Louis versus Thomas Part 1

I have always been moved by the writings of Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk whose consecration name was ‘Mary Louis.’  As his autobiography the Seven Story Mountain depicts, he struggled through the death of his parents and grandparents, as well as through years of rebellion and sin before he was called by God to the the Gethsemani Trappist monastery in Kentucky.  There, he wrote many profound books on the spiritual life and found his heart’s true ‘home.’ 

Yet the struggles with desire did not end in the monastery.  At age 51, after being hospitalized with back problems, he met and fell in love with a nurse who he had a several month relationship with–ultimately physically intimate.  Certainly none of this is uncommon or even all that surprising.  Still, though he ended the relationship for the sake of his vows, did it taint his legacy?  Is there something disingenuous about not  persevering through to the end?

Part of me thinks so.  If he was so called to one thing, why did he turn to another so deeply? 

The other part of me wonders what his life and writings would have looked like had he traded the vows to monastic life for the vows of marriage.  Certainly most of us are called to the latter, though I am comforted in knowing that in our time of sexual freedom (more what I would call ‘laxity’), there are men and women out there still called to a life of celibacy.



President Obama’s moniker for success has been his desire for ‘change.’  Whether or not he pulls it off is another matter.  I get burned out by the polarization of the political landscape.  I tire of hearing about the ‘good old days’ of the right and the lack of moral center that seems to characterize the left.

The desert fathers and mothers were faced with a society and a church that needed change.  Only their approach and strategy did not have anything to do with societial structures.  While we can ‘do something’ about who or who is not in power, we really need change of a different sort.  What if God’s people everywhere committed to something simple but difficult?  Calling on the name of the Lord? Here’s a comment about the fathers and mothers of the desert:

“It is a picture familiar enough in the Middle Ages; the three parts of society, those who fight, those who labour and those who pray, all working in their different ways for the life of the kingdom.  Prayer was a great action to be fulfilled in the body politic; the monks were like trees, purifying the atmosphere by their presence” (The Lives of the Desert Fathers, 12).

An Awakening

George Whitefield Preaching Giclee Print

I’ve been reading the life of George Whitefield, Anglican itinerant who helped lead (With the Wesley brothers) the Great Awakening of the 18th century.  Fascinating stuff.  Several things were curious–one was that the churches banned Whitefield from preaching mostly because he was talented and full of the Spirit. 

He was not heretical or dramatic.  He was just popular.  Therefore, he was forced to preach in the streets and hillsides.  This brought the awakening to the ‘unwashed’ and poor of among the English peoples (and later the Americans).  Many people repented and found Christ, many of whom were not welcome in the church.  They experienced the ‘new birth’ in Christ, outside of the pews, not in them.

When we ask God for ‘revival,’ what are we asking for?  When we ask God for revival, what do we wish to see?  Drama?  Emotion?  Full churches?

Maybe another question, is who do we want to see get revived?  The desperate are usually the ones who are open to the Spirit of God, not those who are fine with the state of their lives.  The untouchables usually have the spiritual soil for such awakenings.  Are we ready for them?

Which one will we choose?


(Henri Luke Orombi of Uganda)

Tim Keller reports in his Reason for God that both secularism and religion are on the rise in the West.  However, it is not your grandma’s Christianity that is the wave of the future.  It is not the ‘Old Line’ form but a robust, orthodox, and ethnic Christianity that will be the one our children and grandchildren will experience.

With immigration on the rise and a desire among the young for a socially conscious yet vibrantly biblical and orthodox Christianity, what will the older denominations choose?  The tired, worn-out elitist religion of the West, or the colorful Christian witness of the rest of the world and increasingly urban America.

Consider:  20 million Anglicans in Nigeria and under 2 million in the US (at least in TEC); there are more Presbyterians in Ghana than the USA and Scotland together.  Keller states that in 50 year, there will be a half billion Christians in China ‘which will change the face of Christianity forever.’  So which one will you choose?

Unscientific Poll


 With the continued disintegration of the mainline churches, those pastors/priests and laity out there–if you could change your denominational affiliation, would you?  Those ‘evangelicals on the Canterbury trail’–do you regret your decision to join the Episcopal Church–or Anglicanism in general?

Do you wish you were kissing Papa’s ring?  Do you wish you could grow a really long beard and chant in Greek?  Do you wish you could leave it all behind and be ’emergent’ or whatever they’re calling it these days?  Do you want to have church in your living room?

Or do you love the innovations?

Conversion in Ephesus

Here’s a first person narrative from Ephesus based on Ephesians and Acts:

My name is Jason.  I am from the city of Ephesus. I live under the reign of Emperor Nero.  I came to find life in the person called Jesus Christ.  On the day of the Sun, that which the Christians call ‘the Lord’s day,’ during the Jewish Passover, I and my sister Juila were baptized into this faith.I’d like to explain something about my family and why this baptism was the most radical of actions that took me from death to life, from darkness to light.  I became a Christian, in part, because of two remarkable women, whom I will tell you about in a moment.My father was a fisherman.  I remember days on end walking to the sea port to see him off.  We would get up before dark while the air was still cool.  We walked to the port everyday and after my father would sail away, the sunrise would shine off my face.  Those were the fondest memories of my childhood.My parents had difficulty having children, and two of my sisters died in childbirth.  My sister Julia, however, was born some 26 years ago.  I was 9 years old.  I’ll never forget the day she was born because my mother did not survive the birth.  The priests of the Temple Artemis tried everything.  They cut themselves and covered my mother with incense and silver coin images of the great goddess, but to no avail.The Temple of Artemis has provided much income for the city of Ephesus.  We have the most advanced plumbing system in the world.  We have no poor begging in the street.  That does not mean that there are no poor people.  We were.  We found ourselves desperate when mother died.  Who would take care of us?  My father was becoming less and less able bodied, because of his many bouts with fever.  So, the priests offered us an exchange.  I was good with my hands so they put me to work for a craftsman named Demetrius, who made shrines and images for the Temple.My sister would then be dedicated to the goddess Artemis in her Temple.  She would be raised by the holy women of the Temple and when she was old enough, would offer herself as a living sacrifice.  I didn’t understand at the time what that meant, nor did I understand why that troubled my father so much, but it seemed like a fair arrangement.Later I learned what Julia’s fate would be.  When she was 11, she was initiated to Artemis by offering her body completely, thus becoming one with her.  Hence, any man who wanted to also feel this oneness, would pay for relations with Julia.When my father became too sick to provide income, 15% of Julia and my earnings went back to our home.  We were desperate, but did what we had to do.  Who was this great goddess?  She certainly did not keep my mother safe in childbirth like she was supposed to.  And it turned my stomach to see politicians and lawyers and teachers and philosophers walk into the Temple courts for visits with the holy women, knowing my sister was one of them.  But we did what we had to do.My father died when I was 26.  I became quite skilled as a craftsman, but because of our ‘arrangement’ we had a lifelong debt to the Temple.  Therefore, I could afford food for Julia and I, but little else.  She became reliant on the priest’s potions, which kept her sedated during the countless visits of patrons to the Temple.  So, Demetrius allowed us to stay with him, so long as he had occasional ‘visits’ with Julia.Demetrius was a bastard, but taught me the skill of a businessman.  He did not believe the Artemis tales anymore than I did.  We offered our pinch of incense to her and the shrine to the emperor when we had to and kissed the hand of Rome because it was expedient to business.  You were a good citizen if you paid homage to the gods and goddesses and as Demetrius said, ‘without the superstitious old ladies, we would be out of business, so make sure you can spin a tale of how this silver Artemis helped you get a girlfriend or brought you a great harvest, and that it is blessed by the high priest himself.’And so it went.  At least until Julia’s dreams got worse.  I say worse because she had them as far back as I can remember.  She would wake up screaming and say there was someone in her room.  We dismissed these dreams until ‘the someone in her room’ would leave bruises on her neck.  She would wake up choking and the bruises would appear spontaneously.  She could see the dark presence that we could not see.  She became so engulfed by this presence that not even the priests’ potions would give her solace.  Eventually, she could not move from her bed and had arguments with the unseen presence.I took her everywhere.  To doctors, to priests and priestesses of all the gods.  I even took her to a Jewish priest named Sceva, who helped a little, but insisted that I be circumcised before he continued.  His sons ran in terror when they saw Julia.  I decided to keep looking.About this time, I met a young woman named Hannah.  She would visit the market outside of our shop.  Two things drew me to her.  The first was that she carried a young girl about 3 years old who had no hands.  That was unusual to me since deformity is seen as the curse of the gods.  We simply discarded those kinds of infants when they are born.  ‘No one should be burdened by such a thing,’ so we said.The other thing that drew me to her was her face.  She had long black hair (covered of course) and dark eyes.  She was obviously Jewish but she would whisper things to the child about someone named Jesus.  Some in Ephesus called these people ‘followers of the Way,’ others called them atheists and offenders against the order of things.  Demetrius told me of some crazy man named Paul who visited a couple of years previous who started a riot and tried to put us out of business.  Whatever Hannah was, follower of the Way or not, she was beautiful.  There was a purity and serenity in her that I had never seen in a human being.Our first conversations were cordial and friendly.  And, though she never went into our shop, and though I knew she was deeply against Artemis and the gods she said little to me about it.  I came to like the little girl, Miriam, who was anything but a curse from the gods.  Miriam belonged to Hannah’s community of the Way.  She was discarded in the street at birth and the followers of Jesus took her in.  She was sweet and playful and loved oranges.After a few discussions with Hannah, I told her about my sister and if any of the Christian priests could help.  She said yes, but that Julia and I would have to walk away from everything associated with the Temple of Artemis.  This was for our safety she said. I explained to her that we were indebted to Demetrius and the priests of the Temple.  She said she would take me to see her presbyter about it.  So she took me to meet Timothy.Timothy was a quiet man, only a couple of years older than me, but he had a piercing gaze and an authority that I had never seen in any kind of priest.  He also had a gentleness of spirit that was totally disarming.  To Timothy I explained my plight.  He sat, asked a few questions and said something I could not believe and to this day still cannot believe.  He said he would ask some of the wealthy among the community of the Way to pay the price of redemption to Demetrius and purchase Julia and I.  If we were willing to walk away from Artemis, he said, we would be free, because ‘when the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’I couldn’t imagine how high that price would be to assuage Demetrius.  Twenty years of wages?  Whatever it was, said Timothy, we will pay it.Julia had become unbearable to live with.  She was at once being weaned from the potions and being harassed by the presence.  It was no surprise, then, that Demetrius agreed to 5 years wages as our price of redemption, just to get the burden away from him.So the agreement was that we were to move to a house of a man named Alexander and his wife Persis.  There were other Christians who also lived there.  I was afraid of what they would do once they saw Julia’s condition, but it never got that far.  After Demetrius told us to burn in the river Styx, we went to the ‘church,’ a house belonging to a widow named Phoebe, and met with Timothy and another visiting presbyter named Tertius.  They said they wanted to pray with Julia.Initially Julia screamed and the presence said something about the servants of the most high God, but when Timothy and Tertius put oil on her forehead, signing with a ‘tau,’ the presence vanished.  Julia’s spirit returned.  She was like she was when she was a child, before the potions and the visits.  The widow prepared a meal for her and Julia slept for at least two days.  I rejoiced because this sister of mine was dead, and then alive again, she was lost and now was found.The day of my baptism Timothy ‘sealed me with the Holy Spirit, a deposit guaranteeing my inheritance’ in Jesus.  Julia was also baptized and almost looks like Hannah now.That day we read some words from the ‘crazy man’ Paul.  And they go like this:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory. 

I don’t understand all of that completely, however, now I know what it is to be bought for a price, to be redeemed, because that is what the followers of Jesus did for Julia and I.I can hardly believe that we are not the possession of any greedy craftsman or perverse priest or goddess, or even an emperor, but that we have been chosen by Christ himself to live where he is.  His Spirit fills us.  We belong to him.  He knows us by name.  He lavishes us with himself.  And we are free.

Descriptive, Prescriptive, Barely Christian

GC 2009

Not sure what to say.  The many resolutions from TEC’s General Convention, convoluted and left-leaning as they are, leave no doubt as to where this church is headed.  What is the answer for orthodox Anglicans in and out of TEC? I don’t think the Anglican schisms and break-offs have bore the fruit that they thought they would.  Anglicanism will continue to thrive in the Global South, but what of the American (and European) expression? 

The culture could care less what happened in Anaheim last week, and while the church appears more relevant than ever, there are fewer and fewer Episcopalians.  Some bishops describe the actions as more ‘descriptive than prescriptive,’ but when bishops, priests and deacons live outside the bounds of Christian marriage, the prescription they write is to ‘do as you will and harm no one.’  Sounds like a familiar slogan. 

The General Convention is a tired, expensive, non-Christian exercise whose time has long passed.  It is barely Christian even in its decision making mechanisms (spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get votes on sexuality), and has made yet another hole in the bottom of the sinking ship called TEC.

Cedarly Perspective


My wife and I went on a retreat sponsored by Pastor’s Retreat Network www.pastorsretreatnetwork.org

We vistited the Cedarly House near Delafield, Wisconsin (about 30 minutes west of Milwaukee–walking distance from Nashotah House Episcopal Seminary).  Spending five nights at Cedarly was more than a vacation.  Vacations often become times of overspending, gratuitous activity, and an over-saturation of TV.

Such was not the case in our time away.  This was a liberating experience that ‘took us out of the game’ of service and commitments for awhile.  While we gazed at the wonder of a beautiful Wisconsin lake and walked through a forest replete with deer and small wildlife, we took time to delight in God and rekindle our love for each other.

We meditated, prayed, read Scripture, for the sheer joy of connecting with Christ.  We learned again that the spiritual disciplines are not intended as activities of legalism or strict asceticism, but for placing ourselves into the presence of God–for learning to be on his Kairos (eternal) time rather than our own time.

What I learned in particular was how unfocused, anxious and dis-eased ‘normal’ life is, especially when given the opportunity to step away from it for a time.  It took be two or three days to leave behind the worries of ministry.  If I feel ‘dis-eased’ at the pace of life, being a shepherd of souls, how much more does the person who doesn’t ‘have’ to think about God live in disorder, hurriedness and worry. 

Retreat is always difficult to translate into ‘real’ life.  However, it is not a luxury as a Christian (and especially not a pastor or priest) to spend real, intentional and substantial time with Christ regularly.  How else can we hear from God? 

In Richard Swenson’s book, Margins, he describes the pace of our lives like the pace of a car.  Overload is the fastest pace, unsustainable busyness, a pace many are in more than they should be.  Drive is where we usually are, doing daily tasks, going from place to place.  Stop is ceasing activity for a little while, the only real speed that we can have relationships with others–and where we often fail.  Is stope where we meet God?  No, for Swenson, Park is the only speed that we can commune with God.   This is being totally still, getting out of the car, and listening to the silence of his presence.

Yes, it is possible to get to a place where we can ‘practice the presence’ everywhere we go, but not until we learn to be still, to have ears to hear and eyes to see.  How can we hear what God says until we learn how to listen?

At Cedarly, for a few days at least, we were on God’s time, in his space, learning to listen once again.  God is faithful.

Shifting Community

Not that Disney is an accurate cultural barometer or anything, but being that I have three little ones, I have noticed a shift in the way Disney films play out.  There was the typical ‘find your own way’ that is common in a Disney film, especially among the “Princess” movies.  Ariel leaves the Mermaid world behind to ‘find herself’ as a human being; Gisele (Enchanted), finds true love on her own terms–leaving her land of cartoon fantasy for 21st century modern romance.  Not that there is anything wrong with ‘finding yourself’ per se, but it reeks of individualism, one finds success, not by becoming a part of one’s community and folkways, but by leaving one’s community and folkways behind.

In the recent Tinkerbellfilm, Tink of course wants ‘something different’ than what ‘tinker fairies’ are supposed to be.  She wants adventure and to find her way.  However, she learns that she is not who she really is unless she works for the benefit of others.  Similar plots appear in Toy Story, High School Musical and even the recent Hannah Montana movie.

Now I am no fool. I know that Disney/Pixar is a marketing machine.  My kids are mesmerized by the toys, movies, and clothes that Disney produces and I know that my 6 and 8 year old daughters (and my Toy Story obsessed 4 year old boy) are targets of Disney’s money driven machine.

But maybe, just maybe, Disney’s shift is one in the right direction.  It is not about one’s commitment to one’s selfish desires, it is about one’s commitment to the greater good.  “We’re all in this together” after all.