body that needs attention, and friends and the world around me and the opportunity to be still and know that God is God.  The novel shows that these games are addictive and they can take over one’s life—as is true of almost everything.

This afternoon, I will attend J. Clarkson’s ordination service to the priesthood. He will be asked many questions, but the one which is most important for his health is this: “Will you …be a wholesome example to your people? J. is not going to be asked to be a holy person when he’s at Church; he is asked to be holy in all of his life because there’s just one world.  He is to be a sign of God’s love for the world in the grocery store or in the traffic jam on I-26 and at the altar. There’s just one world because God is in all of it. But for us to grow into a more comprehensive sense of the holy, we must embrace wholeness.  We must cultivate our nondominate hand.  We must take off the helmet of whatever alternative reality we go to and seek a whole life.

I won’t spoil The Chalk Artist for you. It made me be more honest about my alternate realities and the ways in which my unbalanced life makes me less whole. It made me think about the vows I took as a priest twenty-four years ago and what I might do to live more fully into them.

+Porter

 

Our Call to be True

I am addicted to Grantchester (a show on PBS about a priest in the Church of England). I admit it could be because I am envious of the hair of the main character (but then again what man tints his hair in the 1950’s?).  Don’t worry. I won’t spoil anything if you haven’t watched it.

There’s a scene in the latest episode where the priest, Sydney Grantchester, is struggling with his calling. Should he stay in the Church or leave it?  His housekeeper, who has become a dear friend, says to him: “Sydney, people need you. They look to you, not the Church.”

I have been haunted by those sentences these past days.  We in the Church talk so much about fixing the Church as if it were a car in need of a tune up. We act as if we need a new model because fewer people want to buy.  Yes, membership and attendance are declining. Yes, all institutions are at best under suspicion and at worst irrelevant.

But in AA we learn to pray for the wisdom to know the difference between what we can change and what we can’t.  At the ripe age of 66, I have my hands full just trying to keep my own life and soul and intentions and actions in alignment with what I think the Lord wants from me and for me.

Our calling is to be true: true to our real self as God created us and true to the work that God calls us to do to heal a broken world.  I no longer worry about institutions; I am focused on integrity and vulnerability.  Do we yearn to align ourselves with God’s will so that our actions match our beliefs, and do we keep our hearts open to others and to the Holy One?  If we do, institutions will grow as they will. Some will die and some will be born.  At its heart Church isn’t a bureaucracy; it’s the faithful person in front of you who represents the face of Christ.

In my late 20’s I didn’t reconnect with the Church because I fell in love with the institution; I reconnected because I encountered people who had such love for God I wanted to be around them. I didn’t look to the Church; I looked to God lovers to show me what the Church is for.

It’s so easy to waste our time and our time is short.  I don’t want a game plan for how the Church can survive.  I want to live a life that will point beyond me to God and I want to find more and more people who are a window to the holy.  I want to be inspired by others to live my life for God.

Like Sydney Grantchester, people need us and we need them because how else will we see the Lord?

Porter

 

Finding The Story

My focus has been on narrative since I was a Junior in high school. I remember sitting in Ms. Julia Capps’ English class thinking about football practice and where my girl friend and I might go Saturday night when Ms. Capps began reading the first lines of a poem by John Keats (whom I had never heard of):

            “A thing of beauty is a joy for ever;/ Its loveliness increases; it will never/ Pass into nothingness; but still will keep/ A bower quiet for us, and a sleep/ Full of sweet dreams….”

It was like going through the wardrobe door into Narnia. There was this other realm of story and beauty that had a wholeness to it and served as a place from which I could look back on my life.  Before then I thought the only novels to read (this is true) were by Mickey Spillane, but I discovered that The Great Gatsby actually had more to say than Kiss Me Deadly.  Who knew?

My sense of narrative has recently gone beyond aesthetic appreciation. I believe it’s crucial for community and in our country today perhaps it’s necessary for our future.  Civilizations depend upon a common narrative.  It’s what binds us together.  For Jew the narrative is the Exodus story and for Christians it’s the resurrection.  As we say in the Eucharist: “We proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”  This is our primal story that informs who we are and what we do.

In March I wrote about an editorial by David Brooks (“The Four American Narratives”). I want to revisit it because more and more it makes sense of what’s going on in our country and what we as Christians have to offer.  Brooks cites a speech by George Packer asserting that there are four competing narratives in the United States that shape people’s world views.  The problem is that they are mutually exclusive.  Packer labels them as the libertarian (everyone is responsible for their own fate); the globalized America (the future of the world depends on innovation and flattening hierarchies); the story of multicultural America (while recognizing the various cultures in the USA, it tends to focus on one’s own group); and America First (America has lost her traditional identity by being globalized).  However, each is dedicated on proving that the other three are wrong.

Brooks’ main point and my main point is that without some coherent overarching story, community is impossible.  We have to find a way to go to a deeper story that connects us as human beings made in the image of God.  Otherwise we will stay in our little silos which is death for any cohesive society.  The great paradox of our time is that as information has increased, our sense of belonging has decreased. We know more about other people but our sense of allegiance has gotten smaller.

This is why I am become so focused on story. (Yes, I am doing a workshop at Montreat Conference Center August 11-13. Email Catherine Powell, cathie@theanchorage.org if you are interested.)  It’s not just that I love novels. It’s that without story, there’s no community and no communion.  We have to tell our stories and connect them to others’ stories and to God’s never-ending story in order to make sense of where we are and where we are going.  It’s a primary way to respond to the call of Amos “to repair the breech.”  We don’t bridge the divide by simply telling our story louder.  We listen to the other and tell our story deeper until we discover the one story that connects us all.

Porter

Love and Nothing Else

I have been spending the summer preparing for the courses I am to teach at Wake Forest Divinity Schoolin the fall. One is on Mysticism. Instead of doing a historical sweep, I picked the mystical writers that intuitively came to mind. Yes, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, but also Simone Weil.

This week I realized that I chose Simone Weil because she speaks a truth that I need to hear. 

Weil pushed the Church to pay attention to persons more than positions.  She once wrote, “Faith is to believe that God is love and nothing else. Faith is to believe that reality is love and nothing else.”  It doesn’t matter what we say we believe if we do not love our brother and sister—and not in some general way but the specific people that live in our cities and towns.

Weil was a genius.  There were few subjects she could not master: mathematics, philosophy, theology.  Yet in the mid 1930’s she resisted taking a position in a university because she did not want to be separate from the struggles of ordinary people. Instead of teaching at Cambridge or Oxford, she worked in factories and on farms in France.  During the war itself, she often only ate the amount of food that those in occupied France were given as rations even though it worsened her already poor health.  She died from tuberculosis at 38.

Simone Weil showed us that the love of God is about people or it’s not love.  She had a mind that enabled her to think in complex philosophic abstractions, but she kept rooting herself in the reality of common ordinary people.  In like manner, she called the Church to bridge that gap as well.

If we proclaim the love of Jesus but are disconnected to the suffering in the world we are as St. Paul says, little but a “clanging gong.”   But equally it doesn’t matter if we are consumed with the suffering in the world without the container of Christ’s death and resurrection.  The first is ungrounded and the second has no context.

We as the followers of the Lord have to embrace the Incarnated God whose radical transcendent love is embedded in this world. Our cruciform love reaches up and out.

This is so important today.  So much of our political conversation is disembodied and disconnected.  As followers of the Incarnated God, our task is to pay attention to the suffering of real people in real places and rediscover how the Good News of Jesus calls us to respond.  I am interested in the talk in the halls of Congress about health care and the budget because they will have a profound effect on individual lives.  But instead of being consumed in that struggle and fixating on the talking heads on the news shows, I am more interested in connecting my faith in God with the conditions and struggles of people around me.  I am seeking to remember that “Faith is to believe that God is love and nothing else. Faith is to believe that reality is love and nothing else.” 

Yes, we need people to advocate for just policies in Washington and Raleigh, but that’s not my calling. It’s not good for my soul to participate anymore in disembodied talk about categories of people, nor to believe that the people on television can hear me shouting about what they should do. 

In this moment, my calling is to embrace the mystery of the Incarnation which means that the Word is becoming flesh in the ordinary places of my city. My task is to attend to the suffering and struggles of real people in real places so that my faith might be renewed.

+Porter

Madonna the Mediator

I have been completing my training to be a Spiritual Director from the Shalem Institute these past ten days. Part of that training was a period of silence for 36 hours. During that time I prayed in front of an icon called "Madonna the Mediator" in Venice.  I have never been especially drawn to icons, but as I gazed at this one, a poem came to me:

The Black Madonna of Venice

 

She loves with open eyes

Knowing all of it.

She stares without emotion at me beyond the frame.

Her left hand holds her son lightly

Her right fingers stretch toward him

Leaving a space between.

As if to say: “Let it come

Wonder, sorrow, death—all of it.

I am here.”

 

I want to hold and be held like that.

I want to stand in the center

and not be afraid to see beyond the frame.

I want to lean into what is here and what will be.

Not looking back---

Not worried about what is to come.

Rooted in now.

Holding my hand out to the Christ

So connected I don’t need to look his way.

Only the weight on my left arm reminds me who and where I am

And why we all are here. 

Porter Taylor

 

 

Spots in Time

I am back at Bon Secours Retreat Center outside Baltimore for my Shalem training for certification as a spiritual director.  I was here last year, and it was a transformative experience.  Like last year, the retreat came at the most inconvenient time.  This year Jo and I were moving some of our daughter’s things from Asheville to Venice, FL. (Yes, it’s a long way).  So, it was a production to get me from Venice to Baltimore for a 2:30 meeting on the first day.  Being a Boy Scout, I got here on time, but tired and frazzled. 

After our first meeting, I was walking around the grounds remembering last year’s training. I came to a statue of the Virgin Mary and was filled with memories from a year ago. In the middle of the ten-day training, we had a day of silence and sabbath. Sometime in that day I gave myself to this statue and it’s as if I found myself in the elevator at the ground floor of my soul. For a time I was at home in the world. My concerns and egoistic thoughts vanished and I was free—fully present to what is. 

So, Tuesday when I revisited Mary, I remembered some of what happened and was filled with gratitude.  Being the literary nerd that I am, I recalled some likes from Wordsworth: 

 

“There are in our existence spots of time,/ That with distinct pre-eminence retain/ A renovating virtue….”

 

The goodness we experience is imprinted in us.  Holiness gets in our blood and stillcirculates regardless of time. It’s a well we can draw on when we remember and thus are remembered to God.  In our fast paced world we tend to look forward—“what’s the next thing?”  But to our detriment we forget the wellspring of the grace that has touched us and is always with us.  “Do this for the remembrance of me” our Lord said to remind us to remember.  Of course, his grace and mercy aren’t just in bread and wine; they are in statues in Baltimore and in our backyards.  They are everywhere in all times.

 

I don’t know what will happen during this training. I can’t program another experience. I can give thanks for the past and as best I can be open in the moment. The rest is up to God. 

+Porter