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

Only Kindness Makes Sense

Porter’s Weekly Reflection 6-14-17

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.

… Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore

Naomi Shihab Nye

Yesterday I listened to Attorney General Sessions’ testimony and I watched as much commentary as I could stand.  I felt myself drifting towards a deep sadness about our country.  There is such an opportunity to do good and to be good and our world is in such hurt and need, yet our leaders are in this strange dance that insures that little productive will be accomplished. 

This morning I felt myself entering the fray of finding someone to blame so I could feel morally superior and somehow distance myself from any culpability.  “Those people in Washington or Raleigh are at fault,” I felt myself wanting to say.

Then I heard the news about the shooting in Washington as Senators and Representatives were practicing for a charity softball game.  Of course, I pray for all those harmed and of course this will renew our debate about guns—which needs to be renewed---but hearing the Senators and Representatives interviewed opened my heart and widened my perspective.

On the field after the shooting, they didn’t care about their positions or their political persona. They were worried about their friends who were wounded.  The language they used was the language of human concern.  When they were interviewed there was no political angle; there was no name calling; there was no position paper.  It was just “I pray everyone is going to be all right.”

Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find” ends with this line: “She would've been a good woman…if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”   When our lives get disrupted, we remember what matters and what doesn’t.  Those elected officials on the baseball field were only thinking about their brothers and sisters—not votes or bills or hearings. 

Perhaps if we connect with the fragility of life more often, we might enter the region of kindness more frequently and the world would be such a better place.

+Porter

 

 

Too Small for Anything but Love

For weeks I have been consumed with working inside my own little bubble. We moved ten days ago and have yet to effectively fight the chaos.  The recycle people dread coming by our house because of the sea of blue bags with cardboard and packing paper. And Jo and I are relearning how to negotiate our various aesthetic sensibilities—what belongs where and why a photo of my rugby days at UNC may not still be relevant.

Then the phone rang yesterday and I heard that Jeff Batkin died. 

I loved Jeff and owe so much to him over the past twelve years.  He was a confidant, a friend, and an encourager. He’d call me often to tell me that there is no problem a round of golf can’t cure. He was a wise priest and a holy person.

But of course, that’s not true for grief and loss.  We live in this illusion that this life will go on forever, but it won’t. Our time on this earth is short, and when I think of that, I wonder why I have wasted so much of it on what cannot matter and what cannot enlarge my soul and my heart--all the time I worried about what I couldn’t control and lately all the time consumed with a fixation on the constant conflict and bewildering events in Washington.

I am grieving Jeff Batkin, but his lost makes me commit  to refocus on what matters: the people I love, beauty, the things I can change, and principles worth living for.  As William Sloan Coffin, Jr. said, “The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.” 

I give thanks for the life of Jeff Batkin and I am committing myself to remember how short our lives and point myself toward truth and love.

+Porter

 

Finding the Center

Yesterday we took a break from opening boxes to go to the movies.  We saw “A Quiet Passion.”  It’s not a film for everyone. The pace is slow. Not much happens. There’s no sex or special effects.  Instead it’s a story about Emily Dickinson—about her illness, her deep connection to family, her genius for poetry, and the gift and curse of isolation.  Two things struck me.

First, the strength of her core identity.  Dickinson knew what she thought, what she liked, and what she was called to do with her life and she seldom wavered.  Isaiah Berlin once said there are two kinds of people: hedgehogs and foxes. Foxes know a little about a lot of things but hedgehogs know a lot about one thing. Emily Dickinson was the quintessential hedgehog. Her scope was narrow but very deep.

The film gave the impression that her being a recluse was in large part because she had bright’s disease, but also because she was such an interior person. 

I thought about our culture’s addiction to stimulation and our inability to be still and explore our thoughts and imagination.   Dickinson got up at 3:00 am. It was just her and the blank page waiting to see what would happen.  Our culture too often forgets how important it is to cultivate our interior life: letters, journals, poems, essays. We tend to comment on others’ ideas and miss the opportunity to discover our own.

There’s a scene early in the film when the teacher of her school asks the students to step to the sides of the room to signal their conviction of faith. Emily stands alone in the center.  The teacher says to her, “You are alone in your rebellion.”  I wonder at this kind of strength and certainty.

Then the family.  She lived with her parents and her brother was next door.  In the 19th Century you were your family. Now we are our job.   Perhaps this is why Benedict in his Rule established the vow of stability.  You grow with a place as it grows with you. I think of my many moves and the people in our address book I haven’t seen for decades and I wonder if slower might be better in the long run.

I don’t want to duplicate Emily Dickinson’s life by any means. However, I do want to incorporate some pieces of it and incorporate them into this life in this tumultuous century. I want to “be still and know that God is God” more often. I want to make more space for my imagination—maybe not at 3:00 in the morning but early in the day.  Finally,  I want to pay attention to the roots I have with both friends and family.  I want to be more of a hedgehog than a fox because going faster will not make me wiser or happier or holier. It will just keep me distracted from the life God wants me to live.

+Porter

Seeking the City

I have to write fast because the movers are about to load the chair in which I am sitting.  Yes, we are moving. Again.  Jo and I will be married for 45 years Saturday and we have lived in Columbia SC, Atlanta, Porto Portugal, Nashville, Athens, Fairview, now full circle because we are moving to a house in Asheville two miles from where I went to elementary school.

The reason for all these moves was professional. Jobs move us around. But there’s something deeper. I seem to make a major move every ten years.  I have loved most of the homes we have inhabited---the one in Columbia didn’t have air conditioning so that was a challenge---but regardless of the setting there’s a stirring that happens. 

While I am sure there are psychological reasons for this, I believe God builds a restlessness in our souls.  As the author of the letter to the Hebrews writes, “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” 

I sit on my back porch and there’s the buzz of the cicadas who have come out of the ground this year.  Some deep force has pulled them to move around and some deep force is pulling me. Because what we seek is not a house that makes sense for a 66 year old (smaller, one floor). What we seek is not comfort or a setting or convenience.  We seek our true home which is not on this earth. We yearn for the New Jerusalem where we know who we are and feel connected to the source and therefore to all our brothers and sisters.

I am looking forward to moving across town. I love our new house even as I have loved this one. But I know that at some point, the stirring will return because the truth is there is no cure for homesickness.

+Porter

 

Being Fed

It’s been seven months since the 7th Bishop of Western North Carolina was ordained.  Since October 1, 2016 I have been the celebrant of the Holy Eucharist four times (and during one of them I got completely befuddled at the altar).  The rest of the time I have worn a coat and tie, gone to the 8:00 service and sat on the back row. It’s been a fundamental reorientation. 

I confess I have missed preaching. No doubt some of that is ego. Years ago, when my daughter was in grade school, she complained about going to church by saying: “I have to just sit there while you get to do all the fun stuff.”  Preaching is definitely the most fun of all the fun stuff. I miss seeing what will happen when you connect scripture and this interesting befuddling world of ours. I miss the energy that comes from preaching and there is that ego thing.

But there’s a flip side as well. I love hearing other preachers. One of the downsides of being the bishop is that it’s always your turn. In twelve years, I seldom heard anyone else preach within the diocese except for funerals and ordinations. Now when I get in my car to drive home, I find myself marveling (in a good way) over the sermon. I say to myself, “Wow. How did she connect those images?” Often I am ruminating over them all week. 

Most of all, something happens by walking to the altar with the rest of the flock, kneeling, and holding out your hands to be fed—with absolute certainty that even though you don’t deserve it, the bread of heaven will be put into your hands. Our culture is embedded with a conviction of scarcity—there’s not enough of everything to go around. It’s why we have so much fear embedded into our national conversations.  Regardless of what we say, we all get infected.  Going to the altar and putting out our hands rewires us. We have confessed our shortcomings. We know we are sinners and yet we get to be part of The Great Thanksgiving.

After two decades of preaching every week, it’s good for me to sit and listen and be fed.  Yes, I miss preaching and being part of the show at the altar, but I give thanks to be part of the crowd. One of the crowd who shows up without any food and yet gets to be fed because that’s who Jesus is. 

Most of all I am remembering about the core of what Church is. I don’t diminish the need for administration and oversight. I am not for burning the house down. But at the core, Church is being fed by word and sacrament week after week that reminds us of Christ’s love for us all the time. 

 

+Porter

Hope: The Hardest Love We Carry

Porter’s Weekly Reflection 4-26-17

In mid-June my son, Arthur, and I lead a workshop at Mepkin Abbey on Storytelling to Spread the Good News (also one in August at Montreat-http://www.theanchorage.org).   These focus on telling stories around themes in our lives. One of the these I have been pondering is hope.

Among the many books I have reread are Joan Chittister’s Scarred by Struggle, Transformed by Hope and Joanna Macy’s/Chris Johnstone’s Active Hope.  Both insist that we don’t become hopeful by denying our pain or even despair, but by pushing through them to the other side. Unless we die young, sooner or later the world falls apart. It’s what it means to be human and exist on this side of heaven. Macy/Johnstone insist that there is a mix of gratitude, honoring our pain, and seeing with new eyes that enable us to go forth and be agents of hope. Sister Joan uses the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel as the image for our task.  We have to wrestle to receive the blessing and we always walk away with a limp, but we get a new name and a new calling as a result.

Sister Joan writes: “The Spiritual task of life is to feed the hope that comes out of despair. Hope is not something found outside of us. It lies in the spiritual life we cultivate within.  The whole purpose of wrestling with God is to be transformed into the self we are meant to become, to step out of the confines of our false securities and allow our creating God to go on creating in us.”

This is our task: “to feed the hope that comes out of despair” so that “our creating God” can “go on creating in us.”

We all have stories of being wounded or wrestling with angels all night or feeling betrayed.  In addition, it’s easy to become fixated on what’s wrong with our world in this time of information deluge.  But we are not born to be consumers nor are we born to wallow in despair. We are born to be agents of hope by honoring our pain and seeing with new eyes—by being honest about where we are and hopeful about where the living God wants all God’s children to be and then stepping out and walking in the dark.

We need to tell one another our stories of hope lest we relegate it to some sweet theological concept that’s confined to books.  When we speak of our transformations, everyone gets transformed. This is the simple rule for AA which the world needs to adopt.  I don’t want to talk about our politicians for awhile because that talk doesn’t feed my soul. I want to have real conversations about the transformative work of the Holy Spirit in real people’s lives so that I can claim my own story and witness that work in me now and here.  Hope won’t come from our President and Congress changing. Hope comes from the transformation in us which in turn has a ripple effect that changes everything.

You don’t have to go to a conference to tell your story (although you are welcome to come to one of ours). You just find someone who is real and open and begin. The next thing you know, you are in the elevator on the ground floor where things are clear and real and you remember more of who you are and where you are called to be. The process empowers you to be an agent of transformation. It’s how the world gets changed.

+Porter

 

Practice Resurrection

 

Go with your love to the fields. 
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.

As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn't go.

Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction. 
Practice resurrection.

(From “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”  by Wendell Berry)

This week I have been reading St. Teresa both to prepare for a class I am teaching in the fall at Wake Forest Divinity School on Mysticism as well as to finish my Shalem training for spiritual direction.  What has struck me about this saint’s writings is how deep they are but how modest she is.  Teresa will write about an astounding spiritual experience and then end the chapter by apologizing for the vague writing of a neovite on the spiritual path.  She ends the book writing, “I confess that I am deeply confused and so I ask you through the same Beloved to remember this poor creature in your prayers.” Yet when you read the Interior Castle, there is not sign of confusion nor does St. Teresa seem anything but a poor creature.

She is a woman of faith who has a sure assurance that God will lead her into the inner chambers of God’s love and that God’s love will sustain her to transform her order of the Discalced Carmelites. Teresa was a visionary but was able to be a vehicle of transformation because all she did was rooted in the love of God.  She was always listening for what God called her to do and then she acted upon that call. She had her detractors but she didn’t spend her attention on them.

We are in the Great 40 Days of Eastertide.  The Risen Christ shows himself everywhere. He’s on the road to Emmaus; he comes to the Upper Room; he’s with the disciples as they are fishing. The disciples turn from their fear of the Empire to remember the Great Love and that turning enables them to change the world.

“Go with your love to the fields” the poet says.  “Make more tracks than necessary,/ some in the wrong direction./ Practice Resurrection.”

I don’t want to ignore the issues of the day, but  focusing on what I am against will never lead to new life.  Like Teresa, I want to get into the inner rooms of the Castle and that means letting go of my baggage and looking for on the Risen Christ among us.  I need to remember what I am for instead of focusing on what I am against because our lives are too short and there is so much of God’s glory to behold.

Teresa had no money; the Inquisition was against her; her family thought she was foolish; some or her spiritual directors thought she was crazy. Yet she had a vision of a new way of being human as a follower of the Lord and that vision moved her—literally and figuratively and changed the world.

What’s the love that moves us? Can we have courage to make more tracks than are necessary even if some are in the wrong direction as that love moves us out?  Can we practice resurrection?

+Porter

Love, Power, Justice

This week more than most weeks we are living in two worlds yet the sacred story and our story  are the same. We entered Jerusalem Palm Sunday with Jesus to the sounds of “Hosanna.”  We were certain everything would work out. All our doubts and suspicions about human failings and the dark side of our political institutions faded amid the cries.

But Friday is coming. Hosanna will turn to lamentation. 

What’s important about this week is not that we observe what happened 2000 years ago but that we claim the drama in us and in our world so that both might be resurrected.  Easter is less a noun than a verb. “Christ is Risen. We are Risen.” But to get there we have to be changed and to become agents of change in the world. Let’s remember that nothing is the same after that Sunday. There’s an earthquake between the old and the new. It’s a new age and a new world.

As I have been thinking about this, oddly enough what came to me is a small book by Paul Tillich (I know, I need to get out more), Love, Power, and Justice.  Because it’s Tillich it’s not beach reading and I haven’t read it in decades, but what it offers is a framework of what corporate resurrection might look like. I mean what if the world is made new?  How would that operate?

Love is our motive. It’s what drives us. It’s what connects us to one another. It’s what opens our heartsso that we don’t see one another as strangers or as threats but as friends in the deepest sense. Love moves us to communion and community.  It’s what prevents us from dragging people off planes or fixating on walls or any of the other acts of separation that are driven by fear. The Easter world is new. Mary Magdalene and the Risen Christ are back in the garden and she hears her true name for the first time.

Justice is our aim.  Justice is about who has what. You cannot love your brother and sister and watch them starve or live a diminished life without responding.  In a new world, all the rules are open for renegotiation.  I have been privileged to go to India many times and I do so not for the Indian people but to cleanse my vision and open my heart.  Because being there alerts me that my worth as a human being is not connected to my monetary worth.  I realize that I have a hard time going to the Lord with open arms because I have identified with my things. In a world of abundance, justice makes us ask why so many have so little. Easter is not about our private resurrection; Easter is about a new world.

And then power. When love is in our heart and justice has become our objective, power is what enables us to become agents of transformation. However, power without the motive of love or the intention of justice is destructive because it’s about fear and ego.  The world cannot change without the exercise of power. Remember, Paul was no wimp. But we must be honest with ourselves before we act.

I know this isn’t my typical reflection and I know it doesn’t come off as a sweet Easter message, but looking at the world around me, I don’t want to celebrate Easter and then move on. I yearn for a new world. I hope for resurrection. For that to happen love and justice and power must be connected to the love, grace, and mercy of the Lord.

May it be so.

+Porter