Tuesday, December 02, 2008

It's about Jesus, not Wal-Mart
by John C. N. Hall

Wal-Mart doesn’t get it.

I believe it was about July 19th when I spotted the Christmas aisle being stocked for the first time at Wal-Mart this year. A clerk, wearing a happy blue and yellow “How May I Help You” vest, was stocking shelves with three-foot-tall, internally lighted, plastic Santas and snowmen. When I suggested to him that it was a little early for such sales, he informed me, “This way they don’t have to warehouse them.”

I stumbled away imagining some distant Wal-Mart warehouse manager on this hot July day, relieved to be rid of the holiday lawn decorations, and now able to receive the boxcar loads of multicolored icicle lights and pre-flocked artificial Douglas firs that had been made by deprived workers in pitiful conditions in China and Bangladesh who knew nothing of Wal-Mart or Christmas.

For Wal-Mart, Christmas is simply a six-month-plus plan to strategically increase annual revenue.

In reality, Christmas has more to do with those workers in Bangladesh than with Wal-Mart. After all, Christmas is the remembrance of the birth of the Christ child, born to a poor, unwed, teenage mother and a laborer father in a barn in a distant land.
And Joseph went up from Galilee to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to be delivered. And she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
Plastic yard snowmen aren’t it. Christmas is about the birth of a poor child in a forgotten place. Christmas is about the promise of God, given by the herald angels:
Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Wal-Mart doesn’t get it, but I hope you do. Please join me in worshipping the Lord and celebrating the birth of the Holy Child at the Mass of Christ – Christmas.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Being True to Yourself
John C. N. Hall

I am reading the latest edition of a magazine that claims to be "An Independent Weekly Supporting Catholic Anglicanism." Again, this week, as in countless previous editions, this magazine is painful reading as it outlines the "current state of The Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion" and its many perceived woes.

I am so tired of it -- so tired of the folks who spout gloom and doom for The Episcopal Church because of its honesty.

I say, "Hooray for the folks who are honest in the Church. Bravo for all, regardless of their theological leanings. Three cheers for the ones who beat as the heart of The Episcopal Church." It is time to be real with each other and to love all in the Church! It is never the time to anathematize the other.

Parker J. Palmer, in his wonderful, little book entitled Let Your Life Speak, writes,
"The punishment imposed on us for claiming true self can never be worse than the punishment we impose on ourselves by failing to make that claim. And the converse is true as well: no reward anyone might give us could possibly be greater than the reward that comes from living by our own best lights."
Thanks be to God for all in The Episcopal Church who are claiming true self. God bless us in our journey and guide us into living by our own best light -- the light of Christ.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

On Praying
from Thirst by Mary Oliver

It doesn't have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don't try
to make them elaborate, this isn't
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

Monday, September 29, 2008

As the Economy Tanks
some thoughts to keep in mind:

  • One way is to accumulate more. The other is to desire less. -- G K Chesterton
  • Riches prick us with a thousand troubles in getting them, as many cares in preserving them, and yet more anxiety in spending them, and with grief in losing them. -- St. Francis
  • Simplicity begins with a letting go--not letting go of the value of things, or the pleasure of things, but rather a letting go of the possession of things. -- Michael Hechner
Simplicity is a gift that we so easily lose sight of as we acquire mountains of things. Possibly as our wealth tumbles, we will once again (or maybe for the first time) be able to focus on the tokens that truly matter, those of real and lasting value. I suspect these long forgotten treasures are best found in relationships with men and with women and with God, rather than in the lies we bought in our relationship with "stuff."
--John C. N. Hall

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Open Another Bag and Pass the Dip
Thoughts on Giving

by John C. N. Hall

A writer recently reminded me of two television commercials for snack chips that aired about a decade ago. These two ads clarify my approach to “giving,” a widely understood concept, and a word I prefer to use in place of the churchy code word, “stewardship.”

The first ad opened with a scene in which two solitary Eskimos were sitting outside a lone igloo in the middle of a vast field of ice. One Eskimo was slowly eating from a bag of Ruffles potato chips while his friend looked on longingly. Eventually, the friend asked for a chip. The Eskimo with the Ruffles looked around and replied, “If I give one to you, I’ll have to give one to everybody.” This advertisement clearly portrays the idea of limited resources. There will not be enough to go around. Scarcity is the driving force, and all must be done to fend it off.

The other commercial showed comedian Jay Leno with a bag of Doritos. He crunched away and simply said, “Doritos. Eat all you want. We’ll make more.” Here is the notion of abundance rather than dearth. The Doritos customer lacks nothing. The supply is endless.

In the Reign of God, the Creator of all wants for nothing and has supplied a fullness of spirit that overflows. Giving, in God’s plan, springs from the endless gifts God first showers on God’s people. Christians give from their abundance because, ultimately, all is a gift from God. God is a Doritos giver, and Christians are to follow God’s lead.

You might say my approach to giving is one in which I trust God to be a God of abundance. God has already given all the money, people, and talent needed to do God’s will. I believe God can change people’s hearts and open their purse strings. God is not to be tipped, but rather worshipped with all that we have, all that we are, and all we ever will become. I know God, like the maker of Doritos in the commercial, is ready to equip and supply the church to do whatever God calls it to do.

So I say, “Please open another bag, and pass the dip.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Franciscan Spirituality
The Seven Basic Franciscan Values

1. Conversion to and love of Jesus Christ, His Gospel and His Church.
2. A Christocentric theology accenting the primacy of love.
3. An Incarnational emphasis as seen in the crib, cross and the Eucharist.
4. Lived experience of the Triune God in prayer and contemplation.
5. Hope, optimism and the goodness of God and His creatures.
6. Fraternity and peace through Reconciliation with Christ and one another.
7. Solidarity, as lesser brothers and sisters, with, among and in service to the Poor.

On anxiety about prayer
From What is Contemplation? by Thomas Merton

“Do not be too anxious about your advancement in the ways of prayer, because you have left the beaten track and are traveling by paths that cannot be charted and measured.

Therefore leave God to take care of your degree of sanctity and of contemplation. If you yourself try to measure your own progress you will waste your time in futile introspection. Seek one thing alone: to purify your love of God more and more, to abandon yourself more and more perfectly to His will and to love Him more exclusively and more completely, but also more simply and more peacefully and with more total and uncompromising trust.”

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Garrison Keillor on Episcopalians

We make fun of Episcopalians for their blandness, their excessive calm, their fear of giving offense, their lack of speed and also for their secret fondness for macaroni and cheese. But nobody sings like them. If you were to ask an audience in Des Moines, a relatively Episcopalianless place, to sing along on the chorus of "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," they will look daggers at you as if you had asked them to strip to their underwear. But if you do this among Episcopalians, they'd smile and row that boat ashore and up on the beach! ....And down the road!

Many Episcopalians are bred from childhood to sing in four-part harmony, a talent that comes from sitting on the lap of someone singing alto or tenor or bass and hearing the harmonic intervals by putting your little head against that person's rib cage. It's natural for Episcopalians to sing in harmony. We are too modest to be soloists, too worldly to sing in unison. When you're singing in the key of C and you slide into the A7th and D7th chords, all two hundred of you, it's an emotionally fulfilling moment. By our joining in harmony, we somehow promise that we will not forsake each other.

I do believe this, people: Episcopalians, who love to sing in four-part harmony are the sort of people you could call up when you're in deep distress. If you are dying, they will comfort you. If you are lonely, they'll talk to you. And if you are hungry, they'll give you tuna salad!

Episcopalians believe in prayer, but would practically die if asked to pray out loud. Episcopalians like to sing, except when confronted with a new hymn or a hymn with more than four stanzas.

Episcopalians believe their Rectors will visit them in the hospital, even if they don't notify them that they are there. Episcopalians usually follow the official liturgy and will feel it is their way of suffering for their sins.

Episcopalians believe in miracles and even expect miracles, especially during their stewardship visitation programs or when passing the plate.

Episcopalians feel that applauding for their children's choirs will not make the kids too proud and conceited.

Episcopalians think that the Bible forbids them from crossing the aisle while passing the peace.

Episcopalians drink coffee as if it were the Third Sacrament.

Episcopalians feel guilty for not staying to clean up after their own wedding reception in the Fellowship Hall.

Episcopalians are willing to pay up to one dollar for a meal at church.

Episcopalians still serve Jell-O in the proper liturgical color of the season and Episcopalians believe that it is OK to poke fun at themselves and never take themselves too seriously.

And finally, you know you are a Episcopalian when:
-It's 100 degrees, with 90% humidity, and you still have coffee after the service.
-You hear something really funny during the sermon and smile as loudly as you can.
-Donuts are a line item in the church budget, just like coffee.
- When you watch a Star Wars movie and they say, "May the Force be with you," and you respond, "and also with you."
- And lastly, it takes ten minutes to say good-bye . . . .

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Stephen Colbert reports on The Lambeth Conference

Friday, July 11, 2008

Redwoods and The Episcopal Church

an essay by John C. N. Hall

When walking among the massive coastal redwoods in the Muir Woods National Park north of San Francisco, one speaks in hushed tones. Dwarfed in the deep shade of these colossal trees, one senses the sacred nature of an ancient cathedral. The tallest redwoods are reaching higher than the Statue of Liberty. The oldest began growing before Christ was born. Yet, these top-heavy giants have shallow roots and would easily be felled by the constant coastal wind if growing alone. So, as if by some divine command, the trees grow in groups, with roots twisted and intertwined to form a vast labyrinth of support for all, just below the surface. This unseen mesh of connectedness binds the forest into one vast living organism with unifying strength, and allows each individual to reach in safety toward heaven. The trees are one.

In the seventeenth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus prays that his followers would be kept in safety as one. Seeking unity for those he loves, Christ petitions the Father saying, “Keep them safe by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one just as you and I are one.” It is this unity, spoken of by Christ in prayer, for which people long, the desire for God-given oneness, to live together as one Body in Christ, and to be reconciled to each other, to the world, and to God.

Some might say a realistic look at The Episcopal Church suggests that all is not well. Others find the Church poised for new learning, new growth, and a bright future. Certainly, universal agreement is neither a hallmark of The Episcopal Church in this present moment, nor has it been in times past. Nevertheless, while the Lord Jesus in his “high priestly prayer,” as it is sometimes called, prays for unity, Christ is not ordering his followers into oneness, as some action of collective will. Rather, Christ is praying that God will preserve his loved ones in the unity that is already theirs in Jesus’ name. “Keep them safe by the power of your name, the name you gave me…” he prays. It is by belonging to Christ, by gathering in the name of Jesus, that the Church’s roots are kept bound together. The Episcopal Church is, in fact, already one in Christ Jesus by the will of God.

The fourth chapter of Ephesians provides the first words of the service of Holy Baptism. “There is one Body and one Spirit; there is one hope in God’s call to us.” In claiming the promises made at Baptism, Christians live as beloved sisters and brothers, and members of one Body, the Church. Saint Paul’s wonderful description of the Church as the Body of Christ, complete with eyes, ears, nose, and hands, in his first letter to Corinth reveals the Church’s diversity in the midst of its unity in Christ. This unity in the body does not necessarily equate to uniformity, or even agreement, however. An eye and a toe behave differently. They are one in the body and still surprisingly unique. Yet, the Body of Christ, when functioning optimally, seeks to live by one simple rule: agreement follows unity rather than unity following agreement.

The faithful members of the Body of Christ in The Episcopal Church are like the magnificent redwoods along the Pacific coast, they already are knit together in unity, rooted as one in the name of Jesus Christ.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Body Parts

an essay by John C. N. Hall

You shook my hand hard at the door of the church, leaning your face too close to mine, and waving your index finger at the corner of my eye. “Just visiting from Virginia,” you said. “I am an Anglican. Always have been. Always will!” you assured me. “I’m a cradle Episcopalian, but my Church has left me. My Church has left me. You and your church have gone too far. You have left me,” you accused.

“Nice to meet you,” I smiled. I wondered what you thought of the service we had just shared. I doubted you had really heard any of the sermon I had just preached about unity in Christ. I assumed you felt uncomfortable as you exchanged the Peace with someone in your pew. I suspected you missed the warm words of welcome I offered to all of our guests and visitors during the announcements. I thought you might have questioned the validity of the sacrament we had received, since I, a priest in this wayward church, had presided at the Eucharist.

“I’m here this week visiting my sister,” you went on. “I have left the Episcopal Church. In fact, most of my whole congregation has left,” you explained. You spoke louder, as if I couldn’t hear, and barked, “What with the bishop in New Hampshire. The new woman elected as Presiding Bishop. And now the General Convention denying Christ.” With a final squeeze of my hand you reached your crescendo, “I have left this church, but I’ll always be an Anglican!”

Your grip finally loosened and my fingers recovered as the blood-flow returned. My eyebrows rose a bit. “You’re welcome to join us for coffee and refreshments,” I said, offering a toothy smile.

Just then, your sister bumped you with her elbow as she took my hand and greeted me – another parishioner in the line at the door, another member of the Body of Christ.

I have thought of you often since then. Our encounter clings to the folds in my brain. It saddens me when one is so sure of truth that there is no alternative but to cut off the community of faithful seekers. Had you not read Saint Paul’s wonderful description of the Church as the Body of Christ, complete with eyes, ears, nose, and hands, in his first letter to Corinth? How Paul writes, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’”? Why would you sever yourself from the Body? Or, why suggest we removed you?

I wanted to acknowledge before you that we are not perfect, but you wouldn’t understand. I wanted you to know that we are not all in agreement, but your mind was already made up. I wanted to suggest that there is room for questioning, but you already had all the answers. I wanted you to remain attached to the magnificent-awkward-astonishing-embarrassing-beautiful-warty-flexible-Body, created in the image of God, but you would have no part of it. Most of all, as a nose, or a kneecap, or a middle toe, or whatever I am, I wanted you to know that I need you – we need you – but you had already gone to the Coffee Hour to corner and excise another body part.