Archive for September, 2017

Non-Violence In The Age Of Trump

September 23, 2017

In the age of Donald Trump, when violent, bullying and abusive language and behavior seems increasingly encouraged and accepted across our nation, I invite you to join me in embracing Franciscan Richard Rohr’s “Center for Action and Contemplation” in making these vows of non-violence…come what may!

Practice: Vow of Nonviolence

Years ago, the Center for Action and Contemplation staff, volunteers, and friends were invited to say this vow together at an outdoor mass on the Feast of John the Baptist. Today I renew my commitment to nonviolence and invite you to make this vow your own as well.

Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God. . . . You have learned how it was said, “You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy”; but I say to you, Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven. (Matthew 5:9, 43-45)

Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying Spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus

  • by striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life;
  • by accepting suffering rather than inflicting it;
  • by refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;
  • by persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart;
  • by living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live;
  • by actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.

God, I trust in Your sustaining love and believe that just as You gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so You will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it. [1]

These vows start very helpfully by acknowledging the violence in our own hearts. As our own frustration builds, on a seemingly daily basis, it is easy to begin returning evil for evil, snarky comment for snarky comment, half truths for fake news. We must look within, find that peace which passes all understanding, and let our words and actions flow from that place.

It may then be possible to accept suffering without inflicting it upon others, practice non- violence in word and deed, live simply and centered, while at the same time taking bold action to resist evil whenever and wherever we find it.

I make these promises today.

Will you join me?


Celebrate The Whole of It, Part Two

September 16, 2017

Since returning from my visit to the Community of Celebration which I wrote about in this blog on August 16 (“Celebrate The Whole of It!”), I have spent some time re-reading some of the literature covering the birth, growth, and development of this modern-day religious community. That would include two books by the founder, The Rev. Graham Pulkingham, Gathered For Power and They Left Their Nets which describe the early days of charismatic renewal at the Church of the Redeemer in Houston and the community which began to develop out of that movement.

The third book was This Is My Story, This Is My Song by Graham’s wife, composer and musician Betty Pulkingham, providing her perspective on those years as did community member Maggue Durran in her The Wind At the Door documenting their time in England and Scotland. The final book I read was a fine summary of their whole history up to the present day. It is called Following The Spirit by an English priest, Philip Bradshaw. He and his wife Margaret are still members of the Community of Celebration and live in London, keeping the community’s witness alive in the U.K.

This history, covering nearly half a century, reminds me of some my own, being introduced to the charismatic movement in the late 1960s and early ’70s, continuing to grow spiritually and thereby shedding some of the more fundamentalist tendencies which accrued to the movement (though not so much the Community of Celebration) but always appreciating the renewed worship, disciplined prayer life, and the family and community-centered emphasis of this band of pilgrims.

I experienced their music first in the Diocese of Central Florida and later invited them to lead the worship at a diocesan convention and conduct missions in the Diocese of Iowa while I was bishop here. I kept up with them over the years and some fifteen years ago was asked to serve as their Bishop Visitor now that the community was based in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania being a praying, witnessing, and prophetic community in the heart of this rust-belt former steel town and assisting in its restoration and re-birth.

Like many monastic and religious communities, Celebration has seen declining numbers in recent years. They no longer expect a restoration of their community life as it once was, but have begun making plans to transfer the work to others in Aliquippa after they are no longer able to keep things going. For the present, they still work hard, worship together three times day and in a joyous Saturday evening Eucharist in their beautiful little chapel. They continue a ministry of hospitality and are involved in the neighborhood, the diocese, and even the national Episcopal Church.

I believe their contribution to the liturgical life of the Episcopal Church is often under-appreciated or even unknown. They were ahead of the times in liturgical renewal, involving lay persons as well as clergy in worship leadership, experimenting with contemporary language and music but always within the structure of the Eucharistic liturgies and the Daily Offices. Without groups like The Fisherfolk (their traveling music  group’s name) I do not believe there would be musical resources like Wonder, Love, and Praise, Lift Every Voice or even supplemental liturgical texts such as Enriching Our Worship in the Episcopal Church.

One need only look at the 1982 Hymnal of the Episcopal Church to see music (“Alleluia, alleluia, give thanks to the risen Lord” and “I Am The Bread Of Life”) and even service music like S-247, a setting for the Magnificat) written or arranged by Betty Pulkingham. There are beautiful ballads by Wiley Beveridge and Psalm tones by Kevin Hackett still being used Sunday by Sunday in the U.K. and here.

They were on the cutting edge, but always occupied a position Richard Rohr calls today  being “on the outside of the inside,” fully recognized as congregations or communities in the Anglican Communion, but pushing the boundaries in helpful and challenging ways.

I am grateful this day for the Community of Celebration’s witness in my own life and in the life of the wider Church.

Be My Guide To Know Your Path

September 4, 2017

When I was elected Bishop of the Diocese of Iowa in 1988, I knew that my world was about to change in more ways than one. I was moving from a growing diocese in Central Florida to a demographically challenged one in the Midwest. I was coming into a totally different ministry than anything I had ever experienced before (contrary to what some believe, being bishop is not like being rector of an even larger parish; it is much more complicated than that). And, I was leaving a wonderful support system of friends and colleagues and, most of all, a trusted spiritual director.

Among the first things I did was to contract for monthly sessions with a young clinical psychologist whom I had met while he interviewed me as part of the screening process and medical/psychological exams required of bishop candidates. I liked him very much and he agreed to let me check in with him regularly to see if being a bishop had made me any crazier than I already was! The next search was for a spiritual director.

One of the priests in the Diocese of Iowa suggested Sister Mary Dingman who was then about seventy years old and a sister of the School Sisters of St. Francis out of Milwaukee. For a number of years then, she and a series of Jesuit colleagues ran something called “Emmaus House” in a struggling urban neighborhood in Des Moines. Mary and her colleague opened the house for retreats and quiet days, offered a daily mass, and often provided a simple lunch for their guests. They also engaged in spiritual direction and led retreats and conferences all over the Midwest.

I made an appointment to see Mary and we hit it off immediately. She was one of those deeply-grounded, gentle, progressive spirits which one can find in so many Roman Catholic women’s Orders. For the next twelve years, I made almost monthly “days of recollection” at Emmaus House. I would arrive early in the morning, be assigned a simple room, and spend the rest of the day reading, sleeping, praying, journaling or whatever else I needed to do to refresh my body and soul. In the afternoon, I would meet one-on-one with Sister Mary and she would gently listen, guide, encourage, and sometime challenge me to take the next steps on my spiritual journey.

Mary walked with me through diocesan crises, dealing with clergy sexual misconduct and putting in place procedures to handle such tragedies, wrestling with whether or not I should let my name be submitted as a candidate for Presiding Bishop (I had been asked by several as Ed Browning’s tenure came to an end), and finally — most significantly — the sudden death of my wife of thirty-two years, the grieving period that followed, and the putting back together of my life in a variety of ways in the following years.

I lost touch with Sister Mary a bit during the nine years that my new wife Susanne and I lived in New York, but got back in contact with her (now officially “retired”) when we moved back to Iowa as part of the “regional-ization” of some staff positions at the Church Center in 2009. We did not resume the same spiritual direction relationship, but simply met together, as dear friends, every so often when I would drive down to the little town of St. Paul, Iowa for coffee and conversation.

A couple of weeks ago, I was contacted by a niece of Mary’s and told that she was very weak and might not have long to live. The next morning I drove to St. Paul and found her sitting up in her recliner with a nasal oxygen catheter, but strong enough to have a brief conversation, a prayer together, and a gently kiss as I departed. On August 26 at 1:15 in the morning Mary’s spirit-filled heart gave out and she died.

Again, I was notified immediately by the family and was able to attend a Memorial Mass for her at St. James Catholic Church in St. Paul on Saturday September 2. Her funeral and burial the day before had been in Milwaukee at the Mother House of her Order. In St. Paul, I was welcomed warmly by the family who seemed almost as glad as I was that I had been able to see her and tell her how much I loved her and valued our friendship in those last days. The priest who presided at her Memorial Mass was kind enough to mention that “the retired Episcopal Bishop of Iowa” was among the many ecumenical guests and colleagues in the congregation.

I quite literally do not know what I would have done without the ministry of this devoted sister. Perhaps this prayer from the School Sisters of St. Francis which graced her service bulletin says it best:

Be my guide, God of love/ Lead me daily to search my heart.

Be my guide to know Your path./ That I may follow You each step of the way.

Grant me courage to trust and risk/ That I may have peace on my path to You.