Tag Archives: humility

Solemnly engaging to conform

Will you be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them? And will you, in accordance with the canons of this Church, obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work?

 Answer

 I am willing and ready to do so; and I solemnly declare that I do believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, and to contain all things necessary to salvation; and I do solemnly engage to conform to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of the Episcopal Church. (BCP 526)

Engaging to conform

I have already been living under this vow for 20 years as an ordained deacon in the Episcopal Church, but I have been invited to reflect on it again as I prepare for ordination to the priesthood.

First and foremost, I believe the center of this particular vow – in response to the bishop’s questions about loyalty and obedience – is the promise to engage to conform.

Doctrine, discipline, and worship may be the legal matter of this vow, but conforming (both willingly and readily) is the spiritual energy of this promise made by bishops, priests, and deacons at their ordination.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

We live in a culture that does not value conformity, but rather tries to sell us on the endless allure of newness, entrepreneurialism, start-ups, and fashion.

Being transformed away from that culture, away from conformity to that world, means the “renewing of our minds” toward the good, the acceptable, the perfect. Being transformed toward good requires the paradoxical conformity of humility.

Humility means learning the hard lesson that there are people who know more, and know better, than I do. As I have realized often in my professional career and in 20 years as a deacon (and more recently in three years of recovery), I can learn from the experiences of people who know what I need to know only to the extent that I am willing and ready to conform to “the steps we took, which are suggested as a program of recovery,” or to the experience of my colleagues, or to the practice of the Church’s disciplines.

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Discipline

I have been taking an online Canon Law course through Bexley Seabury this fall, so I now happen to know that where clergy discipline is concerned:

Discipline of the Church shall be found in the Constitution, the Canons and the Rubrics and the Ordinal of the Book of Common Prayer. (IV.2)

The church’s disciplines are not random, but have organic beginnings in the early Church and have developed over time as society has changed.

In our particular branch of the Church, we have disciplines that include organizing ourselves in General Convention and dioceses and parishes, agreeing how we will worship (down to the fine print), and setting out requirements for ordaining bishops, priests, and deacons.

Engaging to conform to the discipline of the Church means willingly working within the political structures of General Convention, the diocese, and the parish – even if you are working ultimately to change those structures.

It means willingly participating in an ordination process that involves many other people, even if (as my faculty advisor observed a long time ago) it’d be easier just to stand on the street corner and say, “I’m a preacher!”

Napoleon Dynamite Gosh

It means willingly observing the fine print of the prayer book or other services authorized by Convention, whether you agree with the changes or not.

I’ve always worked in large, bureaucratic organizations, so I’m perfectly comfortable with the fact that there are policies and procedures – disciplines – that govern the way we live, and work, and worship together.

Worship

Together or alone, we Episcopalians worship God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, in the Name of Jesus Christ.

In just the same way as the disciplines of the Church have changed over time, so too has the Church’s worship, whether personal devotions or corporate prayer.

From the very basics – fasting and the Lord’s Prayer – to personal prayers several times a day, to gatherings of Christians morning and evening, to splendid Byzantine liturgies and daily Latin Masses, to monastic offices, to worship in the vernacular and the Reformation focus on the reading of Scripture, the Church’s worship has changed and evolved in myriad ways throughout the 20 centuries since Jesus’ time.

Engaging to conform to the Church’s pattern of worship means, for me, praying “by the book” using the daily offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.

Though the public offering of the Daily Office has not been required of clergy in the American Episcopal Church as it was in England, it’s the heartbeat of the English prayer book tradition and an unparalleled practice for hearing and responding to the Holy Scriptures. Other forms of personal prayer, like meditation and Centering Prayer, supplement the offices and give me a chance to be silent and receptive, communing with God in that way.

Secondly, even though for a long time Sunday worship in the English and American Church featured Morning Prayer and only occasional Communion, the pattern since 1979 (and in many places even before I was born) has been to celebrate the Holy Eucharist every Sunday and on other Major Feasts. The prayer book rubrics are clear on the subject.

I read an article this week in The Living Church by Andrew Pearson, a cathedral dean who says “we are a Morning Prayer parish in the first place, already differentiating ourselves from nearly every other Episcopal church in the United States.”

Engaging to conform, to my mind, means setting aside that kind of idiosyncratic preference in favor of practicing and promoting the Church’s current pattern of corporate worship.

It’s often said (by Episcopalians, at least) that “praying shapes believing.” Practicing the Episcopal Church’s discipline and following the pattern of the Episcopal Church’s worship reveals the Episcopal Church’s doctrine.

Doctrine

According to the canons of the Episcopal Church:

Doctrine shall mean the basic and essential teachings of the Church and is to be found in the Canon of Holy Scripture as understood in the Apostles and Nicene Creeds and in the sacramental rites, the Ordinal and Catechism of the Book of Common Prayer. (IV.2)

In the parishes and dioceses of the Episcopal Church we baptize new members of Christ’s body, making and renewing promises before God as we recite the Apostle’s Creed.

We pray morning and evening, reading from the Holy Scriptures and reciting that same baptismal creed. We celebrate the Holy Eucharist every Sunday, reading from the Holy Scriptures and reciting the Nicene Creed in affirmation of the faith we hold.

We confirm lay persons and marry people and ordain ministers in the context of the Holy Eucharist. In other sacramental rites, we reconcile the penitent, pronouncing on them God’s absolution; we minister to the sick, laying hands on them and anointing them with oil for healing; we bury the dead, commending them to God in the sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.

Exsultet at Holy Communion

Our doctrine is our common prayer, and it is to be found in its disciplines.

My teaching over the years – in the catechumenate, in abuse prevention training, in Deacons’ School, in Episcopal 101, at retreats, on this blog, in Education for Ministry – has been, and will always be, rooted in the Book of Common Prayer and the Holy Scriptures, as the Episcopal Church uses them.

I stand willing and ready once more to engage to conform.

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Five ways to become a data-driven pray-er

The company I work for supports leaders in healthcare and higher education with research, consulting, performance technologies, and talent development.

Staff of our member organizations appreciate not only our detailed research studies but also tools like our one-page infographics, which boil down key insights into memorable suggestions.

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This particular infographic, it seems to me, bears not just business acumen but spiritual wisdom.

Why not try using these five principles to better incorporate data into your daily prayer life?

Be data-literate

Read the Bible. Read the Bible. Read the Bible.

If you want to be a follower of the God who is made known through the Bible — the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament — you’ve simply got to be familiar with the source texts.

Nothing substitutes for regular Bible reading, whatever plan you may follow.

My personal favorite comes from Edward P. Blair’s Illustrated Bible Handbook (Abingdon 1985), long out of print but still available on Amazon.

But not all plans are equal, and the Church has long practiced reading the Bible — putting data, that is — in context.

Consider praying the Daily Office, the Church’s preferred method for regular Bible reading in the context of prayer.

Morning and evening, if you follow the Daily Office lectionary in the Book of Common Prayer, over the course of two years you will read the bulk of the Old Testament once, the New Testament twice, and the Psalms about every seven weeks.

Soaking in the Scriptures will over time make you very familiar with its stories and songs, its letters and lamentations, its biographies and prophecies.

Be curious

As you read the Bible and pray the Offices, give yourself permission to wonder about the strange language, the startling metaphors, the upside-down picture they paint of the Kingdom of God.

Just when the religious leaders think they’ve got everything figured out, a judge or a king or a prophet or the Messiah himself comes along and overturns their world.

The term “lectio divina” refers to an ancient monastic practice of letting Scripture catch your attention, then pausing to ruminate over a passage or even a single word.

To ruminate is to “chew the cud,” so to speak — to get every bit of juice and other nutrients out of what you’re eating.

Follow the data trail wherever it leads, and keep being curious about what else might be revealed to you.

Be action-oriented

One common method of Bible study for small groups is the so-called “African method,” which builds on lectio divina and invites you to consider what you will do based on the passage you have just read.

It’s a three-part method.

First, like in lectio divina, read a passage of Scripture and note a word or phrase that catches your attention.

Second, as you re-read the passage (in a small group you would have a different person read it the second time), listen again for the word that Scripture is speaking to you. Often it will be the same as you heard the first time, but sometimes a new phrase comes to the fore.

Third, resolve to take a specific action this week in response to what you have heard.

The higher education project I work on at my company has the inspiring tagline “analytics with a bias to action.”

Similarly, becoming a data-driven pray-er means looking for inspiration by asking “what must I do in response to God?”

Be communicative

In his sermon on the Last Sunday after Epiphany, Fr. Ralph Osborne — the rector of the parish I serve — invited us during the season of Lent to speak to others about our relationship with God.

Share with someone else the insights you’ve gained as you read the Scriptures more deliberately. Share with them the actions you’ve resolved to take based on your reading.

Ask them how their reading of Scripture strengthens their relationship with God. Ask them how they feel led to act in response to Scripture.

Speaking to others about what you’re reading and how it informs your prayer will also help keep you accountable to act as you have resolved to do.

Be skeptical

Finally, the infographic above suggests that being data-driven involves asking the right questions of the data you’ve collected:

Have I drawn the right conclusions?

Am I looking at these results correctly?

Are these good goals and benchmarks?

Whether you’re in the office, or at school, or in church, or at home, it’s good to ask questions in order to be sure you’re on the right track.

In spiritual terms, this is called “being humble.”

People have been writing and editing and proclaiming and teaching and arguing about and meditating on the words of the Bible for more than three thousand years now.

Being a data-driven pray-er means recognizing that your own interpretation is by no means the only one out there. Millions of Jewish and Christian believers have written millions of words about the Scriptures and the God who is revealed in them. Chances are, you’re not the first person to ask the question that’s on your mind.

Likewise, just as God will reveal himself to you as you read the Scriptures, so has God given insights and encouragement to other people. It could be that what they have learned will be important for you to know, too.

There are a lot of data points to consider, so keep asking questions in order to see how your conclusions line up with the voice of the tradition and the other data-driven prayers around you.

12 Steps of Christmas | Thursday

Step Seven – “Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

The service for Morning Prayer on this Thursday after the First Sunday in Christmas can be found here.

The Gospel reading for this evening, which we will miss because the Eve of the Holy Name takes precedence, can be found here.

Do you want to be made well?

Now in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate there is a pool, called in Hebrew Beth-zatha, which has five porticoes. In these lay many invalids—blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been ill for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be made well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.” Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk.” (John 5:2-8)

Jesus asks the sick man, “Do you want to be made well?”

Today in Step Seven we humbly ask God to remove our shortcomings.

For many of us in recovery, “working the steps” doesn’t happen right away. We may spend a few months “working the program” first — attending meetings (perhaps every day to start), reading Alcoholics Anonymous and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and hearing speakers share their stories of “experience, strength, and hope.”

It may be several months, in fact, before we find a sponsor and begin diligently working through the 12 Steps, talking with them about our powerlessness, admitting we can’t do it alone, taking stock of our failings and character defects.

But even so, eventually the day arrives and the question our sponsor puts to us now is just as abrupt as it was for the sick man lying by the pool at Beth-zatha.

“Do you want to be made well?”

So many excuses

“Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me.”

Like the man at the pool, sick for 38 years, up until now we have made so many excuses.

We now clearly see that we have been making unreasonable demands upon ourselves, upon others, and upon God.

The chief activator of our defects has been self-centered fear—primarily fear that we would lose something we already possessed or would fail to get something we demanded. Living upon a basis of unsatisfied demands, we were in a state of continual disturbance and frustration. (76)

It took me 46 years to realize that the serenity I wanted to acquire could not be bought, only received. It took me a lifetime to recognize how sick I was and finally to lay down the self-confidence, the pride, that kept me making excuses instead of asking for help.

A whole lifetime geared to self-centeredness cannot be set in reverse all at once.

Still goaded by sheer necessity, we reluctantly come to grips with those serious character flaws that made problem drinkers of us in the first place, flaws which must be dealt with to prevent a retreat into alcoholism once again.

The notion that we would still live our own lives, God helping a little now and then, began to evaporate. Many of us who had thought ourselves religious awoke to the limitations of this attitude. Refusing to place God first, we had deprived ourselves of His help. (73, 75)

Something like real peace of mind

The slow progress in early recovery works on us very subtly.

Week after week, meeting after meeting, day after day, we practice a new way of living.

Day after day, we try simply to avoid drinking and to do what is in front of us. Week after week, we “work the program” with others who are in the same boat. Meeting after meeting, we begin to share our stories, too.

We “keep coming back,” and discover that “it works if you work it.” (It’s probably a sign of how much I need them that these are the slogans that grate on me most.)

But when we have taken a square look at some of these defects, have discussed them with another, and have become willing to have them removed, our thinking about humility commences to have a wider meaning. By this time in all probability we have gained some measure of release from our more devastating handicaps. We enjoy moments in which there is something like real peace of mind. To those of us who have hitherto known only excitement, depression, or anxiety—in other words, to all of us—this newfound peace is a priceless gift. (74)

When you humbly ask God to remove your shortcomings, you are not only asking for a fuller measure of that peace you have tasted.

You are also asking to be made well, and you will soon be invited in Steps Eight and Nine to “stand up, take your mat and walk” — to put your newfound peace of mind into action.

In the Morning

This is another day, O Lord. I know not what it will bring forth, but make me ready, Lord, for whatever it may be. If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely. If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly. If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently. And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly. Make these words more than words, and give me the Spirit of Jesus. Amen. (Book of Common Prayer 461)

12 Steps of Christmas | Christmas Day

Step One – “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.”

Today’s service of Morning Prayer for Christmas Day can be found here.

Humility

“Who cares to admit complete defeat? Practically no one, of course.”

So begins the explanation of Step One of Alcoholics Anonymous in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions (21).

In my own case, the fall was both abrupt and literal — from a successful performance at a client event in the morning to a bruising, drunken fall in front of clients and colleagues on the marble floor of the hotel lobby that evening.

The next day I flew home knowing I would be fired, then waited, head in my hands, to tell my wife the news.

I had, through my drinking, lost a job I loved and any self-respect and self-confidence I had clung to in the face of growing concerns about my alcohol use.

“Once this stark fact is accepted,” says Step One, “our bankruptcy as going human concerns is complete” (21).

Imitating God in his lowliness

According to the Christian tradition, humanity generally was pretty much bankrupt and definitely in need of God when God decided to send his Son to live as one of us. That’s the background to the Christmas feast that we celebrate today.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor and theologian, answers his own question: “Who among us will celebrate Christmas correctly?”

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Humility, to Bonhoeffer, means “laying down all power, all honor, all reputation, all vanity, all arrogance, all individualism beside the manger.” It means imitating God by remaining lowly.

This resonates with the way early Christians like Paul described Jesus:

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited, 
   but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, 
    he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8)

“The glory of God precisely in his lowliness” is what we see in the manger at Christmas.

At Christmas God laid down all power, all honor, all reputation and became a human being, vulnerable just like us. Who are we to be anything but vulnerable like him?

Following Jesus in the way of the cross

This morning we have in Morning Prayer one of the juxtapositions that make the Daily Office such a rich source for reflection.

It is Christmas Day, and so in the first of the collects we speak of our gladness and joy and confidence in God.

Because it is also Friday, however, we immediately pray “that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace.”

Collect of the Day

O God, you make us glad by the yearly festival of the birth of your only Son Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who joyfully receive him as our Redeemer, may with sure confidence behold him when he comes to be our Judge; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

A Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Humility is not a one-time admission that we get over and done with. Rather, it is an acceptance of our proper place in relationship to God and to other people, who may also be powerless, whose lives may also be unmanageable.

We do not remain bankrupt, however. The explanation of Step One continues: “Our admissions of personal powerlessness finally turn out to be the firm bedrock upon which happy and purposeful lives may be built” (21).

While we do begin to build purposeful lives again, we must also recognize that our daily experience will continue to involve suffering and frustration.

But that is the pattern of falling and rising that Jesus laid down throughout his whole life, from the most humble beginnings as a baby born in poverty, to his preaching and teaching, and to his trial and execution for a crime he did not commit. As Christians we are called to follow him in that pattern of life, that way of the cross.

Like practicing the Christian faith,

Practicing A.A.’s remaining eleven Steps means the adoption of attitudes and actions that almost no alcoholic who is still drinking can imagine taking. Who wishes to be rigorously honest and tolerant? Who wants to confess his faults to another and make restitution for harm done? Who cares anything about a Higher Power, let alone meditation and prayer? Who wants to sacrifice time and energy in trying to carry A.A.’s message to the next sufferer? No, the average alcoholic, self-centered in the extreme, doesn’t care for this prospect—unless he has to do these things in order to stay alive himself. (24)

God, mercifully grant that we, imitating your lowliness and following Jesus in the way of the cross, may find these 12 Steps none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lord is near; be patient and hope in him

I am at the annual NAMI Wisconsin conference, hearing from speakers about mental illness and the peer-to-peer support which is the hallmark of NAMI’s recovery approach. Helping people experience recovery — living well with mental illness — builds hope.

One of this morning’s psalms resonates with my own experience of recovery.

The LORD is faithful in all his words *
and merciful in all his deeds.
The LORD upholds all those who fall; *
he lifts up those who are bowed down.
The eyes of all wait upon you, O LORD, *
and you give them their food in due season.
You open wide your hand *
and satisfy the needs of every living creature.
The LORD is righteous in all his ways *
and loving in all his works.
The LORD is near to those who call upon him, *
to all who call upon him faithfully.
He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; *
he hears their cry and helps them.
The LORD preserves all those who love him, *
but he destroys all the wicked.
My mouth shall speak the praise of the LORD; *
let all flesh bless his holy Name for ever and ever. (Psalm 145:14-22)

“The Lord upholds all those who fall; he lifts up those who are bowed down … the Lord is near to those who call upon him.” These assurances build hope in us as we share our stories of God’s faithfulness in our own times of trouble.

The writer Jesus son of Sirach (whose book the church calls Ecclesiasticus), describes the internal attitude I try to have as I work my own recovery each day.

Accept whatever befalls you, and in times of humiliation be patient. For gold is tested in the fire, and those found acceptable, in the furnace of humiliation. Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him. (Ecclus. 2:4-6)

The slogans of recovery, like “One Day at a Time,” and the teachings of our Christian faith echo Sirach’s timeless human wisdom.

Accept whatever befalls you. What is, is. Accept that things are the way they are without becoming “restless, irritable, and discontented.”

Be patient. One of our speakers yesterday suggested that patience is a fruit of practicing mindfulness in every situation, and that mindfulness is really being present to what is actually happening.

Make your ways straight. At the men’s breakfast and Bible study I attend on Thursdays, we spoke this week about how our lives are to be lived in response to God’s grace. We do not earn grace; but in gratitude we make changes in order to stay in God’s way.

The short reading from the Acts of the Apostles exemplifies the simple faithfulness that is to characterize our new life — whether it’s life in recovery, life in Christ, or both.

Then after completing their mission Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem and brought with them John, whose other name was Mark. Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the ruler, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. (Acts 12:25–13:3)

Notice how John, whose other name was Mark, is simply present with Barnabas and Saul. Notice how he doesn’t figure in the action at Antioch — it’s Barnabas and Saul who are made apostles.

Mark must have been practicing mindfulness throughout that time, though, paying attention to the new life in Christ. Eventually, his insights bore fruit in the gospel account that bears his name.

The Lord is near to those who call upon him, who call upon him faithfully.

In times of humiliation, be patient.

Make your ways straight, and hope in him.

Collect for St. Mark

Almighty God, by the hand of Mark the evangelist you have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.