Monthly Archives: September 2013

Not a destination but a starting block

Taylor Hall at the DeKoven Center in Racine, Wisconsin

Taylor Hall at the DeKoven Center in Racine, Wisconsin

Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:7-11)

It feels a little strange reflecting on “the loss of all things” while I am also enjoying a weekend at the DeKoven Center, one of the places I have come to cherish, “a place where prayer has been valid,” (to echo T. S. Eliot’s description of Little Gidding).

This place always reminds me of the heritage I have in the church, and the voice in my head sounds a little like Paul as I describe it:

“If anyone else has reason to be confident, I have more: baptized in my second month, a member of the people called Episcopalians, of the tribe of clergy; an acolyte, reader, LEM, campus minister, deacon; as to the church, “Anglo-Catholic among friends” and a member of the Fellowship of the SSJE; as to zeal, an EfM mentor and preacher; as to righteousness, made my mature commitment to Christ in the summer of 1989.”

Even the image at the top of this blog evokes that confidence — a page from my grandfather’s prayer book and Bible forms the backdrop to a picture of him sitting on the steps of this very place back in the 1940s.

But what if, as Paul goes on to say, all that is “rubbish” because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ?

What if I didn’t need to cling to “a goodly heritage” but could instead step out freely, secure in Christ?

I think even Paul would admit that his extensive training in the law and his upbringing as a Pharisee served him well in his new role as an apostle and as a mentor to others, but I think he is exactly right that they count for nothing in the most importance race of his life: pressing on toward the kingdom.

In fact, I picture him shedding his long Pharisaical robes in order to run more swiftly, free and unencumbered.

Perhaps this place where prayer has been valid is not supposed to be a destination, but rather the starting block against which I can push off and run, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead … the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

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Ease and comfort and shined shoes

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“What kind of book is that?” she asked.

I looked up from my seat by the window in the Delta SkyClub to see the server who had cleared my plates and napkins and drink glasses for the last two hours.

“It’s my prayer book and Bible,”  I replied. We spoke then of the ministry and her cousin who is a Methodist pastor.

Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you. (James 5:1-6)

On this Friday I am very mindful of the fact that I live in luxury.

I fly from place to place on business, I wear a new suit and sit in First Class and get my shoes shined regularly in the airport, I enjoy free drinks and excellent service in the SkyClub, I can afford an $80 leather-bound Book of Common Prayer and Bible combination, and my wife and I own two houses, one more than we need.

I am looking forward to a weekend in Chicago with our best friends at the Hard Rock Hotel, and to the Lyric Opera concert tomorrow night at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, and to dinner downtown with two other friends, and to a safe and comfortable drive home.

On this Friday I am also mindful of the Lord Jesus, who died for my sins and the sins of the whole world.

And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!” In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him. (Mark 15:27-32)

On this Friday the psalmist’s words ring false in my ear, because I am not in duress.

I prayed with my whole heart, as one would for a friend or a brother; *
I behaved like one who mourns for his mother, bowed down and grieving.
But when I stumbled, they were glad and gathered together; they gathered against me; *
strangers whom I did not know tore me to pieces and would not stop.
They put me to the test and mocked me; *
they gnashed at me with their teeth. (Psalm 35:14-16)

Instead, I enjoy ease and comfort and shined shoes.

Cares and occupations

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A Collect for Guidance

Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I’m in Pittsburgh today to do some work at my company’s home office.

Seeing the way the office has changed in just the few months since I was in last reminds me how many people now work for the company — around 300 — and how many people’s efforts need to be coordinated and properly directed to the company’s goals.

When I’m presenting to prospective clients, the vision is simple and compelling. We help reduce costs and increase revenue in hospitals and health systems. The outcomes are impressive, but for any one hospital, they are the result of hundreds of people changing the way they work, holding one another accountable for performance, regularly reviewing data, and fine-tuning their efforts in order to sustain those gains.

Every single one of those people — in the hospital, or in my company — has their own “cares and occupations” to attend to as well as the organization’s “cares and occupations.” Every single person has to balance their needs and interests with their organization’s.

At work, we are called upon to remember that we are walking in the sight of our bosses, that what we do appears on reports and affects other people’s work and the organization’s goals.

In our personal lives, our desires and plans overlap with our spouse’s and family’s needs, our hobbies and interests connect with our friends’ and neighbors’ pastimes.

At church, our need for spiritual refreshment or our plans for ministry to the community intersect with other members’ hopes and cares.

There’s an intriguing notion weaving through this morning’s Daily Office readings.

Solomon and God are at odds over Solomon’s behavior — he’s been following other “foreign” gods. Though God is angry with Solomon, he can’t renege on his promise entirely or forget his ultimate purpose, so he leaves a remnant instead of tearing the entire kingdom away from Solomon. God’s ultimate purpose will survive this detour.

James is warning his readers over their friendship with the world and their judgmental attitude. He’s asking them to turn away from their own desires and their own ill-will toward others, and to turn back to focus on God’s will and leave judgment to him. If we’re causing ourselves or others to swerve away from God, we need to get back on track.

At work, at home, and at church we face the same situation. We are regularly required to see our own agendas, our own “cares and occupations,” in light of the company’s goals, our family’s needs, our church’s thriving.

We contribute to their success, but we can so easily let our “cares and occupations” distract us from the larger goal.

In what way do you need to refocus your attention today? How will you remember you are “ever walking in God’s sight”?