A Time to Mourn

A Time to Mourn.

Advent 3:”Stir up your Power O Holy One, and in your great might come among us…”  Collect for the Third Sunday in Advent. 2012.

There is a stunned grief with tears as I try to live into the experience of parents, families and friends in Sandy Hook, CT, who are living with this terrible mass killing. If ever we need One to come among us with power and great might it is now, and yet there is right now only the silenced sound of the children’s play and the
unimaginable loss of these dear ones, children and teachers, whose
voices we will now only hear in echoes of dreams and brief moments as
we await their arrival home.

It is time now to grieve, and perhaps only to weep.  It is time to mourn the great loss that has taken place here; to gather in prayer with the families and with the souls of the righteous
innocents. We do this so they and those left behind know they are not alone
in their sorrow. So that they will understand that the whole creation mourns with them.

This evil will not stand. It will be overturned and redeemed by their
loss. Someday we will understand.  Today and tonight and the next time out of time I sit with all
of you who have lost a child a mother a sister an aunt a brother. I sit like the old Irish and keen the night away.

And remember the old hymn: Into Paradise May the Angels lead you, at your coming may
the martyrs receive you, and bring you into the Holy City the New

On Being Called, Epiphany 5

On Being Called: Luke 5:1-11, Epiphany 5  Simon Peter seeing the great catch of fish that threatened to sink his boat ,,,”fell at Jesus knees and said ‘depart from me for I am a sinful man.’”

I was called to the priesthood at the age of fifteen.* It was like a dawning on a process that had been ongoing since before birth. It was simply the realization that maybe I could be of some use to the holy, to evoke and invite youth like me into an exploration into the realm of the inner life as it leads to action.  It was about people caring about one another and going out of one’s way to show compassion. I had seen it witnessed in many people, some ordained most not, who were simple good people who tried their best to love God, their neighbor and themselves.

But a fifteen year old has many questions. Maybe Max our priest would have the answers.  Max was the portly Canadian priest who had been a chaplain in the Royal Canadian Navy during WWII. Max was my model: jovial, friendly with all the neighbors, and great with us teens and pre-teens, the aged and young families. I could talk to Max about anything.

I told Max I had received this call, but I didn’t feel worthy. Max knew much about my miscreant youth so he had some idea of what I spoke. Max said to me, “None of us are worthy. We are made worthy not of ourselves, but by the grace of God”.

Even more true after all these years.

*So confident of this “call”, I approached The Diocesan Bishop, Anson Phelps Stokes, the distinguished blue blood Yankee, to ask to be received as a postulant for Holy Orders. I was eighteen. The Bishop wisely said, “You are too immature. Go to College and Seminary. Then come back.”

Jesus Goes Home: Epiphany 4.

Epiphany 4, Year C:   “All those in the assembly rose up and thrust him out of the town, and led him to a brow of the hill to cast him off the cliff… but he passed through them.” (A loose translation of Luke 4: 28-30)

Those of us of a certain age were required by law to return to our hometowns and register for the draft. It was around 1966 and the build-up in Vietnam was underway. The local draft board was commissioned to fulfill a quota of young men to serve in Vietnam. I was exempt from the draft as the sole surviving son of a flyer killed in WWII. The only way the draft board was going to get me to help fill their quota was for me to enlist. That wasn’t going to happen.

Battle lines had hardened in communities and families. You didn’t have to go home and horrify the neighbors with news the Kingdom of God was at hand. All you had to do was refuse to enlist.

Some draft boards and other official and semi-official groups routinely would ask, “Would you rather be Red than Dead.” I probably answered, that neither prospect was attractive. But I thought later you can’t close the hope and possibility that governments and people will change. Someday we may walk hand in hand as brothers and sisters…and…we are all one body… the hopes of the peasant in Vietnam are no different from our own…that you can become the evil you oppose….and the word Red in Russian means beautiful.” I never heard from the draft board again.

My adopted Aunt Kay lost her son in Vietnam. Frankie was nineteen. When the flag was presented during his funeral, she refused to accept it. The priest, a Marine, was shocked and so was the town. Like Rachel wailing over her lost children, she with a thousand Gold Star Mothers carried her loss and anger to the nation. She continues to fight for all those adopted sons and daughters who have gone off to war.

Over the years there are some who would have liked to find some cliff over which to throw Kay, but she spoke with such force and so palpable a grief that no one could deny her truth. She still lives in the same peach colored house in my hometown.



*Long before the lottery my high school friend Richard refused to appear for his physical exam. In February he was “requested” to appear for induction. By then he was already in Canada and indicted by the government. In four years these summary rulings against those who resisted the draft was overturned and he was able to be with his father in 1971 as he died.  His home now is in Canada. Rich is now an elected member of the local government of a town North of Toronto where he works to maintain the viability of the Niagara escarpment.




The Young Man Who Built His Shelter in the River: Epiphany 8

“Those who do not…come to me and hear my words and do them…are like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation…” Luke 6: 47-49

Some of us know a young man who built his shelter on an island in the middle of the river. He wanted to be as close as possible to the music of the creek as it flowed over the round smooth stones that had been polished over a million years.

He built his shelter and lived there until a hurricane moved up the coast and dumped 17 inches of rain on the region. His shelter was swept away as waters rushed and rose over the island and he had to swim for his life. Mercifully he survived.

Some of us love the young man because he wanted to be so close to the heart of the water that he risked everything to live, eat, sleep, meditate and be alone with her in all her peace and all her fury.

Others think he was foolhardy.  Some are in-between. It’s almost too commonplace to build a house with a sure foundation. What if we built more temporary shelters, shelters close to the ground near the water, shelters that could be disassembled in a few minutes and carried to higher ground?  After all that’s what the Tent of Ark of the Covenant was all about, wasn’t it?  (See Exodus 31:7)

I’d rather have a home that when the floods come, I can move it to a higher place and the rest of the time to be close to God in the wild heart of the earth and water and the brilliant night sky.

Okay, but what about the cold winter wind and the hot summer dust storm?

So we need to be so comfortable?  Maybe a little too romantic or maybe I’m weary of taking care of foundations.

Another thought on building on a sure foundation:

The choral director encouraged the Bass section of the choir. “The Bass part,” he said, “is the foundation of choral music. It can be a quiet drone or loud and thunderous and it gives body and fullness to the whole.”

For me the Jewish and Christian texts are the Bass notes, the foundation. I find myself coming back to these notes even as I revel, muse, exalt and ponder the higher tones: the tenor, soprano and alto. It’s like coming home to a shelter whose foundation will not be compromised by every wind that blows or each stream that overflows its banks.


Epiphany 7: Forgiveness and the Love of One’s Enemy

Jesus said, “I say to you that hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you…” Luke 6: 27-38

You might have read earlier in this series that my father died in the crash of his B-17 in WWII. The effect on the family was devastating and long lasting. The grief carried us much of our lives, and because our grief was great so was my anger at the NAZI’s and subsequently with the Germans. You may note that I have a German name (which means chair maker). It’s complicated.

As seminarians we sometimes gathered at Cronin’s bar in Harvard Square. Cronins had tables that could seat eight of us and this day the beloved Hebrew Scholar and next dean of the seminary sat across from me and a German seminarian from Harvard Divinity School. Here we’d sit for an hour or two and discuss the state of the church and the world.

The great professor, who in a sermon still remembered, had recently quoted his dying father who told  him, “May you live in interesting times”. The professor commented it is an ancient Chinese curse or a blessing.  It was 1968 and it was both.

After a few beers, mind and mouth loosened, I said to the German student next to me, “I don’t like Germans.”  He asked calmly, “Why is that?”

I explained what happened, how hard it was on my mother and what it was like for the father never to return.

He responded, “My father also never returned from the war. He was killed on the Russian Front. I was five and I had two siblings. My mother struggled for many years after and during the war”.

There was a long silence. A lifetime of hatred and prejudice seemed to take its time to melt away. Who knows what phenomenon took place. It was easier to keep the enemy in his box. Now the son of my father’s enemy knew almost exactly what it was to watch our mother’s grief and struggle. I looked into the face of my brother and said … nothing. There was nothing to say. We understood the thin line that separated us was now irrevocably broken.

All there was left was the sorrow and the idealistic resolution to make the world a place where there would no longer be children like us. We failed. Yet we tried with much might. We still live in a hope for a new day that will, one day, arise.