Sabbatical Part 1: Finding Elevation in the Sierra Nevadas

Sabbatical Sojourning and Soundings

 

 

 

 

 

Note: This article first appeared in the Charleston Mercury. It is reprinted with permission.


The Monarch Divide

Canyon of the Middle Fork from the Monarch Divide.

The canyon of the Middle Fork of the Kings River in the Sierra Nevada is—to put it simply—magnificent. A world to itself in remoteness and grandeur; it has been described as a “primitive Yosemite”. The river is fed by snow melt and springs that originate on the peaks that surround Muir Pass and the even higher 14,000 foot Palisade Crest where the southernmost glaciers in North America rest. It’s crystalline; tumbling waters roar beneath towering domes and sheer granite walls. There are several trails and trackless canyons by which one can get there. None of them are easy; and to get out more difficult yet. Getting out is what became my challenge.

My wife, Allison, dropped me off on the eastern side of the Sierra near Bishop, California for what was to be an eight day solo backpacking trip. The Great Basin desert stretched out behind me beneath the rising morning sun as I made my way up one of the canyons that Mary Austin once referred to as the Streets of the Mountains. The Lodge pole and Jeffrey Pines, the aspens, and willows glistened, washed clean by the previous night’s rain. Since it was part of my three month sabbatical I was approaching the trip as a spiritual retreat; an octave. That alone explains why I made what was for me an unusual decision (which I only occasionally regretted)—I left my fly rod at home. Having visited earlier in the summer several beehive monastic sites of the early Celtic monks in Ireland I even called my domed backpacking tent my “beehive hut”.

Beehive hut at the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Kings River

Beehive hut at Helen Lake, on the headwaters of the Middle Fork of the Kings River

The trip took me over three mountain passes the highest of which was 12,000 foot Muir Pass and 90 miles of trail—from the arid heights of the eastern Sierra to the magnificent coniferous forests of the western side—of which the renown English Botanist, Sir John Hooker, once told John Muir: “In the beauty and grandeur of individual trees, and in number of species, the forest of the Sierra surpasses all others.” The first half of my trek was over the high country of the Sierra but it was the second half of the trip for which I was most eager—for its rugged remoteness. This was after all primarily a silent retreat for my soul. I didn’t expect it to try both soul and body.

On day five I left the loveliness of Grouse Meadow and after an effortless mile and a half hike arrived at the junction of the Middle Fork and John Muir Trails. I forded a swiftly flowing Palisade Creek and started down the canyon toward Simpson Meadow. The fording brought to mind a word of warning from a trail crew I met in upper Le Conte Canyon. “How is the trail down to Simpson Meadow?” I asked. The response came quickly—“Spectacular but poorly maintained in places.” And then came an ominous warning from a trail worker shoveling sand—“Be careful fording the Middle Fork of the Kings at Simpson Meadow!”

Standing in front of a refuge hut on Muir Pass.

Standing in front of a refuge hut on Muir Pass.

The trail down the Middle Fork Canyon was breathtaking. Everywhere offering grand views both down the canyon as well as up toward the Sierra crest. It was one of the highlights of the trip for me. Each mile brought spectacular cliffs 4,000, to 5,000 thousand foot canyon walls and the river festooned with waterfalls, deep pools, raging rapids. But each impressive water fall or rapids made the words of warning echo in my ears—“Be careful fording the Middle Fork of the Kings!”

Just a mile or so past Devil’s Washbowl things took an ironic turn. As I rounded the talus rock of a side canyon there was a stench of smoke. I thought at first it was a simple campfire—but wondered who might be in the canyon and why they’d have a campfire on a rather warm afternoon. Too soon it was obvious this was no campfire but a forest fire.

The entire canyon was filling with smoke—above me, behind me, in front of me, down trail below me. My first thought was—“Where is the fire?” and the second—“What should I do?” Suddenly I heard a helicopter flying over Windy Cliff a granite wall some 4000 feet above me. Was the fire on the rim to the south? Was it on Granite Pass region? That would close off my route to Cedar Grove and the South Fork of the Kings River where Allison was to pick me up in three days? If so I would have to head down to Tehipite Valley and hike up the grueling canyon wall—a 3,000 foot ascent in a mile and a half over loose rock and sliding sandy soil. I had come down that trail in 1969 when I was 19 and was well aware of the demanding 30 miles of trail that route traverses.

Was the fire in the canyon itself? In that case I was walking into it. That too may cut off my way to Cedar Grove and this was complicated by the ominous fact that the wind was blowing up canyon toward me and may well mean I might not be able to hike faster than it spread so that I might need to take refuge in the river itself—no worries now about fording the Middle Fork!

The High Country of the Sierra Nevada.

The High Country of the Sierra Nevada.

Then there was the concern that if it was in the canyon it would mean I’d have to hike back the way I’d come, up and over two 12,000 foot passes which would be a three to four day hike. My overarching concern was Allison and how to get out in time (with no cell phone reception) to alleviate her fears if for some reason my route to Cedar Grove was blocked. My other concern was breathing the smoke was aggravating my sinuses and lungs and the longer I kept hiking the worse it would get. Weighing my options I decided to press on to Simpson Meadow and see if the trail had been posted in some way.

Once at the trail junction that leads up the canyon wall toward Granite Pass and the trailhead at Cedar Grove, I was standing beside the note-less trail sign wondering what to do. So I paused and prayed for guidance. To my astonishment just after finishing my prayer two backpackers came down the Granite Pass Trail. The fire they said was not up there. They hadn’t encountered smoke until they had come down into the canyon. So I had the information I needed. Having breathed the smoke for several hours I was not of a mind to stay. I would hike out.

It was late afternoon and I had already hiked over twelve miles that day. The trail up was a 5,000 foot ascent in five miles with no water source for over six and a half miles. The climb was relentless, the trail dusty, unrelentingly steep, poorly constructed. The only thing positive I can say about it is that it never had to lose altitude in order to gain it! By the time I got to the top of the ridge above Dougherty Meadow it was dusk. I began the descent, lost the trail as dusk yielded to darkness, and as one old packer once said of the Monarch Divide over which I was hiking: “It’s sure great up there. But it ain’t no place to be wandering around in the dark.” And in the dark I was; but hearing the creek I made my way to it.

The Devil's Washbowl, mid-fork

The Devil’s Washbowl, mid-fork

In the darkness beside the creek I prayed and then looking up saw on a ledge above me what looked like a primitive campsite. It was—or a least someone had obviously stayed there before—and thank God it would do for the night. I pitched the “beehive” tent by the light of a headlamp and getting some water didn’t bother to cook dinner—to tired to be hungry. Mixed a sport drink and crawled into the tent (without the rain cover), ate a few slices of summer sausage and lay on my back looking up at the emerging stars. Several key moments during the day God had provided me the directives I needed (“some have entertained angels unawares”?). So while exhausted—my Fit-bit registered 46,936 steps and 20.59 miles— I just lay on my back and looked up at the stars in wonder.

I had spent the first half of the day’s hike concerned about a dangerous fording of the river with a forty pound backpack and then quite abruptly found myself concerned that I might have to take refuge in it from wildfire; I finished the last hours of the day parsimoniously sipping water as I hiked up a waterless, grueling ascent until my canteens were as dry as the tongue that stuck to the roof of my mouth—a day of ironies. Now as my watch noted 10:00 p.m. my thirst was quenched; and looking up at the wheeling sky the words of the psalmist described the movements of my soul:

O God, you are my God; eagerly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you
as in a barren and dry land where there is no water….
My soul is content, as with marrow and fatness,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips.
When I remember you upon my bed,
and meditate on you in the night watches.
For you have been my helper, and under the shadow of your wings I will rejoice.
My soul clings to you; your right hand holds me fast. (Psalm 63)

Sunset with fire down the canyon

Sunset with fire down the canyon

It was a day of testing. T. S. Eliot was right when he wrote in the Four Quartets: “Old men should be explorers”—Explorers of the landscape— the geography of the physical world and the geography of the Spirit—of the inscape, the soul. While I could write of other days experiences on this hiking octave, day five brought what every true pilgrimage needs: fears, challenges, and blessings of earth, air, water and fire—a test for the body and refinement for the soul.

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“The Fire, Lord, Not the Junk Heap.” A Lenten Reflection from Bishop Mark Lawrence

The fire, Lord, not the junk heap.The famous radio personality and early pioneer of television, Arthur Godfrey, grew up in an era very different from today. It was a time when a boy could wander down to the blacksmith shop on a lazy afternoon and watch the smithy work at his anvil and forge. It was a favorite pastime of the young Godfrey. Sometimes he would watch the blacksmith sorting the scrap metal. The man would pick up a piece of metal from a holding bin, turn it this way and that in his large hands, then either toss it into the fire to be softened and hammered into some useful tool, or thrown into a junk heap to be discarded. From this experience Arthur forged a simple prayer which he used all his life. Whenever seized by his own sense of sin or some personal moral failure he would pray—“The fire, Lord, not the junk-heap.” It is a prayer that captures two essential dimensions of Ash Wednesday and Lent— a prayer for pardon and a prayer for purity.

Let’s take pardon first.

“Two men” said Jesus “went up to the Temple to pray, the one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” So begins a parable appointed to be read in the daily office for Ash Wednesday—Luke 18:9-14. At first blush it seems quite simple. Most of us have heard it before; but if you read it again and again with the purpose of explaining it to others you may find, as I often have, it is a most disconcerting parable. This is not two men just happening to drop by the synagogue or church around the same time to pray about a problem in their lives. This is going up to the Temple for the evening sacrifice—the place of atonement.

The Pharisee prays “standing by himself;” the Tax Collector prays “standing far off.”

The Pharisee is definitely thinking about himself, his spiritual journey, how he’s doing (a very good practice after all)—and he rightly evaluates as he thinks of others, “There but for the grace of God go I.” That is he is thankful he is not guilty of the sins of so many others—and for a moment God is addressed. Yet, then a dangerous movement takes place. His focus shifts. Rather than continuing to look up to God his eyes look downward not merely upon the behavior of others but toward actual people—“even this tax-collector.”

Most of us know this long gaze cast at the other’s sin from the vantage point of our successes—however we may measure success or spiritual maturity—Bible reading, prayer, helping others, generosity, volunteerism, recycling, tolerance towards others beliefs, etc…. But suddenly with this gaze we find ourselves standing with the Pharisee and our spiritual or inner life like his turns sour.

This Pharisee despite all his religious striving (after all he fasts twice a week and gives 10% of his income—what priest would not want him in his congregation?) hasn’t an ounce of humility. Certainly he has a moral conscience. It tells him “do this, don’t do that; this is right, this is wrong.” But it seems to focus only on his behavior not towards his heart. His conscience is like a plow that only scrapes along the surface of his soul. Its blade has not dug deep enough to break up the hard ground of his self-righteousness. He is a man who has forgotten his need for forgiveness; he seeks no communion with the Unseen because his eyes have grown weary with what they have seen; he has no desire to be something better because he is weary with what he is. His is a religion that keeps him tied to surface needs. If there has ever been a time he felt the lamb of the evening sacrifice was being slaughtered and cut for him—its blood spilled for his sin—it has long since been forgotten. Just a little sprinkling of incense upon the coals of a side altar is sufficient for his insignificant trespasses….

His is the sort of religion found in many places today that allows a man to keep his self-righteousness — or a woman to keep her superiority over others – intact. And that my friends is too often my problem too—so, frankly, giving up chocolate, or meat or even an evening cocktail just doesn’t allow the blade of God’s plow to dig a deep enough furrow for true repentance or to receive through faith the needed forgiveness that yields a corresponding love for God and others. (Luke 7:40-50)

The tax collector’s prayer in contrast is disarming: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” He doesn’t look or ask for some divine process within his soul to make him right in the sight of God; he doesn’t even ask for God to make a right spirit within him; rather he looks only toward an act of God given on his behalf. Yet this is the prayer that receives the sentence of justification pronounced by the One—who on the cross became the Lamb of the Sacrifice—who is himself both Priest and Victim. Jesus declared it was the Tax-collector, not the Pharisee who went home with his life right in the sight of God. Martin Luther once counseled a troubled believer after his conscience had been convicted and forgiveness proclaimed, “You should not believe your conscience and your feelings more than the word which the Lord preaches to you…. This is the real strength to trust God when all your senses and reason speak otherwise; and to have greater confidence in Him than how you feel.”

And so here’s a good prayer for Ash Wednesday as we begin another Lenten season:

“God be merciful to me a sinner!”

So, then, what about Purity?

Is this not also a theme of Ash Wednesday? Well, yes, and here too a text of Holy Scripture emerges from the day’s assigned liturgy: Psalm 51. This psalm which David prayed after Nathan preached the word that harrowed the king’s conscience and brought him to his knees was not a prayer that asked for pardon alone; the sense of pardon also brought a yearning for purity:

“Create in me a clean heart, O God
and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from your presence,
and take not your Holy Spirit from me.”

His pardoned and penitent heart seeks God’s grace for holiness, purity and transformation; for that which he does not have in himself, cannot give himself, and certainly does not deserve for himself.

The relationship in our lives between the prayer for pardon and the prayer for purity is akin to the relationship between justification and sanctification. As the theologian, Donald Bloesch notes succinctly: “Justification confers a new status whereas sanctification instills in man a new character.”

Ash Wednesday and Lent puts us in mind of our need for each.

While affirming the priority of the prayer for pardon (the tax collector’s prayer that looks to Christ’s justifying work on the cross); so also there is a place for the prayer for purity (the prayer of David for the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our lives).

Both movements are found in Arthur Godfrey’s profound but simple prayer, “The fire, Lord, not the junk heap.”

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Peace: Here and Now – An Ash Wednesday Reflection

The words in the Ash Wednesday “Invitation” in the 1979 American Book of Common Prayer are often cited: “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent….” I have read them every year of my ordained ministry which numbers almost 35 and before then as well. What does a holy Lent look like? Of course the Prayer book goes on to recite a list of spiritual disciplines to guide us in this observance: self-examination; repentance; prayer; fasting; self-denial; reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. Over the years I have practiced and taught each of these—even preached homilies on them, hopefully, benefitting others as well as myself. I’ve even observed and taught other spiritual disciplines as well, such as solitude, simplicity and silence, to name but a few. These have all played an instrumental role in my Christian life. Yet, frankly, I find Lent very different for me as a bishop than it was when I was a parish priest who needed to plan, teach and lead—even, God forbid—run Lenten programs. I suspect Lent for me is a bit more like what the lay members of a parish experience. So with this perspective in mind I offer these personal reflections.

This Ash Wednesday morning when I was purposely letting my soul catch up with my body and frankly inwardly troubled a bit by various pressures in my life these words from Professor J. Alec Motyer’s commentary on the prophecy of Isaiah (I know, the typical lay person in a parish wouldn’t be reading this) leapt off the page and brought my restless mind to a sudden pause.

“The Lord is more concerned with the enjoyment of his blessings through obedience to His commands than in self-imposed deprivations.”

These words came as if they were a prophetic word to my soul as I was prayerfully considering what disciplines to embrace this Lent. It wasn’t lost on me that Professor Motyer’s words were commentary on Isaiah 58 where the prophet spoke of the fast God chooses for his people: breaking the bonds of oppression, sharing bread with the hungry, caring for the homeless, clothing the naked, and nurturing one’s own family. How might this apply for us here in South Carolina? For our brothers and sisters in Christ in Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya, Sudan and elsewhere around the world?

This was not the only word that resounded on this Ash Wednesday morning on this 2015th year of our Lord. There were others as well. Another was this opening paragraph from a homily by St. John Chrysostom expounding First Corinthians 1:1-3: ‘See how immediately, from the very beginning, he [Paul] casts down their pride, and dashes to the ground all their fond imagination, in that he speaks of himself as “called.” For what I have learnt, saith he, I discovered not myself, nor acquired by my own wisdom, but while I was persecuting and laying waste the Church I was called. Now here of Him that calleth is everything; of him that is called, nothing (so to speak,) but only to obey.’

Then there was this word, spoken originally to John Ortberg by Dallas Willard, and quoted in his book Soul Keeping: “Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our day. You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”

What do all these words read this day and resonating in my ears have to do with my observance of holy Lent? This I believe:

  • If grace-filled obedience not self-imposed deprivation is the pathway to God’s blessing shouldn’t one’s Lenten discipline focus on this?
  • If God’s call, not the driven life, is for each of us our apostolic mission shouldn’t that be the place out of which we live our lives and do our work and ministry?
  • If we are dust and to dust we shall return (as the words of the Ash Wednesday liturgy reminds us) why am I, and so many of us, in such a hurry?

Then there was this word that came like a lightning bolt across my mind illuminating my whole being: “… you think you have to be some place elsewhere or accomplish something more to find peace. But it is right here. God has yet to bless anyone except where they actually are.” Once again this was a word spoken years ago by Dr. Dallas Willard to John Ortberg’s striving and spiritually dry soul; I noted these words in my journal and then wrote this confession: I repent of this, Lord. I renounce the life tape that has played within me for years that makes peace something relegated to some place “where” or some time “when” and other than here and now in You.

“Behold” writes the St. Paul in today’s epistle reading, “now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2 Corinthians 6:2) I suspect that for me at least each of these has something to do with getting it right for observing a holy Lent. And only by God’s grace would I dare to believe it will happen.

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Grateful for Ruling; Most Grateful for God’s Grace

Dear People of God in the Diocese of South Carolina,

“I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers….”(Ephesians 1:16)

My last letter to you was shortly after we finished the three-week trial in St. George in order to protect our parish churches, properties, names, diocesan seal and the historic identity of this Diocese of South Carolina.

Now, as many of you have heard, we have prevailed.

In a thorough and closely reasoned order, the Honorable Diane S. Goodstein has ruled in our favor. You can read the diocesan statement regarding this ruling, as well as an additional explanation of its significance, at www.dioceseofsc.org.

I hardly need to tell you how grateful I am for this order! I am also:

•    Grateful for our legal team which has worked tirelessly on this case;
•    Grateful for those lay persons and clergy who took the stand at the trial or interceded through prayer either in the courtroom or from elsewhere;
•    Grateful for the generosity of our parishioners, and even those outside the diocese, who have helped us defray the expense of such costly litigation;
•    Grateful for the 53 congregations that have stood with us as faithful congregations in this diocese or as named plaintiffs in the case;
•    Grateful for the clergy who have sacrificed in untold ways for their stand in honoring the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as we have received them;
•    Grateful for the many parishioners—some 80% of the 2012 diocesan membership (before the split with TEC)—who have stayed, either with their parish or with us, in the midst of the strain and stress of confusing statements and swirling opinions;
•    Grateful for the prayers of so many in North America and around the world who have so often assured us of their intercessions and support;
•    Grateful for the Primates of the Global South Steering Committee who have kept us in relationship with the larger Anglican world;
•    Grateful for the GAFCON Primates who have written to us acknowledging the people of this diocese as faithful Anglicans and me as an Anglican Bishop;
•    Grateful for the prayers of those in The Episcopal Church who tell me they pray regularly for us;
•    Grateful for those on the diocesan staff who have worked tirelessly in this demanding season;
•    Grateful for my wife, Allison, who has borne the stress of these days in ways known only to a few;
•    And, finally, of course, most grateful for the Mighty Hand of God throughout this whole ordeal.

I encourage you to pause on the overlook that this recent lawsuit and ruling has carved out for us in our life together; to gaze back momentarily to the path we’ve traveled—not just in these recent years but also through the long labors of so many in past decades and centuries— in order to gratefully acknowledge the sovereignty of God over all our affairs—our labors, ministries, and lives.

To do this in corporate worship will of course be timely. To do so in your small groups or at some time of fellowship, as well as and in your personal prayer is likewise most fitting. The prayer of gratitude, like so much that we have received, is itself a gift from God; a gift that we are to offer back to him.

Take time to engage in it; not with triumphant zeal but with a humble contrite heart.

Then having done so I suggest you turn a steadfast gaze forward.

You may have read in the local media that the national Episcopal Church and its local diocesan representatives have already signaled their intention to appeal Judge Goodstein’s ruling.  So please note: There is a need for us to persevere. Persevere in defending our identity both as congregations and diocese. Persevere in continuing litigation. But most importantly to persevere in our commitment to move forward with our God-given dreams and mission.

Just over two years ago, we turned the page in our relationship with TEC. I suggested at that time we needed to do this without malice and with abiding charity. For if we are to have the aroma of Christ we must live in his grace with faith, hope and charity; shunning resentment, bitterness and self-pity; always careful not to poison the waters of our communities in our differences with others.

I still try to keep this fact foremost in my mind: Rarely have the spiritually hungry, the seeker after God, the unconverted or unchurched been attracted to Jesus Christ through church conflicts, denominational discord, or ecclesiastical excesses.

So let us press on undeterred with our mission and ministries—grateful for this recent ruling—but most of all grateful for God’s grace; and seeking that God’s love “… be poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”  (Romans 5:5)

Faithfully yours in Christ,

The Right Reverend Mark Joseph Lawrence
XIV Bishop of South Carolina

Note: This letter is available as a downloadable PDF.

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Bishop Lawrence Writes Diocese Following Trial

Dorchester County Courthouse

Dorchester County Courthouse

July 27, 2014
St. George, Utah

Dear Friends in Christ,

“… suffering produces endurance and endurance produces hope and hope does not disappoint us for the love of God has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit….” Romans 5:3-4

Having spent much of the last three weeks at the Dorchester Courthouse in St. George, South Carolina it is rather serendipitous to be sending this from a Starbucks in St. George, Utah (a gateway to Zion National Park). Allison and I will be traveling during the next few weeks in Utah, Nevada and California on vacation. She’ll have some much needed time for relaxation and fun and I’ll be climbing the mountains and hiking the trails. Nevertheless, I want to send you this report on the last three weeks.

Firstly, I’m glad to say our legal team led by Mr. Alan Runyan and Ms. Henrietta Golding, supported by a stellar cast of attorneys from the various congregations across the diocese, presented a strong case and did so in a professional, forthright, and convincing manner. The teamwork was marvelous to observe and was only exceeded by what seemed to be the outstretched arm and the mighty hand of God moving again and again in a most timely manner. I was proud to have them representing us from the Diocese of South Carolina. Frankly, having sat through all fourteen days I have to say it was a trial of tediously presented evidence by TEC fortunately punctuated during cross-examination by our attorneys with moments of sheer drama and stunning admissions.

Secondly, the diocesan team of Canon Jim Lewis, Nancy Armstrong, Beth Snyder, Joy Hunter and Jan Pringle worked tirelessly and with a remarkable esprit de corps. It so often put me in mind of Psalm 133—“How good and pleasant it is when the brethren live together in unity.”

Then there was the strong cast of witnesses on behalf of the Diocese. Chancellor, Wade Logan, painted for the court a most helpful background of what a diocese is and how it functions both corporately and ecclesially. Canon Lewis reported on the various Diocesan Conventions and canonical changes which brought us to the place of dissociation from TEC. Mr. Robert Kunes testified on behalf of the Trustees of the Diocese. These three witnesses presented the foundation of our diocesan case. They were followed by a representative witness from every congregation participating in the law suit. I could hardly be more proud of them. Some endured quite vigorous cross-examination. It was moving (and at times for me a heavy burden) to hear parish witnesses again and again testify that they “…wanted to stay in communion with the Diocese of South Carolina and Bishop Lawrence.” I wished their fellow parishioners could have seen the courage and clarity with which they represented them.

We also had witnesses in rebuttal to the case made by TEC attorneys. Our diocesan administrator, Nancy Armstrong, combed through centuries of diocesan records to contrast monies that have come into the diocese from TEC and its various related agencies with monies sent by the diocese to TEC. This was in rebuttal to the one-sided presentations given by witnesses from the National Church (including UTO grants which any woman from our DCW can tell you are from contributions from the pews in congregations around the country and not from some National Church budget). In summary the court learned that for every 81 cents given by The Episcopal Church and its various entities to us in South Carolina and our congregations for ministry; the diocese sent $100 to TEC ($100 to 81 cent ratio), therein undermining the defendants’ one-sided presentation of the “facts”. In fifteen minutes of testimony she undermined hours of tedium and an endless parade of documents from so-called experts for the National Church. When Mr. Runyan called to the stand the renowned professor and historian, Dr. Allen Guelzo, author of some 16 books and a foremost historian of the Civil War era and 18th and 19th centuries of American intellectual history we were treated to a breath-taking tour de force disputing the alleged hierarchical assumptions of the national Episcopal Church. Others in this rebuttal stage of the trial were Fr. Robert Lawrence from Camp St. Christopher, the Rev. Greg Kronz, who chaired the Bishop’s search committee and Chancellor Wade Logan who once again punctuated our case. On the last day, I was called finally to the stand.

But I need to say, and can hardly say it enough, undergirding it all—felt at times in palpable ways—were the prayers and intercessions from tens of thousands of the saints within the diocese and around the world upholding us in prayer. Some of these intercessors came to the courtroom to pray while testimonies and cross-examinations were taking place. Others of you prayed from home, perhaps on a lunch break, or while driving to and from your work place. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

After the final written submissions by the attorneys this case will lie in the careful judgment of the Honorable Diane Goodstein, who from my novice perspective was astonishingly competent, cheery and at times appropriately stern. This was not an easy case to try—yet she did it with aplomb. It may be several months before her judicial order is made. So please pray for her as she and her clerks sort through the testimonies and lengthy documents presented to the court and as she subsequently renders her ruling.

I have learned much about the diocese during this process—its structure and history—as well as the rich heritage of our parishes and missions. All is more firmly rooted in my mind and has awakened in my heart a deeper gratitude to God for calling me to serve among you. I am eager to put this knowledge to good use. My prayer is that our Lord will use this season to prepare us for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead as we seek to reach our communities for Jesus Christ— Making Biblical Anglicans for a Global Age here in South Carolina and around the world.

Gratefully yours in Christ,

The Right Reverend Mark Joseph Lawrence

XIV Bishop of South Carolina

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Mice in the Palace — Sin in the Heart

MouseI read once — but cannot remember where — a children’s story of a king who had an infestation of mice in his palace.  He went to his counselors who advised him to hire some cats.  Soon the cats cleared the palace of the mice but the cats multiplied. He returned complaining about his infestation of cats.  So his wise men counseled him to get some dogs.  Well the dogs soon supplanted the cats, sleeping upon the king’s bed and being a general nuisance—howling at night and barking at his guests.  So returning again to his counselors to get rid of the dogs they all agreed that lions would scatter the dogs—which of course they did.  But before long the lions were lounging on the beds and couches and eating his store of fine meats.  “What am I to do now?” he quizzed his wise men?   They said, “Get some elephants!”  Well the elephants drove out the lions but then they played havoc with his Great Room and hallways, leaving unseemly droppings and crushing furniture.  “Now what?” he asked his advisers.  “Bring in some mice” said the wise men, “they will scare the elephants away!”  Far too often we try to deal with our problems with solutions that only lead to other problems and we end up back with the mice because we never bothered to ask the question, “Why are the mice in the palace in the first place?”

Ash Wednesday is a day set aside by the church to ask the question and deal with the problem of the mice in the palace—or rather, I should say, the problem of sin— sin in the heart.  Sin, in Christian teaching, is not primarily what we call wrong doings.  These are sins.  Sin in the singular refers to the deeper problem of our wrongness—or “bentness”—which is all wrapped up with our wrong relationship with God, which is at the heart of our sins.  How we deal with this problem of our sin—which leads to the sins we do, both sins of commission and those things which we don’t do that we ought to do, sins of omission—is really the heart of the matter.

The Ash Wednesday liturgy is a rite and ceremony designed to help us glimpse the depth and pervasiveness of sin in our lives.  The lessons read, the sermon preached, the ashes on the forehead, Psalm 51, the confession of specific sins in the Litany of Penitence, even the choir anthems; all direct us toward the mercy of God.  What the liturgy alone cannot do, however, is get at our hearts—that is, why the mice are in the palace—why sin is in the heart.  And this is quite another story: it is the story of the fall: or as Archbishop George Carey once wrote, of our being Nature’s riddle, God’s problem children.

Somehow we too often convince ourselves that if we are just decent people, do our jobs, are polite and nice to others, reasonable in our thinking, care for the environment, practice good manners, read the right books, are not too selfish and perhaps go to church, we ought to get on quite well in life—be it marriage, family, or career.  And from this perspective we may choose some Lenten disciplines, much like choosing a New Year’s resolution, and off we go feeling better about our life with God, for awhile, hardly realizing we’ve not addressed why the mice are in the palace.  Frankly, I don’t mean this as a severe indictment.  After all, I don’t think we are all that different from the Israelites whom the prophet Joel was addressing in the First Lesson for the day (Joel 2:1-2, 12-17).

“Blow the trumpet in Zion.   Sound the alarm on my holy mountain…Sanctify a fast…Call a solemn assembly…Let there be sack cloth and lamentation.”  

 The army of locusts marching through their land, devouring their fields, leaving their orchards barren of fruit and leaf is an army sent by God.  He has sent it to eat up their prosperity so that the barrenness of their landscape may help them to see the emptiness of their souls—the barren inscape of their spiritual imaginations.  For the depravation of their spiritual lives has preceded this plague—and all was sent in mercy that they might know their hearts have been far from God.  C. S. Lewis once noted, “God speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain; it is the megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

So the prophet Joel was God’s spokesman calling for a day of repentance.  He called for a solemn assembly.  Put on sackcloth.  Fast.  Notice that he doesn’t speak against the external ceremonies and rituals of religion.  He knows that there is a place for them in Israel’s life with God—just as there is a place for our ashes, our litanies and all the outward disciplines of Lent.  But he does not leave it there.  He goes after the hearts of his people.  “Rend your heart” he cries “and not your garments.”  Tearing one’s clothing in ancient Israel was a common practice in times of grief, sorrow, repentance and guilt.  But now, says Joel, this alone is not sufficient.  It will be too much like bringing cats in to deal with the mice and dogs to deal with the cats….  No, he says, tear your heart not just your clothing. As the psalmist put it, “The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:18)

The thing we need to remember as we try to get at this problem of sin is that it is very hard to get at it at all.  There is so much that protects it from our inner eyes. The axiom of the Reformers is apropos here:  “What the heart desires, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.” When we try to get at the motives of the heart, the mind and will are forever getting in the way justifying ourselves.  These are like layers of garments swirling around the heart of our sin.  But in Christ we can pray that through the work of the Holy Spirit, who convicts our hearts of sin; the liturgy’s use of Psalm 51 and the Litany of Penitence’s brutal naming of sins; and with the Scripture’s constant entreating us to turn to God’s mercy and forgiveness; these will rend or tear through the layers and layers of these garments eventually leaving the sinful heart revealed that we might by grace turn and look to Jesus Christ—to his cross and death.  St. Paul’s letter assigned for today reminds us of this.  “For our sake he [God] made him [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.(2 Cor 5:21)  He reminds us that the heart of our need is nothing less than the Cross; God’s forgiving love, his reconciling work and grace.  Nothing else will do.  For once the sin in the heart is revealed and his forgiveness received, the transforming work of God’s Spirit begins to tune our lives.   And from here, through Divine-human cooperation, even the disciplines of the Spiritual life (as enumerated in the Ash Wednesday liturgy, see BCP, p. 264) may be of service.  But we must get the order correct.  Begin with the Lenten disciplines and we will go awry every time—going from infestation of mice to cats to dogs to lions to elephants and back to mice again.  Begin and remain in a grace-filled repentance that yields a torn and contrite heart and God’s grace shall abound.  Then we may seek God’s guidance about self-denials and devotionals and whatever else we find to mark our mortal nature in grace.  Yet we dare not side step the word of apostolic proclamation—“We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)

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Stepping from the Stable to the Jordan

stepping in riverHow quickly they disappear—the greens, the wreaths, the poinsettias. Gone. Another Christmas comes and goes. For some it was sad and lonely. For others it was bright, joyous, even unforgettable—and yet all too short lived. Now in one short step a new year has begun. In the congregations of the Diocese of South Carolina we step liturgically into a new season as well. Into the season after The Epiphany and with it from Jesus’ birth to his baptism; we step out of the stable of Bethlehem into the muddy waters of the Jordan. As the old spiritual puts it, “The River Jordan is muddy and cold. It chills the body but not the soul. All my trials, Lord, will soon be over.” This speaks of a crossing over. Life is filled with many crossings and changes and in the midst of them it is good to remember the great truths such as—“Jesus is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.” The cultural trappings of the Christmas season pass and in their place the waters of the Jordan flow and the Lamb of God comes to river bank for the Baptism of John.

This is important for us because the crossings and changes of life are like the poor – they are always with us. Some years ago, Edgar Jackson in his book The Psychology of Preaching reported on a questionnaire given to some 4,000 churchgoers noting what they wanted from their pastor’s sermons. Only one-fourth were concerned with traditional religious problems, one-fourth concerned with family problems, but the other half were concerned with intensely personal matters—the futility of life, insecurity in personal relationships, loneliness, marital problems, control of sexual desires, the effects of alcohol, false ideas of religion and morals, feelings of inferiority, the problems of illness and suffering, and feelings of guilt and frustration. This of course raises the question of whether God cares. Does He get involved with such messy things of life? And do our congregations engage them?

Sometimes it’s not easy to get involved. Take for instance the tragic story of 7-year-old Martin Turgeon who on June 5, 1978 slipped from a wharf and fell into the Prairie River near Calgary. A dozen people did nothing but watch him struggle and then slip under the water and drowned. Why? It seems a short distance upstream-untreated raw sewage was belching from a pipe into the river. One witness commented, “We weren’t about to get into the river, the water was too dirty.” A policeman who came on the scene later was reported as saying, “It makes you wonder how human people really are. The boy probably could have been saved.” No, as Dr. David Seamands observes it isn’t always easy, much less convenient to get involved. Yet, liturgically speaking, when the One born in Bethlehem in a matter of days steps from the stable to the Jordan a great truth is proclaimed for this baptism of John’s was a baptism of repentance for individual sinfulness. So why did a supposedly sinless Jesus step into the Jordan? As the former pope, Benedict XVI, writes, “Jesus loaded the burdens of all mankind’s guilt upon his shoulders; he bore it down into the depths of the Jordan. He inaugurated his public activity by stepping into the place of sinners.” (Jesus of Nazareth: volume I) Well put. The raw sewage of human guilt, shame and sin did not keep him from saying Yes to God’s will nor keep him from his yoke of obedience to the Father even though this would lead him to the cross.

The river of this baptism waters the Tree of Shame rebuking our tendency to make Christ someone who loves us… approaches us…delights in us only when our lives are together—when we seem full of faith and on top of our game—rather than the One who also enters our lives when our faith is dim, our devotional life haphazard, our homes in disarray, our marriages filled with more arguments than kisses, our sexual desires raging, our alcohol consumption awry, our perfectionisms defeating us, and our guilt and shame like concrete slabs on a drowning man’s feet. Too often we are like the staff nurse at the San Antonio Medical Center. She got into her car at the end of her shift and failing to fasten her seat belt drove from the parking garage and was immediately hit by a large delivery truck which knocked her out of her car. Though the hospital at which she worked was within eyesight, in her embarrassment she insisted the paramedics take her to another hospital’s emergency room. Ridiculous? Well consider this: the Christian leader, Fred Smith, once asked a group of active Christians what they would do if they suddenly were overtaken by an embarrassing sin on Saturday night, “Would they go to church the following Sunday?” “No!” answered most of them. “They’d be too embarrassed.” [I forget where I read this] No wonder the unbelieving world so often looks at the church as a museum for saints rather than a hospital for sinners. One wonders how we can possibly convince the unchurched struggler to join us on Sunday morning if we ourselves would shy away because of our sins, failures and problems.

Perhaps we all need to step again with the Church’s liturgy from the Stable to the Jordan–to the place of Jesus’ Baptism–where he identifies with us in the troubles and messes of our lives so that we may be identified with him in his righteousness. As the Apostle Paul proclaimed, “Christ was innocent of sin, and yet for our sake God made him one with the sinfulness of men so that in Christ we who repent might be one with the righteousness of God.” The greens, wreaths and poinsettias may have faded, the lights of the “Shopmas season” come down, the carols stopped for another year, but the muddy waters of the Jordan just keep on flowing, life’s crossings and changes continue, and the needs of the human heart remain pretty much the same from generation to generation–which is why the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He, having shared the muddy waters of life’s Jordan with us, tied up the strong man (who holds us captive with so many conflicting powers) and came up from the waters with the heavens opened before him and the voice echoing the Father’s approval therein previewing not only his cross but his Easter Resurrection. And upon him then the Spirit descended. Why? So that those of us who enter the water after him may have this same hope of the Resurrection before us and the same Holy Spirit descend on us now so the universal mission of the Church may be fulfilled and we become his witnesses in our Jerusalems, Judeas, Samarias and even to ends of the earth.

 

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Herod’s Christmas Story (After the Slaughter of the Innocents)

Herod     You no doubt expect to hear the whole story—and certainly I will give you a complete account of what happened. But I hope you will first permit me a personal word about my time here with you in this small corner of the world. So many years have passed. So much has been accomplished—so much of it exceeding a normal man’s lifetime that it is incumbent for a person such as I to speak to his people from his heart. I am getting old and life, even for men of my elevated position, is as transient as the wadis of the Negev. You should know my dear subjects that it is easy for the people to take for granted all that a man has done for them — whether that man is a carpenter, a king or even the divinely blessed Caesar Augustus himself. After he has put an empire, a kingdom, or even a house back together again, it is easy for those whom he has served to believe it all happened by course, when in fact its uniqueness is quite unmistakable.

What king, I ask you, prior to my ascendancy was able to bring peace to the disorder of this realm?  Were the Hasmoneans able to do this?  Huh!  Mere pretenders! They were but midges swatted by a Roman lash. Forty years I have been your ruler, forty years your king. Our borders have expanded; the city of Samaria rebuilt; Jericho made into a jewel: settlements and strongholds founded throughout the land from Bet Sean to Masada. The great harbor of Ceasarea—Strato’s tower—is now the envy of the world. And what was Jerusalem before I graced it with my touch?  When had this city ever seen such an edifice as the Fortress of Antonia?  And this royal palace where you stand this evening, it alone would be enough for most royal reigns to boast. Then, of course, the Temple itself twelve years in the building! Not even Solomon saw such cyclopean stones, such massive walls, and such magnificence as I have lavished upon this realm. And if these were not enough will you not remember my own gold plate melted down during the famines to buy grain for my hungry subjects?

Yet in these wintry years do I receive greater love, greater loyalty, greater homage from my subjects?  No!  Plots and murderous schemes are my fate. Rumors of assassinations are heard within the streets when subservience is my due. Even within my own house suspicion reigns. In clandestine corners, my wives and sons conspire. Everywhere there is rivalry. Everywhere envy—poisoning the fragile minds of the young and the whimsical hearts of the old. But you my subjects, my loyal ones, I tell you now, that when the heavy bestial breath of death has been breathed into my nostrils, Jerusalem herself shall grieve. Yes, I have arranged that she herself shall wail like a motherless child running here and there for a comfort that will not come. Then too late she shall appreciate the day of her visitation. The wise among you will know the truth of it!

Now for an account of the things you have heard, and for which you have come. I promised I would tell you the full story. The Persians, who came to Jerusalem in recent days, spreading rumors of a newborn infant King of the Jews, were thought by many to be magi, purveyors of deep and hidden wisdom. They sought audience with me. So I opened my court to them. Through investigation I discovered they were stargazers. Like most in their profession, they were as starry-eyed and as ignorant of the affairs of this world as are those celestial realms into which they have looked. Lost in the configurations of the planets they have no mind for what makes for peace in such a kingdom as Palestine. It was a fool’s errand that brought them here. So I gave them the counsel fit for fools. I humored them, these dignitaries from Nabatia. I had the scribes and High Priests read to them from the ancient scrolls, until to Bethlehem they were sent. “Go find this child,” I told the fools. “Leave no stone unturned.” The very foolishness of their endeavor was demonstrated by their failure to find such a child-king. Did they, I ask you, ever return to Jerusalem?  Of course not—No such king was found by their foolish journey. No, they slinked away in shame, without so much as acknowledging their error. Much time was wasted in such a venture. Much human resource, much wasted wealth—a costly journey, and all for what?  May this be a lesson to the simple-minded that look for messiah-kings among us when such exemplary leadership is before their very eyes in my throne and government. I trust that no such deceived subjects are here this evening. You are not among those who follow stars; which look to the heavens to guide their daily lives; or are taken in and led astray by those who do. Your feet I trust are set squarely on the ground of this world.

Certainly you know as men of the world, and citizens of this earthly kingdom, that there are those who are so deceived. Who believe ill-founded rumors of messiahs born in humble settings; who find in obscure prophecy vain hope for their beleaguered lives. So it was in the region of Bethlehem. After these magi from the orient came, finding nothing at the end of all their foolery, and unable to learn from such an ill-fated venture, and ignorant as they were of the ways of the masses to believe in hearsay, they left the region, irresponsibly. What after all can one expect from those whose eyes are so fixed on the heavens that they have grown blind to life’s realities? But I, as you know, was left to deal with their folly. The rumors spreading throughout the village of a messiah-king’s birth could not be allowed to grow. These things disrupt the lives of many, throwing entire kingdoms into disarray. I could not allow it. Rebellion, inspired by political intrigue can be put down with even-handed force. But rebellions that are grounded in misguided beliefs and religion; well these need swift, unyielding vigilance. In such cases then, the innocent have to die for the guilty. The wise among you will understand this.

Let me conclude by clarifying one last aspect of this affair of state. The rumors of families fleeing to Egypt because of my necessary actions have been greatly exaggerated. My investigations have discovered that only one peasant man, along with his wife and her newly-born son, have left Palestine because of the events so recently reported. The finances for this hasty journey came evidently from gold, frankincense and myrrh, which this peasant man apparently stole from the Persians and then sold to a local Bethlehem merchant. Their departure by night reveals the misguided dimensions of the undertaking. As is so often the case, I do not believe we shall hear anymore of this matter. It has all been nothing but a minor event in the life of this kingdom. It is clear that on this day in January, the Pax Romana and the peace of Palestine fit as snugly as a sword in its sheath. Long live the divinely blessed Caesar! And may God bless this, my kingdom—and you my subjects!

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Mabel’s Christmas Letter

Vintage PostcardI’m not foolish, just old—which is why I laughed like a loon when the Reverend Lawrence asked me to write a Christmas Letter to all of you at the church. Of course, after I stopped laughing I told him, “No—I couldn’t possibly do that!” He laughed too and said, “Well, you think about it, Mabel,” and then went on preparing to give me my Christmas Communion. You may find it hard to believe but I could recite almost the whole Christmas Story as he read it from the Gospel. “In those days a decree went out… And Joseph also went up from Galilee… And she gave birth to her first born son…. And in that region there were shepherds…. ‘Be not afraid’….” It still amazes me what my mind holds onto and what it lets go of. The words of the Gospel story fit in my mind like my feet in these old slippers I’m wearing. Well, after we finished our communion he packed up his kit, chatted awhile over a cup of tea and got up to leave. As he took hold of the door knob he turned and said, “Now, Mabel, you think about writing that letter”—and I cackled once again like some old cooped up hen, or worse yet some silly school girls to whom I used to try to teach English composition.

After he left I looked around this lonely apartment and gazed at the little Christmas tree and the silly Christmas figurines I’ve not yet let go of and once again put out this year. “What in heaven would I tell all those people down at the church? Would they even care to hear what some 90 year old widow has to say about Christmas?” I thought to myself, “Is he asking me to do this because he thinks it will be my last Christmas?” I don’t know. When you get to be my age you think about that. You think about a lot of things. I think mostly about how long I’ll have this dear old forgetful mind with me. It scares me when I catch myself telling the same stories over and over—and sometimes to the same person.

Well, I then said to myself, “Mabel, maybe you need to write a letter, not for them down at the church, but for yourself.” Reverend Lawrence often says he likes to hear my stories because it helps him know who we are at the church. I just laugh and tell him, “I’ve got a lot of them.” I used to almost live down at that church. I don’t regret it—just a statement of fact. I belonged to the Resolute Club and the Alpha Club. You name it and I was in it. I even remember singing during Christmas with the choir up at Coxes Department Store. I don’t know if anyone at the church even remembers the British War Relief Fund. How we worked our fingers to the bone for those poor boys at the Front. Well now I’ve gone to rambling with my stories.

Anyway, lately I’ve been thinking a lot of Daniel, a Hungarian boy who lived across the street from us in the third ward. His father had died late one fall from tuberculosis. My mother was determined we were going to make Christmas special for him. She kept telling us children “You be really nice to that boy. It’s hard for him to lose his father at Christmas.” That was the first time I realized that Christmas is wonderful for everyone except those who are sad. Then it can be the loneliest time you can imagine. Whenever I was having fun I’d remember poor Daniel whose father had just died and I would feel so empty. I learned that lesson all over again twelve years ago when my husband Hank died.

Well, after the rector left on that Monday afternoon I said, “Mabel, you couldn’t possibly write such a letter” and laid down on my bed and took a nap. I dreamed of Daniel. I was back at the old family home in the third ward. The entire backyard had become an ocean. It was tossing wildly; waves heaving and beating on the back steps. Mother told me Daniel was out in the boat in the stormy waves looking for his dead father. She said if I didn’t go get him he would miss Christmas altogether. She told me to take a ragged and torn umbrella and swim out to the street lamp that was sticking out above the waves and hold the umbrella there for him to grab a hold of. I was half-scared out of my wits and of poor resolve on the matter, standing paralyzed on the back steps with the water rising to my knees. The last thing I remember before I awoke was Mother saying, “You’d better hurry up, Mabel, it’s getting late!” Well, after I was awake, I knew I needed to write this letter to you.

I was born near Essex, England on March 25, 1904, and moved here to McKeesport in June of 1911 with my parents, two sisters and a brother. They’ve all died. I’m the only one left. I was seven years old when we moved. My father had a job at the Iron Works. I don’t remember too much about Christmas in England. All those memories of the old country are foggy and mingle together like the filling in a mince-meat pie. My favorite memories of Christmas as a child are right here in McKeesport. I remember sledding with my sisters and brother, kicking the snow from our galoshes on the front porch and racing into the house, the warm air fogging my glasses, and the smell of my mother’s plum pudding baking in the kitchen. In those days we didn’t decorate the house until Christmas Eve and one or two presents was enough to keep a child happy for a month of Sundays.

Maybe I’m just getting old but I think all the stuff people do and buy today only makes them enjoy it less. My granddaughter Sharon, God bless her, took me shopping last week. She pushed me all around the mall in a wheelchair. There was so much that all looked the same that I couldn’t find anything for anybody. I finally just gave up, bought some cards and put some money in them. Now tell me, what kind of Christmas is that? But I guess what else can an old lady do? How different it used to be! Oh, I don’t mean to sound like one of these silly old gals around here clucking and cooing about how things used to be. It is not that we were always happy. There’s been plenty of sadness in this life I’ve lived. More than one Christmas Eve I spent at home with a sick child or husband, or went to the Midnight service with a heavy heart and a lump in my throat while my son, Gordon, was overseas in that awful war.

Now when I remember Christmas I think of the trees and lights and decorations and I recall all the busy shopping for presents. But most of all I remember my friends, most of whom have died or are as feeble as I. And I remember my family, my father and mother and sisters and brother, and my dear darling husband, Hank, and of course my children, grandchildren and great grand children spread out over this great country of ours. And I remember singing carols at the church. Oh how I used to love that Candlelight service. But mostly now I think of my Lord.

I don’t know what people do who celebrate Christmas without the Lord Jesus. They must feel terribly empty when they wake up the next day with presents unwrapped, the food eaten and life back to normal. No wonder the doctors say so many folk get depressed during the holidays. I think people have forgotten that Love came down at Christmas. God’s Love! God’s Son—our Savior! He did not grow up out of this ancient world of ours as if he was the best we had to offer. No, dear friends, He came down from heaven—God looked down and saw our need and so He sent His Son. That is why we call him, Immanuel, “God with us”. It is odd how you learn new things about that. Twelve years ago when my husband died it was my first Christmas in 54 years without my darling Hank. I was all alone in my living room and I said, “Lord, I don’t think I can go on. I’m so alone.” Then the room seemed to grow unusually quiet and the Lord seemed to say to me, “Mabel—you are not alone—always there will be two of us. Others may leave but I will stay.” That’s what Christmas means to me. God is with us—God is with me.

So go ahead. Decorate your trees and houses. I suppose it puts us all in a more cheerful mood. Give the children their gifts. Fill your stomachs with all the delicious foods. But listen to an old lady, if only for a moment. Sooner or later a person has to realize he is not going to live forever. No matter how hard we try to live upstanding lives there is a lot we do in this life for which we need to be forgiven. When we stand before God’s judgment everyone needs a Savior. Besides there is more than once in a man’s or woman’s life she stands before a crossroad and doesn’t know what path to take. If you don’t have a Savior and Lord at these times you’re rudderless. You’re like a boat adrift on the open sea. You’re like that boy, Daniel, out in a boat in the wild ocean waves looking for his dead father. Look—I’m swimming out to the lamp post to hold out this rambling letter to you like some ragged and torn umbrella for some poor soul to grab hold of ‘less he miss Christmas altogether. It is the least I can do for my Lord who is with me even when Christmas is over. I know I’ve rambled on but I do want to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas and a God-filled New Year!

Your old friend,

Mabel
(Edited sermon given by The Reverend Mark Lawrence on Christmas Eve in 1994)

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Marsabit – October 28, 2013, Journal Entry

Allison with youth and women and Archers Post Anglican Church

Allison is greeted at the Archers Post Anglican Church

While the Imam’s call to prayer sounded earlier just below my full consciousness, it was the buzzing of a thick-bodied Wood Boring Bee that finally awakened me and ushered me into the various morning sounds of Marsabit—bird songs, cock crows, the wind in the trees outside my window, a faint voice or two from the town in the distance, and the ringing of the church bell. Six o’clock. I get up and freshen myself, make a cup of instant coffee and say Morning Prayer in the quietness of the house. How I’ve missed this time alone with You, Lord, this past week [while at GAFCON].

Now after a pleasant breakfast with Bishop Rob, his wife, Sue, and Allison, I sit out on their porch enjoying the garden and the cool late morning breeze and scrawl a few sentences in this journal. A white breasted Pie Crow caws from a tall thin-leafed tree where I notice a nest in the upper branches and a slightly moving head of a mother bird apparently brooding over her eggs or young. Is this emblematic of Your Holy Spirit this morning brooding over us—I wonder? The red bougainvillea beside the yellow-green flax, the cane brake, and the purple and white Inpatients against the red earth might just as well be the Southwestern United States—but, “No”, I tell myself, “this is Northern Kenya” and the tall, colorfully beaded women I saw yesterday at worship in

Marsabit warriors

Marsabit warriors

Archers Post Anglican Church, stunning in their vibrant song and dance; the six various tribes and tongues represented in the small yet crowded church; the young African children delighting in our presence and reaching out their hands to greet us—even laughing as Allison put her white arm parallel with their black ones; the long arduous drive on the dirt road, the Land Rover jostling us about for hours; the herds of sheep, cattle and camels we passed along the way with the young African boys shepherding them, and the occasional warrior in colorful fabrics and feathers, dramatic against their lean bare black shoulders and chests, walking in stately stride with their weapon of choice at their side; all somewhat dream-like in my memory, yet calling me back to gratitude and prayer.

Gratitude to You for Your great love for us, Your people; gratitude for those missionaries who at great sacrifice brought the gospel to this land and these peoples—in their language; gratitude for the beauty of this place—this green island of Marsabit surrounded by the stark arid expanse of desert and savannah and the gift of being here on behalf of the Diocese of South Carolina.

Archers Post Anglican Church

Parishioners gather in front of the Archers Post Anglican Church.

Jacque Ellul’s phrase that as Christians we should “Think globally and act locally” has never seemed more relevant or true. So too with John Wesley’s words, “The World is my Parish” and the equally valid phrase which is surely true of a parish priest such as George Herbert, “The Parish is my World”—keep these three axioms in creative tension and the Christian leader will do well. My prayer, Lord, is that these will be descriptive of me and for those I serve in South Carolina. Bless, Oh Lord, both of these lands and peoples, so different and yet so dear.

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