Friday, January 29, 2010

In Memory of Sarah Sharp Taylor

What a week it's been!

Between the principal services last Sunday, I received word that Sarah Sharp Taylor, the mother of one my best friends in the world, died. I've been friends with Sarah's youngest son since he and I were roommates as freshman boarding students at The McCallie School back in the 1980s. I spent countless hours at the family homes in Nashville and in the mountains of Beersheeba Springs, TN during my high school and college years. As a graduate student during the 1990s at Vanderbilt Divinity School, and later at Vanderbilt's Graduate Department of Religion, I had even more time to deepen my friendship and connection with this wonderful family. During that time, Sarah's other sons became important persons in my life, too. And from the beginning to the end, the constancy of Sarah's character as a kind, gentle, and compassionate person - the kind of person whose very being radiates the love and mercy of Jesus Christ - quietly but surely made its imprint on my soul.

I feel a deep and loving kinship with the Taylor family. Their loss is my loss. As I posted for my Facebook status a few days ago: "In ways that I can't possibly put into words, it's become clear to me that going back to that particular place to be with this particular family in their grief over the loss of this particular person touches things that go to the core of my own identity. Wow ... "

And so I dropped everything else for this week to make the six hour drive from Jackson, MS to Nashville, TN to be with the Taylor family for the visitations and the funeral service at Christ Church Cathedral.

It was a journey of reconnecting with some of the deepest parts of myself. The seeds were sown in my childhood, but they started taking root during my junior and senior high school years at McCallie. They began blossoming during my 20s as a graduate student at Vanderbilt. Hard as it is for me to believe, it was almost 20 years ago that I first moved to Nashville. And during my time there, I explored my love for theology and ethics, I discovered (in ways that only many years later I could even begin to articulate) the religious poverty of "liberal" theology, I rediscovered my place in the Body of Christ within the Episcopal Church and owned my love for Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, I met the woman I would marry, and I first took seriously and began exploring God's call to the priesthood. It all happened right there in Nashville, TN. And the constant through the topsy-turvyness of it all was the Taylor family. And always, there was the warmth of Sarah Taylor's smile, her laughter, and the loving acceptance of her embrace.

Out of love for Sarah and her family, I share her obituary here on my blog before it gets deleted from The Tennessean's website. Reading it, I hope you get just a glimpse of what an extraordinary person she was and what an amazing life she lived. Having known her, I can say that it's all true. But I can also say that it barely captures the vibrancy and loving-kindness of her beautiful spirit, qualities which you could only have known by actually meeting her in person.

Here's her obituary:

TAYLOR, Sarah Sharp Age 75 of Nashville. Died January 24, 2010 at the Alive Hospice of Nashville due to complications from a car accident on January 19, 2010. Sarah is preceded in death by her parents, Sarah Robinson Sharp and Vernon Hibbett Sharp; brother, Dr. Vernon Hibbett Sharp; sister, Rev. Lorene Sharp White.

Sarah was born October 2, 1934 in Nashville, TN and was raised on Inglehame Farm in rural Williamson County. She attended Robertson Academy, Ward Belmont and was a member of the first graduating class of Harpeth Hall. Sarah attended Sweet Briar College and then transferred to Vanderbilt University. At Vanderbilt, she was a member of Kappa Alpha Theta sorority, Phi Beta Kappa and graduated Cum Laude. Sarah was also a life member of the Centennial Club and Junior League.

Sarah was a passionate supporter of dance and the Nashville Ballet. Her love of dance began when she danced with the Nashville Ballet under Albertine Maxwell. She was also a lover and supporter of the Nashville Opera.

Sarah was dedicated to her church family at Christ Church Cathedral and the opportunity to live out her faith through ministries of the church. Sarah was a co-founder, patron and participant of the First Friday Services. Everything was scheduled around these services. She was able to promote worship through dance with her support of the Epiphany Dancers. Sarah was also able to touch many people through the Stephen's Ministry where, as a lay caregiver, she was able to actively share the strength of her faith with many people.

Sarah also traveled extensively. She was drawn to exotic places - places of great natural beauty, high altitudes and spiritual significance. Her travels included climbing to the base camp of the Himalayas; Macchu Picchu, Peru; Mt. Sinai; Mt. Hood; Patagonia region of South America; Iona Island, Scotland; Skellig Islands, Ireland; St. David's Cathedral, Wales; Israel/The Holy Land; Tibet; Nepal; Kenya; the Galapagos Islands and Russia.

Her greatest love, however, was for her family. She had a home in Beersheba Springs, TN where she loved to gather with family to hike, swim and enjoy the sunsets. She was knowledgeable of wildflowers and grew many around the cabin. She was always traveling between Nashville, Chattanooga and Beersheba to spend time with her grandchildren, her four sons and other family members.

Sarah is survived by her four sons, Robert C. Taylor of Chattanooga, Vernon S. Taylor of Primm Springs, Harrison H. Taylor of Nashville and Douglas R. Taylor of Nashville; two daughters-in-law, Julie Yates Taylor and Deborah Cadwallader Taylor; five grandchildren, Tru, Hayes, Campbell, Reed and Elise; her sisters, Gertrude Sharp Caldwell (Ben) and Margaret Sharp Howell (Bill); sister-in-law, Dr. Alix Weiss-Sharp; many dearly loved nieces, nephews, cousins and extended relatives.

May Sarah's soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Ephraim Radner's Unrealistic Proposal for the Sake of the Gospel

Ephraim Radner poses a genuine and timely challenge to Episcopalians/Anglicans across the theological spectrum. It will be interesting to see how it is received.

Here's an excerpt from Radner's article published in The Living Church:

In the face of the tragedy in Haiti, I want to make a proposal. It’s not a realistic proposal, I grant; but it is a serious one. My proposal is this: that all those Anglicans involved in litigation amongst one another in North America — both in the Episcopal Church and those outside of TEC; in the Anglican Church of Canada, and those outside — herewith cease all court battles over property. And, having done this, they do two further things:

a. devote the forecast amount they were planning to spend on such litigation to the rebuilding of the Episcopal Church and its people in Haiti; and

b. sit down with one another, prayerfully and for however long it takes, and with whatever mediating and facilitating presence they accept, and agree to a mutually agreed process for dealing with contested property.

Before addressing the “unrealistic” character of this proposal, let’s be clear about the money that may be involved. As I read TEC’s national budget, for instance, over $4 million has been spent already on “Title IV” and litigation matters in the dioceses, and over $4 million more is budgeted for the next triennium. Let’s assume that some comparable amount is being spent by the opposing parties — maybe not as much, but still a lot. I don’t know … $3 million over the past three years and $3 million more over the next? Maybe less. Then there are the dioceses alone that are spending their own money. I know that Colorado has spent upwards of $3 million in these matters, and its opponents again, perhaps less again but certainly a sizable amount. I really don’t know what we’re talking about here — maybe $20 million already spent, maybe more? And certainly another $10 million in the pipeline.

Isn’t this rather crazy? Isn’t this in fact unfaithful? Isn’t this, indeed, perverse and even blasphemous?

And it is certainly so in the face of the needs we have just been witnessing in Port-au-Prince, needs which, it must be said, have been around us all the time these past years, but here have come into a blinding and heart-rending focus. ...

... with these kinds of movements in place, there could be, through God’s mercy and spiritual movement, a rethinking of the shape that North American Anglican struggles have taken, the toll they have wrought, and the call to a different form of engaging deep disagreements, even ones that, in themselves, brook little resolution on a theological plane. Who knows what God might do to people who humble themselves enough to give themselves away?

This is all very serious, as I said. Whether or not I have this or that detail correct, the general thrust of the proposal is clear enough and, to my mind, compelling enough in terms of gospel truth and divine demand. What would Jesus do? I think we all know.

But I also realize that it is all rather unrealistic: TEC leaders will say they have a fiduciary responsibility to sue for disputed property, and that this is “mission”; departed congregations and dioceses will say the same thing in a different guise, and add that “TEC started it”; each will say the other won’t listen or has never responded to overtures for mediated discussion; the level of mistrust and hostility is seemingly too high to overcome with either reason or charity.

Meanwhile, we will text our $10 to the Red Cross, give $25 to Episcopal Relief and Development or Anglican Relief and Development, wire a little money here, dig some trenches there, salute Paul Farmer and microcredit programmers for good work, and go back to court. Haiti will struggle, but not alone; Christ will be there, even as he leaves us behind.

Read it all.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Truth Comes With A Body

Andy Crouch, author of Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, offers some brief but fascinating thoughts in response to the question, "What does it mean to say that the Truth is a person?" Here's the YouTube summary:

[Crouch] is asked what it means that Jesus calls himself "the Truth"? How can it be, or what are the implications, that the Truth is a person? Mr Crouch responds that one aspect of this truth that is most disturbing for ordinary human philosophy is that Jesus brought the Truth in an embodied--and therefore a relational--form.

Watch the video:

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Prayer for the People of Haiti

Loving God of creation,
at this time of devastation
we hold before you the people of Haiti.

When the damage is unimaginable,
and the suffering seems overwhelming,
remind us that every person affected
is loved, honoured and precious in your sight.

We remember all those who have been hurt;
all who have lost their homes, livelihoods and loved ones.

Work through us to bring healing
to broken and distorted lives,
peace to those who have been thrown into despair,
light to those in darkness,
and hope to those who fear.

We ask this in the name of Jesus
in whom all life and grace is found. Amen.

Source: Christian Aid.

Thanks to "More than a Via Media" for bringing this prayer to my attention.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Where is God in Haiti?

After hearing Pat Robertson's vile characterization of the Haiti earthquake as a "blessing in disguise," it's refreshing to read a couple of theologically grounded and pastorally sensitive perspectives that don't commit Christians to believing in a sadistic God.

The first is the Rev. Craig Uffman's piece "Where Was God in the Earthquake?"

There are those who speak at such times of the omnipotence of God. Some will see this and all such natural disasters as evidence against the God in whom we trust. They will portray the earthquake as 'Exhibit A' in their case against our claims of a good and loving God.

Others will feel it necessary to defend the righteousness of God. Well-meaning Christians will rise to declare this disaster to be God's majestic will, a will wholly impenetrable to us, and they will cite our story of Job to warn us against efforts to comprehend it. And, sadly, other Christians also will rise to declare this disaster to be God's will, but, forgetting Job and distorting our story tragically, they will tell us precisely which group among us brought about the earthquake as punishment for their unforgivable sins.

Each of these do us a service, for they force us to give an account of our faith in God and to remember carefully the truths about God we actually claim. For the same question that moves these groups haunts us, too, as we see the tears of anguished, hungry, and orphaned girls and boys reaching their hands out to us: where was God in the earthquake? ...

As we participate vicariously in the tormented tears of young girls, lost and alone in the Haitian darkness, as our hearts pour out tears for the thousands of sons and daughters and mothers and fathers who have died so suddenly and shockingly, and as we turn to our task of being the loving and living hands of Christ in response to this tragedy, let us never forget the urgent truth about God that it is our vocation to proclaim: God does not will our sickness or our death; God does not will that evil be done; God has conquered evil and death through the Cross. This is the meaning of the empty tomb. This is our Easter faith.

Read it all.

Then there are the following brief thoughts from a piece Fr. Stephen wrote on the blindness caused by sin:

We are living through another week in which natural disaster provokes many to say, “Where is God?” Of course, many who will now ask, “Where is God?” said nothing the week before when Haitian children were dying of a hosts of curable and treatable illnesses and circumstances. The Christian answer to the question, “Where is God?” is “He is everywhere present and filling all things.” God is in Haiti: in some cases crushed beneath stones and in other cases removing the stones from those who are crushed. But it is doubtless true that there is more there than meets the eye. What we think we see is not all there is.

Read it all.

Continue to pray for the people of Haiti. And consider making a donation to the Haiti Fund administered by Episcopal Relief and Development.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Rowan Williams to Deliver Schmemann Lecture

Here's what the St. Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary website says:

On Saturday afternoon, January 30, 2010, The Most Rev. and Rt. Honorable Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury and senior bishop of the worldwide Anglican communion, will deliver the annual Father Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. The archbishop will speak on the topic “Theology and the Contemplative Calling: The Image of Humanity in the Philokalia.”

St Vladimir’s Seminary will also confer upon the archbishop a Doctorate of Divinity honoris causa, in recognition of his contribution to the academic study of Eastern Orthodox theology and spirituality. The Very Rev. Dr. John Behr, dean of St. Vladimir’s, was examined for his own doctoral degree at Oxford University by the archbishop, then a professor of theology there.

“Many Orthodox Christians may be unaware of Rowan Williams’s research and contribution to the field of Orthodox theology,” said Father John. “But he was a pioneer in this field, with outstanding breadth and depth. The subject of his own doctoral thesis, for instance, was the work of the great Orthodox theologian Vladimir Lossky, the first academic study of the émigré theologians. He has also written beautifully on the icons of the Theotokos and the Transfiguration, and, most recently, has published a highly regarded volume titled Dostoevsky: Language, Faith and Fiction. In recognition of his outstanding work and contribution to the study of Eastern Christianity, we are very pleased that he has accepted to deliver the 2010 annual Schmemann lecture.”

The Very Rev. Dr. Chad Hatfield, chancellor and CEO of the seminary, likewise noted the import of the upcoming visit. “The archbishop is a patron of The Fellowship of Ss. Alban and Sergius, a society of Eastern and Western Christians that held a major conference on our campus in 2008,” said Father Chad. “And we welcome his presence as a person who supports the continued dialogue of the society’s members.”

The lecture is scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m., and will be followed by a Question & Answer session; questions to the archbishop may be written on cards provided to the audience. The lecture is free and open to the public. It will be podcast by Ancient Faith Radio.

Sure wish I could go!

Read it all.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Praying for the President's Death

I see that some of our Southern Baptist friends are using Psalm 109:8 as a prayer for the death of President Obama. The verse says: "Let his days be few; and let another take his office" (KJV).

For example, an article over at notes the following about Southern Baptist Pastor Wiley Drake:

What has garnered [Pastor Drake] the most media attention is what he said to national radio talk show host Alan Colmes in June.

“Are you praying for his death?" Colmes asked Drake, referring to President Obama. "Yes," Drake replied. "So you're praying for the death of the president of the United States?" Colmes asked. "Yes." "You would like for the president of the United States to die?" Colmes asked once more. "If he does not turn to God and does not turn his life around, I am asking God to enforce imprecatory prayers that are throughout the Scripture that would cause him death, that's correct."

Pastor Drake is not alone:

Pastor Steve Anderson of Faithful World Baptist Church in Tempe, Ariz., also incorporates this form of prayer in his worship. In fact, Frederick Clarkson of Religion Dispatches surmises that Anderson inspired one regular attendant of Faithful World Baptist, 28-year-old Chris Broughton, to show up to a speech by the president with two guns in hand when he issued the following sermon:

"You’re going to tell me that I’m supposed to pray for the socialist devil, murderer, infanticide, who wants to see young children, and he wants to see babies killed through abortion and partial-birth abortion and all these different things," Anderson said, referring to President Obama. "Nope. I’m not gonna pray for his good. I’m going to pray that he dies and goes to hell."

The article continues by nothing that Psalm 109 "is now a top Google search" and that this prayer "even inspired a line of bumper stickers and T-shirts that sinisterly read 'Pray for Obama,' while pointing to the Psalm, and in particular, the passage that calls for an end to present leadership."

Read it all.

My initial response was to say that it's one thing to oppose (even angrily or bitterly oppose) the President's policy initiatives and his positions on particular moral issues. But it's quite another thing to actively pray for his death and for his eternal damnation in hell. That's morally evil. And it's anti-Christian.

In response to all of this, I also recalled a particular passage from a New Testament epistle:

We know that we have passed from death to life because we love one another. Whoever does not love abides in death. All who hate a brother or sister are murderers, and you know that murderers do not have eternal life abiding in them (1 John 3:14-15 NRSV).

Using Psalm 109:8 as an imprecatory prayer for the President's death is a striking and disturbing example of abiding in death.

But let's say that a Christian genuinely regards the President as an enemy. I believe someone in a position of authority had something to say that's relevant to that scenario, too:

But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27 NRSV).

The person who invoked theological ethicist Stanley Hauerwas in response to a piece on this over at Faith and Theology has a point. Here's what Hauerwas says:

"Most North American Christians assume that they have a right, if not an obligation, to read the Bible. I challenge that assumption. No task is more important that for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America. Let us no longer give the Bible to all children when they enter the third grade or whenever their assumed rise to Christian maturity is marked, such as eighth-grade commencements. Let us rather tell them and their parents that they are possessed by habits far too corrupt for them to be encouraged to read the Bible on their own."

When Christians use the Bible to pray for the death and damnation of other people, it does, indeed, suggest that such persons possess corrupt habits that disqualify them from reading the Bible on their own. Perhaps it should also disqualify them from exercising the authority to teach and preach as well. I'd wager that the writer of the first epistle of John would agree.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Epiphany and Theophany

Perhaps for selfish reasons, I can't help but post something today, the Feast of the Epiphany (for the Western Church) and the Feast of Theophany (for the Eastern Orthodox). After all, it's my birthday!

Fr. Tony Clavier makes important connections between Epiphany and evangelism in his recent blog posting:

It is hard for us to adjust to the new reality. Most people in our communities are not practicing Christians. The old loyalty to one’s “denomination” has largely evaporated. People “shop” for church, and make their choice often on the basis on the “program” a church offers, it’s youth activities, singles’ club, or contemporary worship. There are a good number who don’t look for a church. They can’t see how what Christians do has any relevance to the life they live and the problems they face. Many churches in our area are barely surviving, living off endowments, and peopled by aging parishioners who cling to the old way of doing things to please those who attend and particularly those who have attended the longest!

Yet the Feast of the Epiphany reminds us of our calling to be communities with The Message. Jesus didn’t tell us to construct local Upper Rooms, where we could huddle “for fear.” Instead he told us to “Go Tell” about Him. If evangelism is about recruitment, it is about recruiting people who will join us in using the local building as base camp from which we reach out into the community. Talking about a church “home” is really rather bad. Homes are comfortable places. They exist for us. The church exists for others.

Read it all.

Then there's Fr. Stephen's reflections on the Orthodox Feast of Theophany:

Today marks one of the greatest feasts of the Orthodox year (New Calendar), the Feast of Theophany, Christ’s Baptism in the Jordan river. Across the world Orthodox Christians will gather after the Liturgy to bless the waters: the ocean, a river, a spring, etc. ...

For Theophany is the feast of Christ’s baptism – and baptism, St. Paul tells us is a baptism into the death of Christ. His Baptism is a prefigurement of His death. Thus the waters of the Jordan are revealed as Hades. Christ’s descent into the waters becomes his descent into Hades where he “leads captivity captive” (Ephesians 4:8) and sets free those who have been held in bondage to death. ...

Theophany is a proclamation to nature itself of Christ’s salvation. Our lives have plenty of “dragons,” in all shapes and sizes. But Christ is victorious over everything that would destroy his creation – particularly the people who are His own.

Read it all.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Archbishop of Canterbury's New Year Message

See also Ruth Gledhill's article on the Archbishop's message at The Times.

Ten Point Program for Orthodox Life

As we begin a new year, it's a fitting time to take stock of our spiritual lives. The Baptismal Covenant and the Litany of Penitence in the Ash Wednesday liturgy (both in The Book of Common Prayer) are excellent resources for making such inventory. I've also come across a helpful Eastern Orthodox resource called the "Ten Point Program for Orthodox Life." Here it is:

1. Praying Daily: Have a regular prayer rule that includes morning and evening prayer.
2. Worshiping and Participating in Sacraments: Attend and participate in the Divine Liturgy receiving Holy Communion regularly as well as regular participation in Confession.
3. Honoring the Liturgical Cycle of the Church: Follow the seasons of the church and participate in the fasts and feasts of the Church.
4. Using the Jesus Prayer: Repeat the Holy name whenever possible throughout the day or night.
5. Slowing Down and Ordering Your Life: Set priorities and reduce the stress and friction caused by a hurried life.
6. Being Watchful: Give full attention to what you are doing at the moment.
7. Taming the Passions: Overcome your habits, attachment to your likes and dislikes, and learn to practice the virtues..

8. Putting Others First: Free yourself from your selfishness and find joy in helping others.
9. Spiritual Fellowship: Spend time regularly with other Orthodox Christians for support and inspiration.:
10. Reading the Scriptures and Holy Fathers: Be inspired by the lessons of the Holy Scriptures, the wisdom of the Holy Fathers and the lives of the Saints of the Church.

You can also download a 32-page booklet that goes into these points in greater detail.

Thanks to Deacon Haralambos (Charles) Joiner of St. George Greek Orthodox Cathedral in Greenville, SC for bringing this to our attention on his blog Orthodox Way of Life.