JUST CLICK HERE!
I had a wonderful experience today meeting with a group of partners who are doing amazing work in Haiti, mainly in the community of Bondeau where St. Paul’s Delray and others (St. Gregory’s in Boca and several other churches in this diocese) have been working for several years. We heard from medical mission leaders; those involved in building a new church there; Deacon Anita who lives there with over a dozen girls, making a difference in their lives and in the community; and folks involved in bringing clean water (Hallelujah) and solar power to this area in such need.
There are ongoing challenges, some of them are extreme. It’s hard work. It’s the long haul. And in it is blessing. Profound blessing.
We shared Eucharist and I used the propers for the mission of the church: Luke 10 – the harvest is plentiful, the laborers are full. It’s a gospel we often hear at ordinations. But we must remember the laborers are not just those who wear these funny collars. I saw today a great group of laborers, who represent even a larger group. I was reflecting on the work – how we can feel overwhelmed not just when faced with the challenges in this small part of Haiti, but when we also think about all the problems around this world of ours. It seems too much, too hard, way too hard.
Yet Jesus sent the 70 to go to towns and then to houses and when they were welcome, to hang out there a while and bring a bit of the kingdom near. That’s what we can do in Bondeau. That’s what you can do in whatever mission field, across the world or across the street, God has led you to. Bring the peace of Christ. Share the love of God. Bring the kingdom near. And as was evident today, when you do so, you see that same kingdom near to you. For we are most blessed when we bless others.
Do not despair. Be the laborer but remember you were not called to fix every problem in every part of the world. But you can make a difference in whatever “house” Jesus has sent you to.
I was reminded today of the power of God and of prayer. When I think about all my own problems, which at times seem too much, I can remember today and the words of deep faith and trust in the movement of the Holy Spirit, who is indeed moving amongst these Haiti partners, and amongst St. Paul’s, and even with little ole me.
Let’s be laborers. And rejoice – the kingdom has come near.
I admit up front that I really have no right to say what I am about to say. I am not a published author, I do not have some Hemingway-esque gift with words. My writing “expertise” consists of reading a whole lot, ever since I was very young. I cut my reading eye teeth on Tom Swift Jr books and the Bobbsey Twins volumes my mom had saved from her own childhood. I first read The Lord of the Rings in the 9th grade and I was hooked on that genre. I have read those books at least a dozen times, I have spent lots of time in Stephen King-land (dear Lord if you have not read the Dark Tower series you are missing pure genius and I kid you not).
I dabble in popular works like King, and also venture off into what I call “pop music” books, the popular stuff of the day just so that I am in tune with what many others, of many ages, are reading. Twilight. Harry Potter. Even those Shades of Grey. Dystopian fiction attracts me as well.
Which leads me to my rant. I read the easy stuff, the really-poorly-written stuff and then I wash myself in the sacred bath of the good stuff – Pat Conroy. Barbara Kingsolver. Classics too, but Conroy and Kingsolver, in my not so humble opinion, are the ones – the best living American writers as far as I am concerned. Their prose is amazing, their characters so deep and so real, the conversations striking and unrelenting and revealing. It’s life on paper, characters perfect in their imperfections, thoughts telling stories, relationships painting pictures, raw and exhilarating and evolved and true. I never want their stories to end. Have you read The Prince of Tides? Have you attempted to consume The Poisonwood Bible, my favorite book of all time? “Tata Jesus is bangala” (Barbara Kingsolver, the Poisonwood Bible, cc 2001).
Then I regress. I slink over to the easy side, the lazy fiction, the Brittany Spears CDs of books. I read Twilight. I dared 50 Shades of Grey with all the eroticism that made it popular and I am stunned by how poorly written it is. I even dabble in dystopian worlds because I like it, Hunger Games was enthralling and while Suzanne Collins is not a Conroy or Kingsolver, it was edible and even pleasing. So I venture a little further backwards on the chain and read Divergent. I read it, perhaps, to remind myself of my own feeble writing attempts.
Divergent is a cool idea, a different take on dystopian fiction, I commend Veronica Roth for that. But dear Lord in Heaven the writing. The characters are so shallow, the conversations so weak, and then the ending. Sigh. The climax of book one was so poorly done I could barely finish it, and only did so with the slight hope there would be improvement, something to redeem it. I couldn’t bear to take on the subsequent volumes.
And Roth is Dickens compared to EL James. 50 Shades of course is popular for the kinky. But if I read “my inner goddess” one more time, I would have yucked all over my poor Kindle. Folks this is so bad it’s almost comical. Yet like Brittany, who can’t sing a lick without studio enhancement, millions were sold, millions were made, millions more will see the movies.
So for Stephanie Meyer (really you think you can change the vampire rules and have them sparkle in the sunlight! That’s heresy!) and Roth and James, and for all budding authors out there, before you publish, before you go for the money vs. the gut wrenching beauty of well written works, go thee therefore to the Kingsolver and take this on:
“But something did follow them into the house, unsettling them both during supper with the children, making the air in their bedroom cold. He’d said good night as if they were friends parting ways, then rolled to his side and slept the sleep of a mountain range while she stared at black air, dividing the river of her desperation into rivulets until some of them seemed navigable. At moments she felt light and untethered, the same glimpse of release she’d had many times before. The thrill of throwing a good life away, she remembered thinking once: one part rapture. Outweighed by the immense and measurable parameter’s of a family’s life.” (Flight Behavior: A Novel by Barbara Kingsolver, copyright 2012 Harper Collins, pages 529-530).
You don’t have to know the story to be mesmerized by the prose.
Go also to Conroy and be amazed:
“Later, long after my grandfather was dead, I would regret that I could never be the kind of man that he was. Though I adored him as a child and found myself attracted to the safe protectorate of his soft, uncritical maleness, I never wholly appreciated him. I did not know how to cherish sanctity; I had no way of honoring, of giving small voice to the praise of such natural innocence, such generous simplicity. Now I know that a part of me would like to have traveled the world as he traveled it, a jester of burning faith, a fool and a forest prince brimming with the love of God…..I would like to have seen the world with eyes incapable of anything but wonder, and with a tongue fluent only in praise.” (The Prince of Tides, Pat Conroy, Bantam Books, 1986, page 277).
How can you not be changed deep in your soul after reading such words?
My friends you of course will and should read what you want. Sometimes the less “dense” stuff is ok, in comic book form anyway. But every now and then, stretch yourself. If the classics won’t do, read the Lords of Discipline, read Poisonwood Bible and Pigs in Heaven. You will be SO GLAD YOU DID. Let us insist on a higher standard because the Conroys and Kingsolvers are out there, let’s hear (read) them so that we may be transformed, inspired, thrilled, changed, improved, challenged and utterly swept away, not just by story, but by art.
“Tata Jesus is Bangala”, to quote Kingsolver in the Poisonwood Bible. I won’t spoil it by telling you what that means and how profound it is – but don’t you forget it! Words really do matter…..
This post has been brewing for a while. Ash Wednesday and my own sermon have pushed me to write these things down.
I struggle with pride. I am fiercely competitive. Growing up in a family that was all about sports, all the time – with a Dad who coached at the high school and college levels, two brothers that are pretty awesome and super well respected coaches, five boys in all who played or watched or coached for most of our lives, I have been driven by “winning” for a long time.
There are things in life that you can’t really measure in terms of winning or losing. But I try nonetheless. At a presentation I did at Gathering of Leaders a few years ago, I described how ministry life was post-Katrina. I learned to fail. To try and fail had no shame. We tried a LOT of things in those crazy times, most of which didn’t work, and as a church we learned to be ok with that. But for me and my competitive nature, failure was really hard. So I kept up with our failures and proudly proclaimed us the winner of some fictional contest by failing at more programs, projects, and the like than any other church around. So….we won…..at failing….we WON.
Pride. For some reason that competitive streak in me and pride go hand in hand. Why is it so important to win? What does it say about me when I lose? When I win? When I make it more important than it should be? And especially when I put events and occurrences in my life that really are not about winning or losing into some type of scorecard, what is that about?
In the last five months or so I have had two very hard lessons in pride. I really cannot give details about the first, but let’s just say I was really disappointed, sad and felt rejected by that particular lesson. With no chance to learn from it, no way to grow from it, I was simply left with a big fat NO. And it hurt. This particular no was not necessarily the problem, I had no idea if I wanted to hear yes or no. But the swiftness of it, the lack of feedback, the surprise, well I was wounded. (Meanwhile a great lesson that we should always look at discernment as a yes – maybe it’s no to one thing but how do we affirm the discerner in various other ways while also giving them honest feedback on what we may think God is saying about their quest).
The second lesson came from being defeated as I ran for General Convention Deputy in my home diocese. I am serving as an Interim in another diocese but still “canonically resident” in Mississippi, making me eligible to serve in that capacity. I have been part of the last 3 deputations from Mississippi and thought I had done a pretty good job, represented the diocese well, learned a lot, was deeply involved in the reorganization movement. I was even appointed to the Theology of Marriage Task Force by the President of the House of Deputies and the Presiding Bishop – one of ten deputies out of over 800 selected for this really big task. I knew my not currently serving a church in Mississippi would cause some voters to be wary of supporting me, so I planned all along to be present at our Annual Council. Yet my body betrayed me – a nasty, sudden attack of cellulitis in my leg left me very sick and in the hospital as Council convened. I “watched” via Twitter and other means as the election unfolded, and I was really crushed to be left off the team this time around. Our Task Force needs as many of us to be deputies as possible as our work is presented at General Convention in 2015. I felt like I let my fellow task force members down. And I felt like, for some reason, my own diocese had a much lower opinion of me than I thought they had. Of course the truth is there were some GREAT candidates, all of whom will serve very well and are well qualified to do so, obviously a part of this is just sour grapes. Which points to, of course –
Both of these “failures” have caused me to do a lot of reflection. Obviously there are good and valid reasons both of these things turned out the way they did, reasons I do not see and may never know. I have to learn to be ok with that ambiguity. And more than likely there is a much deeper lesson for me – about pride, about competition, about looking at the world differently, at challenges differently. For someone who had Vince Lombardi’s famous words (winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing) become part of my DNA, these are difficult lessons.
Maybe I can change and then enter and win some kind of Change Olympics! Yes, that’s the ticket! Gold medal for me!!!…..
Well it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted on here, but I have several things brewing that will show up soon I hope. Those thoughts were interrupted by horrible news, the sudden and unexpected death of my friend, the Reverend Craig Gates.
A week ago Sunday was the closing Eucharist for the Diocese of Mississippi’s Annual Council. Ever since leaving for sunny Florida, my plans were to attend Council (as I am still canonically resident in MS). My body had other plans – a very fast moving infection in my leg, along with a very high fever, had me in the hospital all week, driving to Natchez from South Florida was not an option (and I didn’t get out until Saturday). On that Sunday a week ago, all the Clergy of the Diocese processed in together as is our custom. Amongst them was Craig Gates, now retired and living at Sewanee, but ever present at such events.
Craig was one of a kind. Loud and opinionated, a force to be reckoned with. Most of all though, a force of love, pure and unconditional, love of Jesus and love of every one he met, all of whom he called “child of God”. He tolerated nothing but love for one another, he preached it and he practiced it.
I first met Craig when I was Curate at St. James in Greenville, MS, in the heart of the Delta. He was Rector of Nativity in Greenwood, and we met a time or two before my ordination to the priesthood. On that day, I knelt before the Bishop, with my fellow priests gathered round, all laying hands on me, as they sang the Taize version of “Veni, Sancte, Spiritus”, with Craig’s booming voice leading the way, and then I stood up a Priest. I was vested in a beautiful red chasuble, was asked by the Bishop to proclaim the Peace to the congregation, and then greeted my family. After this I was sharing the Peace with my now fellow presbyters when Craig grabbed me, said “welcome to the club you beloved child of God”, and kissed me dead full on the mouth! That was Craig Gates in a nutshell. Singing loud, kissing, welcoming, loving.
Craig was a real mentor for many of us in our diocese. Never afraid to speak his mind, he always came from the aspect of inclusive love for all. I loved sitting near him at Clergy Conference and Annual Council, it was always entertaining. Last year I was sitting close as our Bishop gave his address. Being President of the Standing Committee, I knew Bishop Gray was going to announce his call for coadjutor. I also knew Craig would respond loudly. And he did, as soon as the Bishop issued that call, Craig hollered “Nooooooooo!”. He loved and supported our Bishop so well.
I began attending Clergy Conference in 2002. So many of the “old guard” are no longer there. We have quite a few wonderful young or new-to-us Priests, they are all delightful and so gifted. But I had the advantage for years of sitting in the bad-guys-and-girls corner at Clergy Conference where I was entertained by Craig and Chip Davis and Shannon Johnston and Tom Slawson and Andy Andrews and Joe Robinson and Stan Runnels and the wonderful Ruth Black. And of course there was Bo Roberts, 40+ clergy conferences under his belt.Cottage 3 rocked in those days and I am afraid that tradition has moved on as well. These Priests helped mold and shape me, mentored me, made me laugh and challenged me in so many ways. That was a room full of experience and wisdom, snarkiness and delight, eye rolling and the occasional “nooooo”. And Craig was always leading the charge.
And now Craig is gone. It will never be the same.
Which brings me to the regrets. For how many centuries have people said the same – I wish I had said how I felt about this person to them when they were still alive. Facebook is full of great tributes to Father Craig, he was loved by so many and made such a mark on us all. I hope he knew that. I hope he knew how beloved he was, how helpful he was, how he taught us just by being the “child of God” that he was? I am so, so sorry I never said it directly to him. So sorry.
I hope to change. To be more like Craig, to see EVERYONE as a child of God, beloved. I wish I could sing like him. I hope to be a Priest like him. And I hope I can, from time to time, let those who have meant so much to me know it, on this side of the kingdom as well as the other.
When I first heard the news about Craig, I thought, “I will never attend the Dead Priest Society gathering again. It will be too painful, his absence too real”. Then I thought some more. Instead, I would love to be there next year and at the end of Clergy Conference, when we pass the candle around and name the priests who meant so much to us that are no longer with us, the first time around the circle I hope we all will say, “Craig Gates”. I know that would make him laugh that laugh.
Rest in Peace, you beloved Child of God. You are already missed. I thank God for you, for your life, and for your witness. My prayers are with Dorothy and family. May you go from strength to strength, my friend.
It’s all about the numbers. It’s been 15 days since I’ve seen my wife. Or I should say, been with her in the same space. Now days with Facetime and Facebook and the like, I can see her. I can hear her.
Folks, it ain’t the same.
In 10 days (another number) we will have been married 30 years (yet another).
10 days. 30 years. 30 years! How did THAT happen? I think I am 30, but I am 55. In 30 years of what is undoubtedly the best marriage in the history of the world (count those numbers in eons), we’ve never been apart this many days in a row.
Not one (a number) time.
General Convention is the closest but that’s less than 15 days and at the 1st two I served as deputy Jennifer joined me for some of it. Not last summer but that was still less than 15 days. And it will be another 8 before we are together.
This is not good.
I am 55. I have been married 30 years. And I really, really, really miss my wife.
Soon I will travel back to Jackson and we will finish packing and move our stuff to our new place, a condo we are renting in beautiful Delray Beach. St. Paul’s is great, this area is so nice and we are close to Jen’s sister and fairly close to her step mom. There is much work to do and adventures to have and all that is amazing and exciting and definitely blessing…..but
It’s been 15 days. 30 years. And 8 or more to go.
And I don’t like it. Not one bit.
Lord have mercy
Christ have mercy
Lord have mercy
Jen – soon and very soon. Until then, every minute I think of you and pray for you and miss you so much.
One week. In one week I hit the road for beautiful Delray Beach, Florida where I begin my time as Interim Rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
The last few weeks have been wild. We accepted the call and then had to let some other folks know we would not continue to discern with them. That was really hard. Jen and I spent a week at the beach with Brayden, what a great time. It is very hard to know we won’t see him as often but he will always be part of our lives and we will see him as much as we can.
I will remain canonically resident in the Diocese of Mississippi, which makes me happy. My first week in Delray coincides with Clergy Conference in the Diocese of SE Florida, and it’s in Delray, so I look forward to meeting new clergy friends right off the bat. As President of the Standing Committee, I’ve been wrapping things up in that arena and especially dealing with the Bishop Search progress while preparing to hand all that off to the S.C. soon. On August 15th the clergy of the Diocese met to discuss our hopes and dreams for our next Bishop, and I was very glad to attend and say some goodbyes. I love this Diocese and feel so supported and loved by my fellow clergy. It’s a special place for sure. Missing THAT Clergy Conference is not something I want to talk about!
Last week Jen and I traveled to Delray and looked at lots of potential places to rent, but have not decided yet. It’s difficult. We thankfully have been offered a place to stay until mid-October, so we have a little time to make a decision. Pray for us!
We returned Wednesday night and then on Thursday went to our daughter, Mackenzie’s house that she and husband Wynne had bought a few months ago. Kenzie had asked me to bless the house before we left, so I dutifully printed off some house blessing handouts, and with stole in hand, we walked in her door only to find a surprise going away party with many of our long-time Jackson friends from the old neighborhood we lived in before leaving for seminary in 1999. It was a great surprise and really wonderful.
I spent yesterday at what will most likely be my final in-person Standing Committee meeting and tomorrow we go to Hattiesburg where my family (3 of my brothers and their families and my parents) will gather for another goodbye. This is HARD and exciting.
So the plan is for me to drive down on Friday so I can be at services over the weekend (the church has one on Saturday and four on Sunday). Jennifer will join me once we have a place to live and are ready to move our stuff, I will come back for the move of course.
Delray is lovely and the church is awesome. It’s a long way but we hope and expect lots of visitors! Your prayers are always welcome. And many of my St. James’ friends asked me to keep this blog up to date so expect more frequent posts over the next year or so. Speaking of St. James’ – I really miss all of you guys!
And Mississippi folks – I will be at Annual Council and have another gig (that I cannot announce yet) in January that is a real honor to participate in. More when I can say more!
Come on down to sunny South Florida! We would love to see you. Until then – Peace and God Bless.