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.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

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!

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

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)

Posted in Uncategorized | 13 Comments

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Jottings from GAFCON II (Take Two)

Session at GAFCON IIOctober 22nd—We began the morning with Holy Eucharist at All Saints’ Cathedral led by the Nigerian delegation and according to the Church of Nigeria’s Prayer Book.  The Anglican Church of Nigeria has the largest delegation at this convention, which is, I suppose, fitting given that it is the largest Province in the Anglican Communion.  The worship was stately and joyous—with hymns such as “O Worship the King, all glorious above,” “Let all the world in every corner sing,” “Alleluia! Sing to Jesus,” “Faith of our Fathers living still” and others.   It was a stirring way to begin our first full day.

After morning tea we gathered in Plenary Session to hear the Chairman of  GAFCON, Archbishop Eliud Wabukala of Kenya give his Address—“Global Challenge.” A few memorable statements I jotted down in my moleskin journal were:

  • “Biblical Anglicanism,” he noted,” is global not just because of history but because it has spread to all nations.”
  • “GAFCON is for the sake of our children.  There are well-funded organizations committed to bringing the values that are disrupting the West to Africa.”
  • “The Communion needs new wineskins to fulfill the Great Commission.  But focusing on organizational change alone is not enough.”

This was followed by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali leading a multi-speaker presentation on the three challenges in the world that we as Christians cannot ignore:

  • Aggressive Secularism
  • Militant Islamism
  • Seductive Syncretism

“Aggressive secularism has created a vacuum,,,,.”  He noted.   “What was once filled in society by religion…that is Christianity, is now only a vacuum. Since nature abhors a vacuum.   What will fill it?”

The first presenter for this session on the triple jeopardy facing the world-wide Church was Dr. Michael Ovey from Oak Hill Theological College in London.  His presentation entitled “The Grace of God or the World of the West” was a tour de force and well worth every priest and layperson interested in engaging the secular culture of the 21st Century America and Europe reading.  I strongly commend it to you.

After lunch we heard various presentations on the Suffering and Persecuted Church.  When Archbishop Ben Kawashi of Jos was asked by Archbishop Peter Jensen if persecution made evangelism difficult he responded by saying, “Persecution does not make evangelism difficult it makes life difficult.”  Though he has had his house and all his belongings burned to ashes; his wife beaten; and many of his congregations ravaged by radical Islamists, yesterday when he was speaking to some of the bishops in the mini-conference on Episcopal Ministry he said:

  • “Not all suffering comes from knives and machetes.”
  • “Whether we follow Jesus or not, we will suffer….  So we might as well preach the gospel and live with vigor.”

I am usually strengthened in my faith when I hear of the perseverance of fellow believers who endure such hardships.  And this was no exception.

October 23rd and 24th—There were a variety of Mini-Conferences these days which we could choose between for the next three days but you stayed with the one chosen throughout the entire time.  They included

  • The Challenge of Islam:  The Gospel, Islam and Freedom—Presented by The Rt Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali.
  • The Work of the Holy Spirit:  The Spirit of truth in the life of the Church.  Allison attended this elective.
  • Gospel and Culture:  How can we re-evangelize the West.  Frs. Greg Snyder and Bob Lawrence attended this conference.
  • Episcopal Ministry:  Priorities for a Bishop’s Leadership— which I attended.

Other options included Marriage and Family, Children and Youth, Being Women of God, Aid and Development, and Theological Education.

I found the Mini-Conference I attended to be wonderfully renewing, practically helpful, and personally challenging.

RhinoOn Thursday late afternoon and early evening we did have the one African cultural outing of the convention.  Boarding buses we made our way to the nearby Nairobi National Park and Animal Preserve.  I must say I didn’t expect we’d see all that many animals.  I could not have been more wrong.   Gazelles, giraffes, water buffaloes, white rhinos—one ran along beside our bus, herds of zebras, one mother zebra nursing her young.  Some of the group on other buses even saw lions chasing a giraffe.  We did not see any lions but we have our own encounters.  Twice the bus was unable to negotiate a hill with all of us on it.  The first time we all unloaded while the bus was on a precarious angle.  We got out and watched the sun set over the African savannah. Then on our way out of the park just as dusk was falling we again were having trouble negotiating a steep incline.  With the bus driver struggling to keep the bus from rolling backwards several African women, having experienced, I suppose, such problems before, began to scream, “Let us off! Let us off! We want to get off!”  Allison said to me afterwards—“If they want off, I want off!”  Anyway we all climbed out and walked up the steep hill. Then up grinded the bus.  While we were milling around rather leisurely re-boarding, a park ranger came up urgently telling us, “It is dark.  There are lions here—hurry, get back on bus!”  I didn’t know whether the ranger was Bishop and Allison Lawrence join Bishop Ken Clarke for supper at the Carnivoreexaggerating or not until I heard that the others had seen them.  An English barrister I was talking with later informed me that two Japanese tourist were recently jumped by lions and dragged off.  We then had an African dinner replete with traditional Kenyan dancers and music at a restaurant with the descriptive name—The Carnivore.

Allison and my adventures were not over however.  Dusty from our bus ride in the un-airconditioned bus with windows open and  the dust swirling about from the bus in front of us, and tired from a long day with less than full night’s sleep the last several days, we arrived at the hotel around 10:00 p.m. ready to shower and get to bed.  We boarded the elevator with Dr. Ashley Null (a frequent speaker at Mere Anglicanism Conferences here in Charleston and renown scholar on Archbishop Thomas Cranmer), four other conference delegates and a hotel employee.  I should tell you our room is on the 15th floor.  We were all crowded in with precious little room to move.  The elevator stopped on the 6th or was it 8th floor (I don’t remember) to let someone off.  The doors closed and the lift then proceeded to move—but not up.   It drifted slowly down… and down.  Soon we stopped with no movement whatsoever.  The lights went out.  It jolted down farther.  A young seminarian from Trinity School for Ministry and I were closest to the elevator doors so we tried to pry the doors open.  As we opened them several inches we could see the first floor lobby and feel the cool air rushing in which only made me realize how hot the elevator had become.  But then the elevator jolted down again so we were now two feet or so below the first floor.  We had already called the main desk and by now workmen were out but soon there was an outer door that was shut immovably in front of the inner elevator doors so now we could no longer get fresh, cool air and our claustrophobic little box was getting hotter by the minute.  We could no longer even open the inner doors.  Then once again the elevator began to slowly descend.  Soon the seminarian and I were once again able to pry the doors open a couple of inches but now we could see we had descended into the elevator shaft and could only peer out to a concrete wall.  Minutes ticked away and concern among the group began to develop.  Finally Allison said, “You’d think being in here with a bunch of priests someone would suggest we pray.  I am going to pray!”  So she said a prayer.  After awhile the elevator moved slowly up and we were once again back to the lobby floor.  We could hear the workmen outside.  And since I’m writing this blog on the evening of October 25th obviously they eventually got the doors open.

There’s some disagreement among us about how long we were in trapped inside.  I thought it was about ten minutes.  The others said it was at least twenty.  They could be right.  After all the seminarian and I, squeezed as we were up in the front, could at least spend our time trying to pry open the doors and push the useless elevator buttons.  The other five inside could only stand or lean up against the wall and wait, worry, or pray.  As we piled out several hotel personnel were there to take down our room numbers.  It was somewhere around midnight that a knock on the door of our room awakened Allison.  It was a hotel waiter with a fine bottle of South African Merlot to console us, I suppose.  I half consciously heard her say something about a bottle of wine and went back to sleep.  We’ll be taking it home for a souvenir.  I’m writing this to let you know that’s just one of the reasons why I haven’t written another blog sooner!

Tomorrow the conference concludes and Allison and I head into the remote bush Diocese of Marsabit in a Land Rover with Bishop Robert Martin and his wife, Sue.  Every Kenyan that Allison has told where we are going opens his or her eyes wide and says—“You’re going to Marsabit?”  “Well,” she says, “at least there’s probably no elevators there!”  This is to let you know it may be a while before I get a chance to report any further on GAFCON II developments.  I suggest you get your information elsewhere if you want it before late next week.  We’ll be flying back to Nairobi on Tuesday afternoon, October 29 in some kind of small plane that only flies on Tuesdays or Fridays—that is, if weather permits.  We then fly back to Charleston on Wednesday morning arriving home in the wee hours of Thursday morning—God willing.

 

Read the GAFCON II:  Nairobi Communique and Commitment

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

Jottings from GAFCON II

From left, the Rev. Bob Lawrence, the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, Mrs. Allison Lawrence and the Rev. Greg Snyder - GAFCON bound

GAFCON bound! From left, the Rev. Bob Lawrence, the Rt. Rev. Mark Lawrence, Mrs. Allison Lawrence and the Rev. Greg Snyder.

October 19th—It is the feast day of Henry Martyn and we are waiting in Boston’s Logan Airport as I scrawl these sentences on our way to GAFCON II. The next leg is Amsterdam and then on to Nairobi, Kenya. There are four of us representing the Diocese of South Carolina at the GAFCON II gathering in Nairobi: The Rev. Dr. Greg Snyder, President of the Standing Committee; The Rev. Robert Lawrence (no bloodlines that we know of), Chairman of the Anglican Communion Development Committee and Executive Director of St. Christopher Camp and Conference Center; Allison Lawrence, who will be attending the Bishop’s wives track; and, of course, I as Bishop. I have overheard my traveling companions commenting about the long series of flights ahead of us tonight. I may even have made a comment or two. But when one considers that we are flying on the feast day of an early 19th century British missionary to India it is rather ridiculous to mumble any complaints about long flights or potential discomforts which may come our way in our short travels abroad.

Missionary Henry Martyn

Missionary Henry Martyn

When Henry Martyn’s journals returned to England after his untimely death, having labored tirelessly translating the New Testament into Persian, the Rev. Charles Simeon, his pastor and mentor during his studies at Cambridge, the Rev. Mr. John Sargent, Simeon’s curate, and Mrs. Thomason gathered to read the pages of his journals. The trio soon found themselves weeping quietly over his words. They had always known Martyn as a man joyful, characterized by a spirit of gaiety and hope. But as they read through the pages of his journals they were stunned to encounter the depths of soul-struggle and pain that wore upon his inner life in the midst of his herculean labors for Christ’s Kingdom. May some of his missional and self-sacrificial spirit characterize our journey, this Global Anglican Futures Conference and its aftermath, not least because this year’s theme is Jesus’ Great Commandment: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations….” (Matthew 28:19).

official photo of Bishops and Archbishops at GAFCON II

Bishops and Archbishops gather for the Official GAFCON II photo.

After the flight from Amsterdam to Nairobi we went through customs and were bused to the hotel with some 30 fellow GAFCON attendees. We checked into our room close to 11:00 p.m. after 26 hours of travel—a little tired and ready for some sleep.

October 21st—after a night’s sleep I awake more tired than I went to bed and in need of some coffee! We spend the late morning and early afternoon getting a feel for the city of Nairobi and a SIM card for my cell phone along with waiting in various lines.

Clearly one of the chief joys of such a gathering as this is seeing fellow believers from different times in one’s life in Christ and who weave in and out of one’s Christian journey. The Rev. Sammy Morrison from Chile; The Very Rev. Canon Jim Snell from the Diocese of San Joaquin; John MacDonald from Pittsburgh days and Trinity School for Ministry; Bishop Richard Ellena from Australia and Bishop Alapayo from the Southern Sudan both of whom I met at Lambeth 2008…and so many others—too many to list here. And then there are the new relationships or God-appointments which his Holy Spirit no doubt has for us. One never knows where or to what these divine appointments will lead.

This evening’s gathering at All Saint’s Cathedral after tea on the grounds was an Opening worship freely flowing with hymns brought by Western missionaries yet touched by an African vigor and sway. It also brought various speakers to the podium to focus our attention on the East African Revival of the 1920s and 30s and which had a second or renewed out pouring of the Holy Spirit in the 1970s. Indeed as the Chancellor of Uganda Christian University reminded us in a stirring address—“We speak of the East Africa Revival as if it is a relic of history. It is not just a relic…not just a movement in history; it is a living movement today.” (Paraphrased from my jotted notes from his address) This movement which has as its center the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the call of the Holy Spirit for believers to “Walk in the Light” and the necessity of repentance, public confession of sins and putting of wrongs right in the believer’s life, as well as a corresponding call for humility and brokenness, was and remains a mighty presence in the Church in Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania. This revival like so many great revivals in history was predominately a lay movement. It calls every man to be a Bible student, responsive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, transcending denominational boundaries yet seeking to keep (in the phrase I remember from several decades ago in the Renewal Movement of the 1970s and 80s) “the fire in the fireplace.” Indeed as the Chancellor noted, from the heart of this living movement today’s Church is presented with some probing questions:

  • What is the cause of coldness and deadness in our churches?
  • Why are people allowed to come to the Lord’s Table who are living in known sin?
  • What can be done to bring revival to the Church?

I left this Opening session this evening reflecting upon my own experience in the revival of the 1970s which influenced my early life as a Christian after my conversion during college and ready for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit today, remembering those words from St. Augustine of Hippo—“Revive thy Church, Oh Lord, beginning with me.”

Well, it is almost 11:00 p.m. I am still more than a little under the sway of jet-lag and 5:30 a.m. comes early. Don’t know when I’ll have an opportunity to blog next but will do so as I am able.

Blessings,

+Mark Lawrence

South Carolina XIV

 

 

Posted in Anglican Communion, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Life’s Fallow Seasons

fallow fieldFor most of us Ember Days go unnoticed.  With the exception of seminarians writing letters to bishops telling them of their progress, Ember Days have all but disappeared in the life of the Church.  Even in farming communities living closer to the earth and to the cycles of seed-time, vintage and harvest there is precious little attention given to Ember days.  Such is our loss; for knowledge of the seasons has much to teach us and not just for lessons about the soil.  Last week on September 18th, 20th, and 21st the Church’s calendar rubrics noted what used to be the “vintage” Ember days—that is the season of the grape harvest.  As a native Californian I remember it well—the grape harvest that is not the Ember days.

What brought this to mind was our latest diocesan Clergy Day.  Not that we in the Diocese of South Carolina are in what I would call a “vintage season”—though certainly some may feel this past year they have been like grapes in the wine press troddened and squeezed.  No, as I looked out on the assembled brothers and sisters,  rather than seeing brethren in the vintage month, what came to mind was that more than a few had passed through or perhaps were still in a fallow season.

Seed-time, vintage, harvest and winter (the fallow days) are seasons the farmer knows well.  When I was in college I spent summers and even one fall working in the fields of the San Joaquin Valley—driving down rows of cotton with a tractor tilling the ground or spraying pesticides in June and July, and later harvesting with a cotton-picker in October and November.  Different yet, were August days in a dug potato or sugar beet field with a D-8 tracklayer pulling a land-plane to level the field or a ripper to break up the hard-pan.  Before the days when most tractors or tracklayers had air conditioned cabs it was hot and dusty work in mid-summer.  The latter was to prepare the land for a fallow season (even if it was brief): giving to the earth the plow and harrow but not the seed.

The fallow season is what I see during the winter months in South Carolina as I drive along rural roads in December and January on parish visitations. Fields plowed and harrowed and left unsown as the cold rain and darker days fall upon the earth.  The land left idle for a season.  But just last Monday I saw up near Barnwell harvested cornfields with stalks sheered 12 inches off the ground and left waiting for another season.  It is all rather Biblical, for Shabbat was a solemn rest for the land: a Sabbath to the Lord when human hand was not to till or work the soil; the earth was to be saved from the hardness of man’s exhausting labor; a reminder that the earth was not just for tilling—it was holy.

There is, spiritually speaking, fallow seasons for the soul which of course can come at any time of year.  Two of the plowshares God uses in this season are sorrow and loss.  With these furrowing blades God harrows the soul.  Elijah knew such a season by the brook Cherith.  (I Kings 17:1 ff)  Such seasons may bring days of isolation.  It is part of God’s formative and maturing work in our lives.  Frankly, it is important to know one doesn’t have to be in a lonely place to experience God’s isolating grace.  This summer has been for me an Ember season that was all out of rhythm with the months of the year.  I have been more in the season of winter, the days of December (without Christmas); not a winter of discontent, but a fallow season; and not by choice nor for rest.  Plowed and harrowed and left unsown, finding it difficult to write anything, I took comfort and encouragement in the psalmist’s words:  “The plowmen plowed upon my back and made their furrows long.”  (Ps 129:3)

A fallow season is one of the ways God leads us to or forces upon us a reflective evaluation of our lives and our work in order to prepare us for what is next.  This may happen several times in a Christian’s life.  God therein leads us to a deeper trust and dependence upon him and upon his Word and Spirit.  And perhaps more gracious still it may yield a deeper relationship and intimacy with Christ.  St. Paul knew such harrowing of soul and from within such a season wrote these words:  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort [encouragement], who comforts [encourages] us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort [encourage] those who are in any affliction with the comfort [encouragement] with which we ourselves are comforted [encouraged] by God.”  (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)  Take your pick which translation you prefer—comfort or encouragement—for there are solid arguments for each and a need perhaps for both.

During fallow seasons it is good to remember that such days or months prepare us for seedtime, whether for the soil or in our life.  In fact the agricultural practice of sowing seed soon became for the Biblical writers a metaphor for the spiritual life.  Hosea used it figuratively of God sowing Israel in the Promised Land; Jeremiah to describe God making Israel fruitful; later Jewish writers to compare “God sowing virtues in soul;” and Jesus employed it for the Kingdom.  Such a season needs to be seen as the doorway for tomorrow.  We realize in such times that to wait, to sacrifice or merely to ploddingly do one’s duty may be all that one can do.  But in God’s grace it is enough. The days will slowly lengthen, the sun’s angle will lean longer light upon the earth, the door will open, and the Sower will go out.    It may be hard to remember when the days are dark and a cold rain falls that it is a part of his design; yet it is a preparation for the soul that will again sing joyously:

“Now the green blade riseth, from the buried grain,
wheat that in the dark earth many days has lain;
love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

Forth he came at Easter, like the risen grain.
He that for three days in the grave had lain,
Quick from the dead my risen Lord is seen:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

When our hearts are wintry, grieving or in pain,
Thy touch can call us back to life again,
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been;
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.”

Hymn 204 (1982 Hymnal)

Posted in Christian Life | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Midge-buzzings, Musterings, and Musings: An Introduction

Field of midgesThe novelist, essayist, and poet, Wendell Berry said he once knew a barber who refused to give a discount to balding men because his artistry was not in cutting off hair but rather in knowing when to stop. Likewise, I pray there is some artistry or at least craftiness in knowing when to begin. After much coaxing from several members of our diocesan staff I have finally committed to sitting down before this computer to write a blog. In doing so I’ve been told I need to give the blog a name. So here it is: I christen thee, Midge-buzzings, Musterings, and Musings—a name which clearly merits a brief explanation, not merely for the obscurities embedded therein, but because of what such a name suggests about the content.

Since eventually, as our Lord repeatedly taught, the last will be first, I shall begin there. That is with Musings. This of course, is a rather obvious category implying— “ponderings, reflections and meditations”—thus I shall at times share with my readers thoughts and ideas far less formal than a bishop’s address, pastoral letter, or diocesan communication which would ordinarily find no opportunity for broader communication about things I find interesting. A window by Louis Comfort Tiffany, a book I’m reading, a hike I’ve taken or an entry from my personal journal.

Musterings, I confess is a word I’ve tortured into being. Muster is a verb meaning “to assemble, as troops; to gather together, as, to muster all one’s resources.” Muster is also a noun—“an assembly of troops, for review or active service.” Thus, “musterings” as I’ve coined the word here means an assembling or marshalling of words for a purpose, as when Winston Churchill during the Second World War mustered the English language and sent it into battle. His speeches might well be referred to as musterings, invaluable as they were for the Battle of Britain. So in less significant and surely less eloquent ways, I hope the musterings on this blog will occasionally inspire or call God’s people to action for Christ’s Kingdom, or to engage some challenge we face in the church or the culture.

Then, there are those writings best filed under the rubric of Midge-buzzings. I first came across this word in the title of a book by Ann Williams, a nature writer from the San Joaquin Valley in California, that place where I was born and raised, and can never leave no matter where I go. Ann says she got the word midgebuzzing from a curious exchange in Felix Salten’s novel, Bambi (1929).

“How long has that old beetle been living?” some very small midges asked? “He has outlived his whole family. He’s as old as the hills, as old as the hills. He’s seen more and been through more in this world than we can even imagine.” Bambi walked on. “Midge buzzings,” he thought, “midge buzzing.”

Clearly the buzzing of midges can be rather irritating and may at times even presage a not as yet felt sting or bite. Nevertheless, I’ve learned on more than one occasion while hiking or canoeing that such irritations can also awaken one from reveries and day dreams that may cause you to miss your trail junction or overlook some cairn or tributary without which you might soon be lost or worse. Nobody much likes the buzzing of no-see-ums, black gnats, mosquitoes, or deer flies but they are as much a part of life for every lover of nature and hiker of trails as trials are for every Christian, as indeed, The Letter of James tells us — going even so far as to admonish us to count it all as joy. So there may well be times I will write something here that you find as irritating and distracting as the buzzing of a horse-fly and with just as much bite and sting. Swat at if you must, dismiss it you may, but such midge-buzzing might keep you from missing a fork in life’s trail or a false channel or oxbow in the black water rivers of the culture that could get you lost for hours or even days and to recover from which may take a lifetime.

Frankly, I might just have some long overdue fun with this….

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 12 Comments