Turning Till We Turn Round Right

Monday morning I woke up and my world was spinning. I walked towards the bathroom but bumped into the wall.  I have had bouts of vertigo for five years. I never know when they will come or when they will leave. It’s like I go to bed and the next thing I know I am with Dorothy in the house that’s spinning round in the air.

While there are some things that help—the Epley maneuver; surprisingly a low dose of valium---most of why vertigo comes or goes remains a mystery. It happens and then it lets go. When it is with me, my life is very slow and contained. I listen to books on tape. I notice the amazing December weather outside my window. Most of all I remember how dependent I am on others and what an illusion it is to plan the future.

Today I am upright and my world is only slowly spinning.  Here’s what I remembered in these two days: the world is layered.  There’s the spin of the never-ending news cycle. Before Monday I was upset over President Elect Trump’s appointments, the losses of UNC’s basketball team, my inability to find the right presents for my children or wife, and so on. But there are deeper layers. Not being able to get out of bed reminds us of what is essential and what is not.

On our best days, it reminds us that most people across the globe can’t think about the news feed or what’s happening on twitter or Facebook or CNN. They are focusing on whether their loved ones have a bed or food or what they need in order to go beyond surviving in order at least to glimpse what it might mean to flourish.

It also reminds us that there is a deeper where we simply let go of our preoccupations and sit in the moment and let the world spin.  I have a medical understanding of vertigo, but in the moment it comes, all I understand is I am part of a wave that I can only ride. I have to surrender and once again say to God “Help.”  It’s a helpful corrective. 

During this time of Advent, we can’t make the world behave but we can embrace those times when we stop—either by choice or circumstances—and let the great world spin without our worry or our illusion of control.

+Porter

Moving up the Mountain 11-30-16

In the weeks since the election I have been engaged in two activities—reading about Donald Trump’s appointments and studying Dante’s Divine Comedy for a class I am teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary in February. Surprisingly reading Dante has enabled me to keep a creeping despair a safe distance away as I read the political news.  When I look at some of President Elect Trump’s appointments, I feel as if I am in that dark wood Dante confronted and, like him, the straight way seems lost. While I won’t say that the next four years look like hell, I will say that Dante offers me some much-needed advice for this time.

          So just a short Dante refresher. Because of political warfare and upheaval in his day, Dante was exiled from Florence, his birth city, when he was 37 and never returned. His imagined future was taken away. He had to make a home in exile and find a way not merely to rail against his political enemies, nor to define himself by his past, but to find a way to move from hell to heaven by write a poem that became a map for all men and women who feel lost to find the way once more.

          What I remembered in my study, is that to move from darkness to light requires a larger vision.  You can’t build anything lasting from negativity.  Dante’s love for Beatrice and her love for him pull him through his journey from hell through purgatory into heaven.  It’s not enough to fight against what we dislike because the negative energy will overcome and mislead us. We must remember what it is we stand for and move towards it regardless of what is around us—even when it feels like hell. As William Sloan Coffin said, “The world is too dangerous for anything but truth and too small for anything but love.”  What is it we love and how can we move towards it?  What is the truth that is worth our life? Let’s remember that the Israelites in Babylon had to learn to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land because the song led them home.

It’s the light and not the dark that will guide us. The secret of moving up the holy mountain of Purgatory is not by fighting our enemies but by shedding the sins that bind us.  Thus, when the pilgrims come around a circle leading upward, an angel takes a sin off their foreheads and they float up the next level because they are lighter.  That’s a vision worth holding onto for these four years. What if by walking together and shedding what binds us, we found a path to become lighter instead of angrier or deeper in despair?  What if we remembered what is right and then took the steps we can take in that direction?  Because it’s not an either/or world. It’s a world that gets lost and forgets how to get found.  

Let’s remember the words of Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” 

During this Advent, let us discard our desire to map the world of good and evil and instead change our gaze to look to the stars and then walk towards that distant light undaunted by the detours or obstacles in our way—even if we feel as if we are in exile. For we are looking for the birth of the one who will bring salvation and hope and God’s reign for all people. He is our hope and our faith—his love will pull us from a dark wood into heaven.

+Porter

 

          

Giving Thanks in a Confusing World

Tomorrow we gather to give thanks. It’s worth remembering that Thanksgiving became a national holiday because of a proclamation from President Lincoln in 1863 as our nation was divided and at war.  In Lincoln’s proclamation, he wrote: “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens …to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.”

          Thanksgiving and communion are twins because to give thanks is to open up.  It’s why the section of Holy Communion when we receive the bread and wine are named “The Great Thanksgiving.”  As we remember God’s grace, our hearts expand because we remember that God is finally in charge.

          Yes, these are hard days for our country. Yes, there are huge divisions.  Unspeakable words have been spoken which tear at the very fabric of the Union. And yes, many have doubts about our elected leaders and our future as the United Sates being in any way united.

          But one fact remains. This is the time in which we live, and this is the day we have to give thanks all the Lord has done, is doing, and will do for us.  Like Lincoln, we give thanks for God; we turn away from our divisiveness and our anger and our recriminations; and we ask God to break once again into this world and make us new.

          The way forward in this time is to go deeper through our faith.  When we cannot talk our way through a deep divide, we must pray our way through.  If we cannot find connection with our brothers and sisters on the surface, we have to dig to get to the water table where we find a deeper union—a union that doesn’t gloss over our differences or merely wait until the power shifts again in a way that works for us.

          I realized I do not want to spend the next four years just being angry or outraged. I do not what to be upset with the Federal Government every day. I want to live my life and be an agent for change—both at the same time. The place to start is by giving thanks for this “one wild and precious life” God has given me to live.  From that place, I can be mindful of and responsive to what’s going on in our nation and the world, but not reactive and not allow it to overtake my connection with the Prince of Peace.

          On Thanksgiving, my family always makes Christmas wish lists. I don’t need any more sweaters, and I don’t need any more books (although I will ask for some anyway).  I need the peace of the Lord, and I intend to ask for it and live for it.

+Porter

 

 

The Truth of the Work Itself

Porter’s Weekly Reflection 11-16-16

I feel as if I am in this movie that switched plots in the middle and went from comedy to mayhem.  I want to leave but I can’t, and I can’t make the plot get back to what I want to see.

It feels as if we as a people must find the place between high emotion and indifference.  On the one hand the unfolding of the election has to play its way out, and we won’t know what it means until the unfolding is at least more clear if not complete. On the other, as citizens we are called to be concerned about the well-being of the Republic and have a civic duty to voice our concerns.

But the truth is we cannot make time go any faster, nor can we see the future with certainty before it comes.

So, two thoughts come to me from Thomas Merton.

First, in the midst of the 1960’s Merton wrote often about the wrongness of the Vietnam War and the injustice of limiting the rights of African Americans.  His friends begged him to leave his monastery and come protest in the South and in Washington, but he said he should stay in the monastery because, “There needs to be one sane person left.”

The second is a passage from a letter Merton wrote to a young man named James Forrest:

          “When you are doing the sort of work you have taken on, essentially an apostolic work, you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect.  As you get used to this idea you start more and more to concentrate not on the results but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself.  And there too a great deal has to be gone through, as gradually you struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people.  The range tends to narrow down, but it gets much more real.  In the end, as you yourself mention in passing, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

The great thing after all is to live, not to pour out your life in the service of a myth: and we turn the best things into myths.  If you can get free from the domination of causes and just serve Christ’s truth, you will be able to do more and will be less crushed by the invincible disappointments….” (in Thomas Merton: The Hidden Ground of Love, pp. 294-297)

It’s not that we ignore what is going on in our country nor that we acquiesce to everything the President Elect decides.  This is not a call for passivity but for perspective. 

What is the truth that Christ is calling us to serve and how are we doing that by our thoughts and actions in this moment?  Are we demonstrating a counter balance to the unfairness, prejudice, bigotry, selfishness, and violence we see in our country by our daily actions and our thoughts/emotions?  To borrow from Gandhi, are we the change we hope to see in the world?

It’s a waste of time to rail against Donald Trump or any other loud voice in a loud voice.  It doesn’t mean we need to roll over, but it does mean as Christians we are called to show what The Way looks like by who we are and what we do. We do need to speak in the public square but speak in a way that always invites all of us to conversion.  God is still working God’s purpose out.

In this transition, let’s focus on serving Christ’s truth in how we act, in what we say, and in our confidence that God is still in control.   Let’s make sure that there is at least one sane person left.

During this space in which the future seems less clear than in the past, let us concentrate on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself  and remember that the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.

+Porter

 

 

 

 

The Day After 11/9/16

 

Last night was a night of surprises and I have to say for me unwelcome surprises. I was watching the PBS Newshour and saw David Brooks get quieter and quieter as the electoral map turned more and more red. I was saying to myself, “How? and Why and What Now?”   I woke this morning with only two useful reactions.

First is about our response to moments of confusion and upheaval.  We want a narrative that explains it and makes it bearable, but sometimes there is only the moment itself.  We have to live into the mystery—be it sweet our unsweet. Last weekend I spoke at the Diocese of Louisiana Convention on the gifts of recovery. I said, “All we have is our faith. All we have is God’s promise. All we have is the love of the Lord which is in our hearts, but because we have that---we know there will be resurrection--not because of us—but because God’s love is stronger than death.”

I mean we don’t choose when we are born nor what circumstances we have to confront. We have “one wild and precious life” to live and we have to live it regardless of what happens around us. It’s not whether we like or dislike what happens; it’s how we live after the event.

There is a Zen saying, "Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water."  Yes, we do have to be realistic about the changes this election will bring. But this is the day the Lord has made. If we do not rejoice and be glad in it, then when will we?

This doesn’t mean we don’t speak out about the issues of the day nor that we should pretend the results of the election don’t matter. They do. But our calling is to live faithfully and to be agents of God’s will and work here and now. Our life is too short for despair or denial. Instead let us go deeper and ask God, “What is it that we are called to do now given what has happened?” Then we must do it. 

As Christians we are called to speak the truth in love and to remember what binds us instead of what divides us. In the midst of arguments my mother would say, “I guess we all are saying the same thing,” even though we were not. We need to be honest about our stark differences, but then we need to go deeper and get to the water table where we rediscover our common humanity.

My prayer for Mr. Trump is that he realizes he is elected to be the President for the United States—all the citizens of those states. Our part is to pray for President-Elect Trump’s ability to govern for the well-being of all the citizens and to seek to find ways to be agents of reconciliation and “to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being” (BCP, 305).

The election is over. Today let us chop wood and carry water.

+Porter

Halloween

    As a child my favorite holiday was Halloween. Yes, it was about the candy. My sister and brother and I would carry pillow cases from door to door in our neighborhood and then gather in the living room and compare our bounty. It was more than candy, however.  Although as a child I could not have articulated this, for a night we got to act out our dreams. We put on our fears and hopes and fantasies and knocked on our neighbors’ doors to see how they would react. “Trick or Treat?” “No or Yes?” “War or Peace?” “Division or Community?” 
    Halloween in many ways is both a test of and an invitation to community. Can we go to strangers’ houses to see if they will welcome the stranger who looks scary? When you open your door and see someone surprising, can you see beyond the mask and offer a token of peace? Can we get our fears and our hopes in front of us so we can see them, and recognize them as our own and then recognize them as part the wider neighborhood and as part of us? Can we share what we have with one another?
    Decades ago Jo and our son and I spent a year in Portugal. One of the common observations from Portuguese who had been in America was the absence of a common green in the USA. “You stay in your boxes instead of coming to a square where you can walk and talk” they’d say. Of course, in 1984 Portugal was a very homogeneous culture. Making community here is more complex. However, as Christians who celebrate Holy Communion as the core of who we are, our calling is to call a society who is afraid to come out of their boxes to open our doors to our hopes and fears; to face the stranger who looks at least different if not scary; and to give them a token of friendship.
    Even if we don’t go Trick or Treating next week, let us observe Halloween by opening our doors and our lives to those who look like our hopes and fears. Then they will take off their masks and All Hollow’s Eve becomes All Saints Day and we see the face of the Lord.
+Porter

Serenity

    The poet W. H. Auden labelled the 20th Century “the Age of Anxiety.”  There was fear from the Cold War, the lingering memory of the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the turmoil of revolutions in countries like Russia and China.  We, of course, have gone beyond anxiety and live in a time of terror.  It wasn’t so long ago that our government measured the degree of terror with colors---like a cultural barometer.
    I think of this because I am speaking at the Diocese of Louisiana Convention on addiction and sobriety on November 4-5 three days before the election.
It came to me that in God’s economy, focusing on sobriety in its deepest sense is the only way to prepare for the turmoil and aftermath of the election. We all know the first part of the serenity prayer, but what about the rest?  Written by the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, here’s the prayer in its entirety:
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed; the courage to change the things which can be changed; and the wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time. Enjoying one moment at a time. Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace. Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that You will make all things right, if I surrender to Your will. So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with You forever in the next.”
So much of our anxiety comes from our lack of control and from our projection of our fears onto others.  The voices of “What if” are a drumbeat in our heads. Our anxiety over the future keeps us from being present in the only moment we have, which is now. Serenity comes from enjoying one moment at a time and acknowledging that inner growth and communal growth always involves suffering. There is no way to resurrection except through the cross.  
For me, my need for the future to work out as I think it should is what must be crucified if I am to be free to discover Christ in the openness of the present moment. “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This is the day regardless of who gets elected because this is the only day we have to be alive and experience God’s grace.
I watch the news and hear of events like the burning of a Republican headquarters building in Hillsboro, NC or crowds chanting “Lock her up” and I yearn for serenity to come to our nation. Perhaps serenity is less an idea people can learn and more an example they can emulate.  Perhaps our calling as faithful followers of the crucified one is to show the world what serenity or faithfulness looks like.  Perhaps now is the time for us to be living examples of the blessing we hear week after week: “The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in the love of God and of God’s son Jesus Christ our Lord.”  
If we aren’t agents of serenity, who will be?
+Porter

St. Francis

Yesterday, October 4, was the feast of St. Francis of Assisi.  To honor him my hope is that we do more than bless animals or put up a bird bath.  We in the USA are in sore need of Francis’ perspective. In an age of labels and division; in a time of a political split in our nation and in a time riddled with distrust, we need the near-sighted view of this saint.
In his wonderful book on St. Francis, G. K. Chesterton writes this, “Now for St. Francis nothing was ever in the background. WE might say his mind had no background…. In a word, we talk about a man who cannot see the wood for the trees. St. Francis was a man who did not want to see the wood for the trees.  He wanted to see each tree as a separate and almost sacred thing, being a child of God and therefore a brother or sister of man.”
Francis wasn’t interested in categories; he was fascinated by the person, animal, or thing in front of him because he was certain if he looked closely enough and if his heart and mind were pure, he would see the face of Jesus.
We are cursed by primarily seeing the forest.  Perhaps there is so much information that the only way we can survive is through labels or categories. It may be that the media gives us these labels and we adopt them without reflection. Who knows the cause?
We do know the effect, however.  We see what we expect to see and so did Francis. The difference is that Francis always expected to see the face of Jesus while too often we expect to see a label or a cause or a mirror of our own preoccupations.  May we celebrate this saint by cleansing our eyes.  Before our categorization machine starts, let us ask Francis to intercede for us and help us see the other not as a label, but as a child of God, a window to the holy, a representation of our Lord.  Instead of the forest, let’s look at the tree. If we do, then we and the world will be made new.

The World is Round

Twelve years ago I gave my first Convention Address as the 6th Bishop of WNC.  Because I had returned to Asheville after a thirty four year absence, I began with a quote from a book entitled A Handful of Blackberries.  In the story a young man returns home after a long time away. He was disappointed to be back where he started. Finally one of his friends asks, “Didn’t anyone tell you the world is round?”

Because the world is round, it means despite my departure as your active bishop, we will continue to be connected.  Being your bishop has been the greatest privilege of my life. I have had the opportunity to ordain, confirm, receive, reaffirm, and bless. I have been honored to represent you in many places and venues—from Canterbury to Taiwan.  Most of all I have been honored to lead the diocese for this dozen years and to work with committees, boards, parishes, and faithful people seeking to do the work of Christ in this world.

I am confident José McLoughlin will be a wonderful bishop and that the diocese will flourish. He has many gifts and brings a new perspective.  While I am sure that Oklahoma has its charms, there is nothing finer than to be in Carolina all the time. I am sure that you will do all you can to make this home for him and Laurel.

The world is also round because I am returning to where I started as a teacher. I will be teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary in the Spring of 2017 and have accepted a position at Wake Forest Divinity School beginning in the Fall of 2017.  Jo and I will have an apartment in Winston-Salem and will see what it’s like to commute for a while. I will also be able to return to being a Spiritual Director which I haven’t been able to do as an active bishop.

What will continue is my writing and speaking.  I now have a website---www.portertaylor.com--which is amazing for such an untechnological person. I will post weekly reflections on it (and you can sign up there at “Contact” to receive them weekly) and on Facebook (I am happy to friend everyone) or email me and I’ll make sure it happens: portertaylor80@gmail.com.  However, I won’t be doing any Church work in the diocese until at least next fall nor give any advice or commentary about the diocese. I am glad to talk about novels and spirituality and my grandchildren. This will be good for me and good for the diocese.

Because the world is round, I’d like to leave you with what I said in that first address. I quoted from Ron Rolheiser’s book The Holy Longing where he lists four non-negotiable essentials for the Christian life: 1. Prayer; 2. Social Justice; 3. Community; 4. Tender Hearts.  We have to have a journey inward, a journey outward, and a journey together, but none of those make any difference if we have a frozen heart.  My fervent hope for this diocese as well as the wider Church is that we hold onto these essentials—especially the last.  In a world increasingly contentious and divided, only those with tender hearts can answer our calling to be repairers of the breech.

God bless you and God be with you.

+Porter

Election Year

Monday evening I was blessed to attend the opening of Nuevo Amanecer, a conference sponsored by the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America for increasing and enhancing Latino and Hispanic ministry.  There were over 450 people in attendance. We sang and prayed and received the Eucharist and felt God’s blessing. The theme of the conference was Together We Grow/ Unidos Crecemos.  I am particularly grateful to the Rev. Anthony Guillén, the missioner for Latino/Hispanic Ministry for the Episcopal Church for his vision and work and to the Rev. Hilario Cisneros and the Rev. Miguel Alvarez for their work in our diocese.

As I stood among this celebratory throng Monday evening, I thought to myself, “This is our country at its best. This is what we must walk towards.”  “Together we grow” sounds a lot like “United States.”  During this election it’s tempting to give into a kind of cynicism about the state of our country much less the world.  We are reminded daily that many of our political leaders will not work with each other and we hear a drumbeat from those running for office about what’s wrong with our nation and how terrible their opponents are.

However, this is the day the Lord has made and this is our “one wild and precious life.”  In the Eucharistic prayer we are called to “lift our hearts up to the Lord” which means to set our sights on the New Jerusalem—God’s city where all God’s children live in peace and harmony. As we do that, we discover that we experience that heavenly destination here and now if we look for it. As the saints say, “All the way to heaven is heaven and all the way to hell is hell.”  We find what we are looking for.

Let us do our civic duty. Let us participate in the election process and keep abreast of the news, but let us also be agents of the Good News by remembering “Together we grow/ Unidos Crecemos.”

+Porter

I am very happy to announce that I have accepted a position as Visiting Professor of Episcopal Studies at The Wake Forest University School of Divinity beginning in the fall of 2017.  In the spring of 2017 I will be teaching at Virginia Theological Seminary.  I am grateful for these opportunities.

Life's Distractions

Amid all the noise around us, it’s easy to forget what matters.  There’s the constant wrangle of our politicians; the constant buzz of social media; and the relentless barrage of advertisements in our consumer culture.  But then something happens and we remember: the floods in Louisiana; the fires in California and most recently the earthquake in Italy.

In one of her short stories, Flannery O’Connor wrote about an elderly hard headed woman, “She’d been a good woman if there’d been someone to shoot her all the time.”  O’Connor meant if the world would shake us out of our constant distraction or self-absorption, then we’d remember what’s important and what isn’t.

Next month I turn 66, and as a result I have begun to think about the time I have left in this life.  One of my many commitments in retirement is to avoid as much distraction as I can and to focus on real joy and real pain and real beauty and real issues because the truth is we have no idea when a flood or fire or earthquake or car wreck or anything can happen.

Of course, this isn’t just a retirement issue; it’s an issue about being fully human.  We live in an age of distraction, but we have the power to disregard the constant stream of trivia and focus on what lasts.

Pray for the people in Louisiana, California, and Italy. Go on the web to the Episcopal Relief and Development website and send some of your funds to help your brothers and sisters in these places. Most of all, pay attention to the hurts and hopes close to you and far away, and decrease your attention to the noise that cannot feed our souls. Our lives are short and God offers us too much goodness, beauty and love as well as tragedy, heartache and pain for us not to be aware.

This is the day the Lord has made. Let us be alive in it.

+Porter

Appreciate Each Moment

This summer I have been moving books.  I just gave twelve boxes to the St. James book sale (starts 9/22) and find that I still have nine more boxes.  It’s been an act of discernment.  Amid all the sorting, I came across a small book I read over a decade ago: Abandonment to the Divine Providence by Jean-Pierre de Caussade, a Roman Catholic priest living in the 17th Century.

This short book has been such a consolation and corrective in these confusing and contentious times.  When we look at the trials and tragedies of this world, it’s so easy to despair or shut down.  It’s so easy to romanticize the past or hope for some idealized future.

What de Caussade writes however is to root ourselves in this moment.  “For what God creates at each moment is a divine thought which is expressed by a thing, and so all these things are so many names and words through which [God] makes known [God’s] wishes.”  Elsewhere he writes: “Every moment reveals God to us. Faith is our light in this life….Faith unlocks God’s treasury….it is by faith that God makes [God’s ] presence plain everywhere.  Faith tears aside the veil so that we can see the everlasting truth.”

That is, at some point it’s a waste of time simply to lament the state of this world and long for some other time with more noble leaders or more pervasive peace, justice, and mercy.  We become like Miniver Cheevy (in the E. A. Robinson poem) who spent his time longing for the times of knights while he failed to notice the glory around him.

Yes, let’s be engaged with the issues of the day. Yes, let’s demand more of our leaders and work for a better world. However, we can work for peace and justice and still attend to the presence of the Holy One in every moment of our lives.  “Today is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  We do that by paying attention.  

My vow is to spend less time planning my life or wishing I had a different life and instead living the one I have. I want to talk less about God and pay more attention to God here and now.  I am sure that Iona and Assisi are places where I could experience God’s presence, but since I live at 44 Ravenwood Dr. Fletcher, I am looking for God in my backyard.

+Porter

Olympic Reflection

Like many of you, I am focused on the Olympics—not all of them, but certainly Katie Ledecky and the USA women soccer team.  I hope this is less about any jingoism and more a fascination with the focus, the dedication, the discipline of these men and women.  It’s amazing to see how they have trained their bodies to perform these specific skills.  

I have been thinking about them and how scattered my life often is.  The Danish theologian Soren Kierkegaard wrote, “The purity of the heart is to will one thing.”  He went on to write about heroes of the faith, like Abraham, who heard God calling them and dedicated their lives to following that one thing regardless of the cost.

Life in this century is so rich and diverse.  Our ability to have information literally at our finger tips is a great blessing, but like everything there’s a downside. Instead of doing one thing well, too often we do one hundred things adequately.  We are pulled in so many directions, we just get through the day by checking things off our list.

What if like Katie Ledecky, we were to dedicate our lives but instead of swimming to knowing God and to radiate that knowledge and love and grace by our presence and our actions?  What if that became the event we focused on?   What if the prayer we lived out were: “Day by day, Oh dear Lord three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly. Day by day”?

Discipline is what makes disciples. May we ponder the skills the Lord is asking us to refine not so that we might win any medals, but so that God might use us to change the world.

+Porter

Take time for God

I am attending the Shalem Institute’s training on Spiritual Direction or Spiritual Guidance.  I have found we often talk about having a prayer life, but we as a Church are seldom very specific about how to do that, and once you actually begin a discipline of prayer, how to negotiate that journey.

A year ago our diocese asked Elaine Heath, now the Dean of Duke Divinity School, to be the presenter at our clergy retreat. She said that the Christian journey has three phases: Go deep, go out, go together.  I don’t think there’s necessarily an order to these, but all three are necessary and my belief is that the first is the one we often overlook.

To go deep is to make time in your day to become aware of God’s presence in your life.  Sometimes we make prayer too complicated. It’s not about having a sacred word or the right technique or having read the right book or having gone to the right retreat. It’s simply being still and knowing that God is God. It’s making a space to be present to God who is always present for us.  To pray is to shut off the constant noise in our lives and to rest in God’s presence.  We are asked in our baptismal covenant “Will you continue in the prayers?” because it’s one of the ways we come to know what being a Christian means.

Amid all the confusion in our world and our country, take time to remember that God is God.   Make some time at your day’s beginning and end to give thanks for this gift of life.  Stop the noise in your head; be still and know that God is God.  Prayer is not only a gift to the one who prays, but it’s one of the ways the world gets healed.

+Porter

Remember the Past and Future

This weekend St. Matthias Episcopal Church will celebrate its 150th Anniversary.  Their beginning was humble—“The Freedmen’s Church” began meeting at Trinity Church right after the Civil War.  In a few years, a school was also started at Trinity because since 1835 North Carolina passed laws making it illegal to teach African Americans to read or write.

I think about what life must have been like in 1865: a country divided, massive distrust of government, haunted by a past of violence, little infrastructure.  Yet in this time of turmoil, men and women-black and white—had a vision and they dared to act upon it.  Bishop Thomas Atkinson, bishop of North Carolina, wanted to develop and ordain a local African American priest for this congregation which became St. Matthias. But when the Standing Committee refused its approval, he brought in an African American priest from the North.  

I have often quoted a British theologian: “the Church is like a swimming pool. All the noise comes from the shallow end.” So it is with politics.  Amid all the clamor this week and next week from the Republican and Democratic conventions, let us not be distracted from our callings.  Our times are not as confusing as 1865 and our task are not as hard. We, therefore, must embrace the examples of those men and women who had a vision for a new church and a new beginning for all God’s children.  It’s too easy to focus on what’s wrong, especially when there is so much that could be right.  

Let us not see the world in terms of what divides us because division is always the shallow end.  Let us dive into the deep waters and remember our calling is to be agents for God’s mission to make the world new.  Let’s remember God’s vision for this world, this country, this part of North Carolina and then take one step towards that so that, 150 years from now, the faithful people of WNC will remember us and be inspired to do what God calls for them to do in their day.

+Porter

Pray for Peace

It’s time.  As a nation we have been stuck long enough.  The old arguments have gone on so long we know each other’s lines and no longer hear one another.  The recent tragedies in Dallas, Baton Rouge, and Minnesota must bring us to our senses and to our knees. It’s time for everyone to leave their carefully constructed positions and come to center where we kiss the cross, weep together, and find a way to walk hand in hand into the future. It’s time.

Our Presiding Bishop has called on our Church to be agents of resurrection in the face of division and violence.  To that end, he has called us to prayer and I join his call.  Pray for peace. Pray for communion. Pray for a new way to open. Pray for our leaders to lead. Pray for the common love of humanity to open the hearts of all people. Most of all, pray for hope.  (You might begin with the prayer “For the Human Family” on page 815 of the Book of Common Prayer.) It’s too easy to despair and make our worlds smaller to protect ourselves from the pain.  There’s a reason so few people stayed at the cross, yet we proclaim it is the door to resurrection.

I ask you to do two things. First, believe that change can begin where you are and have a ripple effect. There is little we can do about race relations or the perception people have about the police in Dallas, but we can do something about our common bonds where we live.  We can take a hard look at the divisions that exist in our communities around race and class and national origin and politics and gender and sexual orientation. Second we must move to the center.  We must be agents of hope and resurrection.  If we begin with honesty and prayer and conversation, God will show us a way and we must have the courage to follow where the Lord leads.  It’s not whether the world can change; it’s whether we believe we can be agents of that change.

To that end, our province of the Episcopal Church, Province IV, has put for a challenge for our dioceses to think of “bold ideas” to “make life better for all God’s children” and has set aside $20,000 in 2017 (see the link below). We are invited to write grants and collaborate with other dioceses.  If you have an idea about a grant or a proposal, send them to my office (bishop@diocesewnc.org).  

It’s time. Let us mourn and pray and come together to act for God’s reign of peace, justice, and mercy.

+Porter