Thursday, February 25, 2010

Making Friends with the Mother of God

(Now appearing on my parish website, and soon to be in the March newsletter.)

In the stream of Christianity where I first learned to “swim” spiritually, Mary the mother of Jesus showed up for Christmas pageants—the “yon virgin” of “mother and child” fame—but otherwise kept a low profile. We were a little skittish about her, not on her own account, actually, but out of a desire to distance ourselves from Catholics, who appeared (literally) to idolize her.

After I embraced the Anglican stream of Christianity in early adulthood, Mary began to appear more prominently on my spiritual “desktop.“ Several times a week, at Evening Prayer, I said or sang the canticle Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), in which she gives voice to her conviction that “all generations will call me blessed.“ If you repeat something enough, it eventually sinks in! I listened to sermons and read articles about how Mary is an example for us all in her unreserved “Yes” to God (“let it be to me according to your word”).

In time, I learned to pray the Rosary, which, while focused ultimately on Christ, approaches him, as it were, through his mother. During my seminary formation years (1986-1989), we paused three times a day to pray the Angelus, a devotion that is rooted in the appearance of the angel Gabriel to inform Mary of God’s plan for her life (and for the life of the world).

Somewhere along this path, what began as mental attention to Mary evolved into heartfelt love for Mary. I can’t say exactly when this took place, but I can recall when I became intently aware of it. In Mel Gibson’s compelling and controversial 2004 film The Passion of the Christ, our Lord’s mother is shown watching him cautiously from the shadows as he is whipped almost to death, and then prominently, in full view, as he hangs on the cross. In what is apparently an effort not to scream in anguish as she watches her son’s suffering, she squeezes pebbles in her hands, and it seems as if the sheer energy of her pathos will surely turn them to a fine powder.

It is certainly possible for devotion to Mary to be carried too far. There’s a joke that has Jesus walking into a church and trying to get the attention of the proverbial “little old lady” praying in the front pew. She gives him an annoyed look and says, “Don’t interrupt me! Can’t you see I’m talking to your mother?“ Yet, I would say that Episcopalians are, by and large, a pretty safe distance from letting devotion to Mary eclipse devotion to Jesus. Our problem is quite the opposite. Our spiritual lives, individually and corporately, are more likely to be impoverished because we have not made room in them for the Mother of God.

Mother of God? Is that expression not a little over-the-top? It can certainly be confusing, at least. It can sound as if we’re saying that God the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth, was brought into being through birth to a human woman, which is, of course, a ludicrous notion. But the expression “mother of God” is not an attempt to say something about God the Father, and still less about Mary. It’s an attempt to say something very important about Jesus. The Greek word that lies behind it is theotokos—literally, God-bearer. It came into use during the early theological debates in Christianity (we’re talking second, third, and fourth centuries here) over the affirmation that Jesus is both fully divine and fully human. To say that Mary is the God-bearer is to say that the one whom she bore is indeed God. That may not be controversial among Christians today, but it was in the early years, and they felt that the expression was an important element in orthodox christology. Theotokos got rendered into Latin as mater dei—hence, “mother of God” in English.

Do we pray to Mary? Certainly not in the same sense in which we pray to God. Yet, we are within the Christian mainstream when we invite Mary (or any of the saints, for that matter, both those who are presently 98.6 and those who have moved into eternity) to offer her intercessions on our behalf. This expresses our belief, which we affirm every time we say the creeds, in “the communion of saints.“ Surely the prayers of the God-bearer are heard favorably by the one who is himself God!

In our Prayer Book calendar, there are three major holy days that are focused on Our Lady. On March 25 we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation, commemorating the angelic announcement of her impending pregnancy. On May 31, we keep the feast of the Visitation—Marys’s visit to her relative Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. On August 15, there is a generalized feast of St Mary the Virgin. This is the dedicatory feast of our lovely chapel here at St Anne’s. This year, however, it falls on a Sunday, and in keeping with Prayer Book rubrics (rules, stage directions), we will break with our usual summer Sunday routine and observe it in grand style. Though not officially a part of our Episcopal Church calendar, many Anglicans also observe the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, which honors the pious customary notion that Mary was “pre-sanctified,“ made sinlessly holy by the grace of her Son, retrospectively applied, in order to make her an appropriate vehicle through which the Incarnate God to arrive in this world.

Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

For Local Consumption

My blogging is, among other things, a calling. It is part of the larger package that goes with a vocation to the priesthood. According to the liturgical formularies of the church in which I was (an am) ordained, one of the expectations the church has of me as a presbyter is that I will “take [my] share in the councils of the church.” One of the ways in which I am gifted to “take my share” is through writing, and in 2010, the “wild, wild west” of cyberspace is where the sort of writing that seems to be my niche mostly happens.

My blog posts cover a variety of topics, but the vast majority concern the macro-issues that confront Anglican Christianity during a time which is characterized by what is arguably an unusually high degree of stress and conflict. These issues are not rocket science, but they are complex and full of details and arcane vocabulary and a fairly long list of dramatis personae. So, for the most part, I write with the assumption that those whose lives are so vacuous that they have nothing better to do than read my blog are up to speed on all these things. From time to time, I may offer a bit of a refresher mini-course (“previously on Confessions of a Carioca”), but this is not a frequent or regular occurrence.

But as I have repeatedly made clear, blogging is a secondary (or even tertiary) element of my vocation. My “day job” is as a parish priest, and in that role my daily fare is rather more mundane (and I mean that in a good way) than what I usually write about in this space. It concerns real people with real lives who are trying with varying degrees of intensity and varying degrees of commitment, and at various levels of formation, to be disciples of Jesus in a world that makes that task pretty challenging. My job is to lead them in that effort and guide them on that road.

Ironically, when I blog, I usually don’t have my own parishioners foremost in my mind. Why? I suppose it’s because I presume that they are pre-occupied with questions that are more immediate and concrete than the ongoing Anglican travail. In my pastoral work, I almost never talk or write about that kinds of issues that concern me in my blogging. I want people to see and know Jesus, and not get distracted by the vexing complexities and inconsistencies of life in Anglicanland. Of course, it’s because of my sense that those very issues ultimately impact people’s ability to see and know Jesus that I get involved in them, but the impact is several links down the chain removed  from what is on the hearts and minds of most “people in the pews.” It’s complicated.

But I’m fooling myself, of course, if I don’t remember that some of those with whom I have an actual face to face relationship, people with whom I exchange the Sign of Peace and into whose hands I regularly place the Body and Blood of Christ, also know me when I’m wearing my blogging hat. Lately, there have been some developments that cause me to want to share a word with just these people. For a change, then, they’re going to be the ones I have primarily in mind, and everyone else is invited to eavesdrop if they’d like, or go watch the Olympics.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended an event in Texas. It was sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas and the Anglican Communion Institute, which might be described as a sort of “think tank” devoted to reflection and discourse on the polity and relationship dynamics within and between the various entities that make up the Anglican family. At this conference, various Episcopal scholars and leaders, along with ecumenical guests from the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Methodist, and Presbyterian traditions, presented talks and papers, and participated in panel discussions on the general subject of “hierarchy” in the Episcopal Church. This is a timely subject because of recent divisions among Anglicans in North America. Many have left the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada and formed alternative church structures through which they have expressed a desire to retain an Anglican identity. These developments present fresh challenges to Episcopalians, especially as we try to remain true to our own founding documents and pastoral practices and traditional polity. You can see the text of one of the papers here, and another one here, and yet another one here.

Most of the expenses of my trip were paid for from the Continuing Education line item in our parish budget ($500) that is part of my compensation package. There are no specific agreed-upon guidelines about what constitutes an appropriate use for these funds, but an academically-oriented conference, with presentations by two revered seminary professors, a retired seminary dean, an attorney who specializes in canon law, the pastor of a leading Presbyterian congregation in Dallas, and two learned lay women representing the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox jurisdictions in that area, in my judgment, arguably falls under that umbrella.

I do not contend that the ACI is a neutral observer. It has staked out a position of advocacy in favor of a covenant that clarifies the relationship between the constituent member churches of the Anglican Communion (of which the Episcopal Church is one), and it has questioned the rapidly-evolving understanding of authority that has been purveyed by the current elected executive leaders of the Episcopal Church. The ACI is one voice of “loyal opposition.” It is a voice that I am personally in broad agreement with.

The conference formally concluded at noon on Saturday, February 6th. After lunch, there was a two-hour presentation by another organization called Communion Partners. This was an optional extra, and was attended by only about half the number who were at the ACI conference. The aims of Communion Partners are generally congruent with those of the ACI, but it is a more “on the ground” and practically-oriented group. It was originally a fellowship of bishops within the Episcopal Church who found themselves marginalized by some of the decisions of recent General Conventions that they fear place our standing within the Anglican Communion in some jeopardy. In time, membership in CP was made available to rectors, and, more recently, to all clergy and lay persons. Their goal is to maintain a viable and vibrant witness within the Episcopal Church, and work cooperatively with Episcopal church leaders and leaders of other Anglican provinces to ensure a continuing relationship of full communion for all Episcopalians for whom that is a concern even in the event that the Episcopal Church as a whole finds itself in some state of formally impaired communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury.

I am in agreement with these objectives, and am a member of Communion Partners. But, while I was present for most of this two-hour session (I had to leave before it concluded in order to catch my plane home), this was not a “Communion Partners meeting.” There wasn’t even any discussion, let alone plotting and planning. It was purely informational. I should also point out that Communion Partners is not some veiled attempt to facilitate yet another round of departures from the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church has plenty of exit doors, and there’s no need for another one. Quite the opposite is, in fact, the case. Most of us in Communion Partners have friends who have left TEC, and, in many cases, continue to bear their scorn for having discerned that we are not called to accompany or follow them. In any case, had the whole three days been devoted to a “Communion Partners meeting,” it would not have been appropriate for me to use continuing education funds to cover my expenses, and I would not have done so.

I hope this clears some things up. As always, I will bend over backwards to accommodate anyone’s desire to discuss these issues with me. Just let me know where and when.

Now back to regularly-scheduled blogging.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Ashes to Go?

Lane 06 

The photo above is of the Rev. Lane Hensely, rector of the Church of the Transfiguration in Palos Park, Illinois (a southwest suburb of Chicago), imposing ashes on the forehead of a commuter at the platform of the local METRA rail station. Yesterday’s Chicago Tribune carried a story about Father Henley’s presence at that location on Ash Wednesday, offering ashes, presumably along with the customary reminder of one’s mortality: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The Episcopal Cafe blog reports that similar efforts took place in several other locations.

At one level, this is admirable, appealing, and winsome. It is a proactive missionary tactic. Any time anyone in the church gets the fact that the “if you build it they will come” era is over, that’s a good thing for the cause of the gospel. It reminds me of the matching T-shifts I once saw on a church youth group at an airport as they were getting ready to embark on a mission trip: “What part of ‘Go’ do you not understand?”

At another level—a much deeper one, I would say—this is profoundly troubling. The imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday is a potent symbolic ritual act. It is accessible on a very intuitive and visceral level, not requiring a lot of rational explanation. For that precise reason, those who are its stewards bear a responsibility for seeing that the power of the act is not abused. The tool by which this stewardship is exercised is the community of the church and the “work” of that community, the liturgy. Both normatively and normally, the imposition of ashes takes place in the context of a celebration of the Eucharist, after the Word of God has been read and proclaimed homiletically, and right before Psalm 51 is prayed, and a corporate confession of sin voiced. It isn’t even the central act of the gathering, and is, in fact, optional.

The imposition of ashes can be said to be, in a broadly generic sense, “sacramental.” But it is not a sacrament, and it is not an entitlement, an inherent privilege of all the baptized. Its significance is revealed only in its native liturgical context. Removed from that context, it quickly becomes incoherent. Apart from the communal character of public corporate (and eucharistic) worship, it easily becomes trivialized, sentimentalized, privatized. It becomes “all about me,” just like most everything else in our hyper-individualized culture. It becomes a very attractive tail with no dog to wag it.

Do Christian communities need to be imaginative about how we display the message of good news that has been entrusted to us? Yes. Absolutely. But we need to do so coherently and thoughtfully, not just looking for a feel-good freebie.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Some Pertinent Historical Analysis

I am pleased to see that the Anglican Communion Institute has published what I found to be one of the more insightful papers that were presented the week before last at the conference they sponsored in Dallas, and which I attended. It is by the Revd Dr Robert Prichard, esteemed professor of Episcopal Church History at the Virginia Theological Seminary.

I find particularly interesting the light Dr Prichard's work sheds on the evolution of the office of Presiding Bishop, and, more recently, the office of President of the House of Deputies--indeed, of the House of Deputies itself as an entity that more and more has a "life" outside the two weeks out of every 156 when it is actually assembled in General Convention. All this, in turn, has a rather direct bearing on the revelations made last week (see the post before last) with respect to 815's legal strategy in the Diocese of South Carolina.

It is tempting to say that the Episcopal Church is in the midst of a constitutional crisis, but that would be to say, simultaneously, both too little and too much--too little, because there's a lot more going on than differences over polity (like cultural and demographic forces that are a lot larger than any of our current fights over "hot issues"), and too much, because our polity is not based on any outside point of reference (in secular parlance, the "rule of law"), but is intrinsically and thoroughly political, which is to say that those who have (or arrogate to themselves) responsibility for implementing and enforcing the constitution and canons have as much leeway in the interpretation of those documents as their political base (ostensibly and formally General Convention, but it's more complex than that) is willing to afford them, and at the present time that political base seems to have written a blank check to the Presiding Bishop. No amount of legal analysis proving she is wrong in her reading of the canons will be of any avail as long as the ecclesiastical equivalent of her "job approval rating" remains high. There are no "civil" procedures by which to challenge her in church courts, because the only courts we have are ad hoc and are convened only in response to "criminal" allegations ... and her political base is so strong that those who are in a position to formally accuse her of of misconduct are strongly disincentivized from doing so; the personal risk is great and the hope of success slim.

Friday, February 12, 2010

On Deep-Toned Organ Blasts (etc.)

In search of a Friday-afternoon spiritual pick-me-up (and a little nostalgia, perhaps), I am sometimes wont to sit down at the organ console and play/sing  through selections from the Hymnal 1940, of blessed memory. I try not to just brush by hymns I’m not familiar with (which is the very definition of obscurity), but, rather, to attend to them in an attitude of receptive prayer.

Hymn 283 is one such. The tune is a Bach chorale that carries the appellation Steadfast, but it was certainly once linked to a German text and had another name. Like all of Bach’s work in this genre, it is a gem, but the dynamic interplay between folk art and fine art in the German chorale from Luther to Bach is probably the subject of one more doctoral dissertation I will have never written. So I will say no more on that here.

The text is from 1925, by one Edward Grubb, who, by the definition above, is officially obscure. It is from the “General Hymns” section, and, like many from that section and (especially) from that era, it is all about “God,” about which there is assuredly nothing wrong, but it is short on the Paschal Mystery (never really gets around to it, actually), which, all else being equal, I find a trifle annoying. The gospel is too often unwittingly reduced to mere ethical theism (especially among us crytpo-Pelagian Anglicans), with no use for the second or third Persons of the Trinity.

My approval, however, can be bought, and, since I am a fan of fine church organs of all sorts, he pulled just the right stop with these line from the third verse:

All beauty speaks of thee: The mountains and the rivers, The line of lifted sea, Where spreading moonlight quivers, The deep-toned organ blast That rolls through arches dim Hints of the music vast Of thy eternal hymn.

A competent organist (i.e. someone other than me) could surely arrange for some quite attention-getting effects on the words I put in bold typeface. What fun that would be!

Not too long ago, I preached on the text from John’s gospel that tells of the wedding miracle at Cana. The evangelist tells us that this was the first of Jesus’ “signs” and that in that sign he “manifested his glory.” And as a result of that manifestation of glory, “his disciples believed in him.” In 2005, my wife and I climbed to the Whispering Gallery in the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral in London. From those dizzying heights, we could see some of the 32’ pedal pipes, laid horizontal on mezzanine levels that would not be visible from the nave. Then somebody started demonstrating the organ, and we heard some deep-toned blasts that we shall never forget. Yes, “all beauty” speaks of God. But for some of us, it is particularly present in deep-toned organ blasts rolling through dim arches.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

More to Chew Over

So ... just a couple of days after proclaiming that the habitually troubled Anglican waters are lately ominously placid, we get a couple of real hot potatoes: the debate in the Church of England's General Synod on relations with the ACNA, and revelations from the Diocese of South Carolina on more legal skulduggery emanating from 815 Second Avenue.

As regards the latter, I'm going to reserve extensive comment at this time, not so much out of caution as out of recognition that Bishop Lawrence's letter does a masterful job nailing the crux of the matter. The bullseye quote is this:
[Thomas Tisdale] may be an attorney retained by the Chancellor for the Presiding Bishop, but it is hardly accurate in regards to the polity of this Church to claim to be an attorney of The Episcopal Church, as if the parishes, Standing Committee and Bishop of South Carolina are somehow something other than The Episcopal Church...
The polity of the Episcopal Church, demonstrably different from that of most other Anglican provinces, has been a much-vaunted notion over the last several years, generally in the context of TEC "progressives" lamenting that "they just don't understand our polity" when "they" make certain requests of the Presiding Bishop, or the House of Bishops, or the Executive Council, or whomever. What we see shaping up now, however, is a conflict in which the purveyors of this line of thinking are the ones themselves who do not understand our polity. To suggest that "the Episcopal Church" can be reified, separated somehow from its concrete local expression in parishes and dioceses, is ludicrous on its face.

The motion passed by the C of E's General Synod is kind of a mess, but it's a pretty interesting mess, all of which is to say that it's quintessentially Anglican, as fine a batch of fudge as has ever been confected! Here it is:
This Synod, aware of the distress caused by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States of America and Canada, recognise and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican Church in North America to remain within the Anglican family; acknowledge that this aspiration, in respect both of relations with the Church of England and membership of the Anglican Communion, raises issues which the relevant authorities of each need to explore further; and invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011.
This is an amended version of a resolution that originally contained this language:
‘That this Synod express the desire that the Church of England be in communion with the Anglican Church in North America’
Let's look first to the starboard side of the Anglican barque, including those who are part of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). In this company, there are those who are utterly thrilled by the motion just as it carried (by a large majority). See examples of that attitude here and here. These folks see what happened as a giant leap in a trajectory that ends with the ACNA as a full constituent member in the worldwide Anglican Communion. Others, however, have a diametrically opposite assessment; see here for the most concisely articulate example. From this perspective, the amendment took all the teeth out of the original motion, reducing it to a gesture of politeness, a mere acknowledgement of an aspiration.

Eyes left now. Of course, no one on this side of the vessel can have anything positive to say about the phrase "Anglican Church in North America" even appearing in print on the legislative agenda of General Synod. So, watered down or not, they find it troubling--more troubling than they are generally willing to say publicly, I would suspect. Look here for a fine dose of liberal erudition, and here for an honest and generally charitable attempt at even-handedness by a prominent "progressive." Because the very subject is anathema to them, liberals are necessarily disposed toward spin over substance, as this headline exemplifies.

As far as I can tell, everybody is pretty much correct in what they're saying. So were each of proverbial blind men whose collective task was to describe an elephant. As long as we can be selective about a word here and phrase there, the Synod's action can mean whatever we want it to mean. Its eventual significance will be revealed in its interplay with subsequent events. It is now a "fact on the ground," another data point, another thread in the narrative. For example, if Mary Glasspool is eventually consecrated Bishop Suffragan of Los Angeles, or if the 2012 General Convention declines to adopt the Anglican Covenant (or, more tellingly, if the former occurs but the covenant is adopted), the significance of this week's action will loom large as Anglicanism collectively takes stock of its North American operations. On the other hand, if Canon Glasspool falls short in her consents (an unlikely eventuality, in my opinion), then the Lorna Ashworth motion will be yesterday's news.

As always, time will tell.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Status Check

It’s not like Anglicanland is no longer interesting, but it does seem a good bit less dramatic than it has been at most times during the years I have been watching events play out. And my choice of words—not carefully considered in the moment--is a telling reflection of how things are: events are playing out. Most of us no longer expect to be shocked or surprised by anything. Events are playing out. It’s as if they’re following a script leading to a foregone conclusion. We may not have a clear view of just what that conclusion looks like, so there’s still a whole lot to be curious about, but it feels like a conclusion that is nonetheless foregone, inexorable. The bold moves have mostly been made, or so it seems, at any rate. All the sabers that are going to get rattled have been rattled. All the triggers that are going to get pulled have been pulled.

We are not bereft of mystery: How will the various courts decide the pending litigation? Which provinces will adopt the Covenant? At what rate will the Episcopal Church’s financial and numerical decline increase? Will the ACNA become regularized as part of the Anglican Communion? (Indeed, will they be able to form a cohesive provincial church out of their quite disparate elements?) There are probably some I’m forgetting. But more significantly, it seems like all the high cards have been played. The strategic weapons have been fired; only tactical ordnance is left. And while we may not know the precise outcome, there’s not much for most of us to do but watch the hand play out.

I find in all this cause for both consternation and relief. And then some more consternation. Let me explain.

The first wave of consternation is basically withdrawal from the adrenaline rush of sustained drama: constantly “breaking” news, a flurry of press conferences, news releases, dueling blog posts, and always the next meeting of [fill in the blank] to look forward to. It’s a heady atmosphere to which one can easily become addicted. I haven’t exactly had to go into rehab, but there are moments when I miss the drama.

Then comes the relief. I didn’t make a commitment to become a disciple of Jesus in order to fight with other disciples of Jesus. I didn’t embrace (more like yield to the seduction of) Anglican Christianity more than 35 years ago because I thought it would have more exciting conflicts than the Grace Brethren or the Assyrian Orthodox. It is the joy of my life to do what I do as a pastor and priest—to lead God’s people in worship, to serve as a conduit of sacramental grace, to break open the word of God to them, to share their joys and sorrows as we grow together into the image of Christ. So, if the reduction in macro-drama allows me to be more present to the micro-drama of my ordinary life, I’m not going to whine about it.

But the reduction in intensity of conflict is itself cause for concern. If it’s nice to have a break from the clamor of battle, it also means we are no longer engaging our opponents. A few days ago, a former student of mine in my former diocese (now part of the ACNA) emailed me with a technical question about liturgy. In trying to answer, I was struck by the reality that, absent the context of presumed accountability to the constitution and canons of the same church, it’s difficult to talk about faithfulness to Prayer Book texts and rubrics. I felt a divide between me and this person of a sort that I have not felt before, and it was not a feeling I enjoyed. At the same time, while I still subscribe to the HoB/D, I’m feeling more and more disconnected to the people who post there and the things they’re interested in (most recently, the dismissal of nine workers in New York because their employer’s cleaning contract with the Episcopal Church Center was not renewed). We’re supposedly in the same church, but it doesn’t feel like it, and I can’t even muster the energy to tell them that and hope they care enough to ask why. Throughout our conflicts, I have repeatedly urged all parties to “walk apart together,” to burn no bridges, and, when possible, to hold hands even across the divide. Binding ties that can be broken in an instant of passion can take centuries and more to re-grow. Ironically, the very absence of drama enables us to slowly forget about one another, to think in terms of “them” rather than “us,” to let our binding ties atrophy and dissolve from lack of use.

Quick. Somebody pick a fight. We’re family, and if we can still fight, it means we can still love. God help us if we stop caring enough to fight, because it will mean we’ve stopped caring enough to love.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Trying to Get Back in the Saddle

This has not been a planned hiatus from blogging. I'm tempted to say something trite like "It just happened," but I think I'm smart enough to realize that nothing "just happens." It just seems that way because we're rarely aware of all the myriad influences on our behavior.

To my conscious perception, it appears that the immediate instrumental cause of my absence from this corner of cyberspace is found in the demands of "real" life. Parish ministry is demanding, and certainly "outranks" my blogging activity. I have a wife, and three grown children (two of whom live a mere 120 miles away with their spouses), and a 14-month old granddaughter who provides more than ample incentive to escape to Chicago during the day-and-a-half of time each week which I can in some sense consider "free." I'm also aware that I've growth slothful in the intellectual and spiritual discipline of reading. Sure, I guess you could say I get a lot of reading done by "surfing the 'net," and much of that reading is quite valuable. But I need to read ... you know ... actual books, if I don't want to stagnate and become all self-absorbed--indeed, if I want to have anything of substance to post on places like this blog. And for those reasons, I've been devoting more time to reading lately.

When people perfunctorily ask me, "How are you?", I often respond along the lines of "There's nothing wrong in my life that about eight more hours in a day wouldn't fix." I really do envy those who can get by on just a token amount of sleep each night. I'm just not one of them. And so part of my absence from blogging can be explained by decisions I make about spending time in ministry, spending time with family, and spending time just resting and "re-creating." It's foolish to demand so many golden eggs that you kills the goose that lays them.

So ... I will be back, and sooner than later, I think. Just last week I attended a conference at which I was reminded by many that what I do here really is a ministry, indeed, a calling. I have not lost my sense of vocation. An unplanned abandonment of a discretionary activity always raises the question whether that particularly activity has just run its course, had its day. I don't have that sense about my blogging. There may come a time to move on. It's happened to others much more prominent than I am. But I don't think that time is here yet.

Stay tuned.