Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Prom Night In Austin, Nevada

I just love my job!

Last Saturday, I drove the loneliest road in America (Hy 50), the old Pony Express Trail, from Tahoe to Austin. As I came around a small mountain, I looked out over a tan-gold plain at sunset to see the snowcapped peaks of the Toiyable Range (Nevada's 2nd longest of 312 mountain ranges, a range with glacial features going back to the Pleistocene era), and had to press hard on my faith to believe a site so beautiful could be real.

Then came a solo supper at the Toiyabe Cafe next door to our little Church. The Toiyabe Cafe is down home and unpretentious with antlers on its walls. As I was savoring my Ortega Burger, in came 4 teenagers dressed to the 9's in evening attire surprisingly well fitting. The girls were super dolled up. Their hair must have taken hours to fix. They were embarrassed by their finery and giggling compuslively to each other. The boys one could understand only if one had been a boy and had some vague memory of it. (Mine is fading.) They were awed and terrified by the girls. Mysterium tremendum, mysterim fascinans. And so they were ignoring the girls with all their might. The nervous girls sought solace in mutual silliness; the hapless boys, in mutual dufusness and thereby avoided each other.

After rehearsing for an ordination, and moving into a room at my beloved Pony Canyon Motel, I strolled down to the International Bar. It was much as you would expect. A dark, Western bar with predicatable personalities sitting on the stools. Vic, the weathered Serbian bar tender was playing pool with Jay, the 32 year old smiling Native American (I'm guessing Western Shoshone) wearing a cowboy hat.

On the largish tv in the corner, The Lion In Winter was showing. Stop to remember this film classic to grasp the incongruity. I got a table and watched the medieval drama unfold:

Alice: Do you know what I want for Christmas? I want to see you suffer.
Eleanor of Aquataine: Alice, just for you.
And the two women, wife and lover of Henry II respectively, fall into each others arms weeping.

Meanwhile a large overweight dog, whom I will learn at Church the next day is named Oso, wanders about. A woman comes in, sees Oso, and goes back to fetch her Pomeranian puppy, who trots up and down the bar -- not the floor, literally, the bar.

Lion ends. Next film: the 1932 black and white production of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde for which Frederick March received the Oscar for Best Actor. The ranks on the bar stools are thinning out. The intimacy of the truly faithful begins to inform their discourse. The woman with the Pomeranian confesses she is saving her money for a breast reduction surgery. The guys at the bar are mightily opposed. Vic leaves the room, comes back, flings a Bible onto the bar, gives it to the woman as a gift, insisting she study the Bible diligently and it will reveal to her God's opinion of breast reduction surgery. She takes the Bible and promises to study it thoroughly.

I am not called into this conversation -- fortunately. However, Vic does learn I am a bishop and occasionally refers the patrons to me for guidance. They look at me, laugh nervously, then look away and change the subject. But as they leave, they each and every one come by to shake hands.

The next day, our new priest, Darla, tells me about Dynamite Bob who works at the Toiyabe. He bought a house up the hill, probed about in the basement and found several very old cases of dynamite. He stuffed sticks of dynamite in his pockets, walked downtown, and attempted to trade the dynamite for drinks. The bomb squad was called and it was an exciting day in Austin.

Truly, there is no better town for us to have a Church.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Post Christain America

The recent Newsweek cover story on The Decline And Fall Of Christian America drove me up a wall because it was so badly reasoned and the analysis was both shallow and illogical. I don't have any quarrel with the claim that America is becoming increasingly less Christian. Nevada is still pre-Christian and we are doing fine. So that's not what got to me.

First, the basic fact he worked from was a survey showing a decline in people's association with any kind of faith community. It was't about a relative decline of Christiainity. He reasoned from this that the agenda of the Christian right had failed. Where did that come from? There was nothing about a decline in reactionary religion as opposed to progressive religion.

He went on to engage in sweeping generaliztions about the Chisitan social and political perspective, assuming we were all members of the Christian Coalition forces, and concluded that the decline of Christiainity will make for a freer, more just society. Hello, anybody read William Stringfellow, Daniel Berrigan, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, Catherine de Hoek Doherty, John Sobrino, Gustavo Gutierrez. the Boff brothers. Anybody read the resolutions of our House of Bishops. Or even the pastoral letters of the American Roman Catholic bishops. We might add Amos, Jeremiah, Jesus, Paul, Wilberforce, and on and on and on. We are not all Jerry Falwell, for goodness sake. And then the unkindest cut of all, the guy who is painting us all with the Ralph Reed brush says he is an Episcopalian !!!

Finally, just to twist the knife of bad philosophy: he alludes to Augusine's statement that a people are united by their common love. Yes, true. What do American's love? Freedom, he says -- which turns out to mean the libertarian view that each of us should love whatever we want to -- there is really no common love so we are not really a people. What we want is just to be left alone -- no inconvenient moral obligations to justice, equality, beauty, mercy, any of those bothers. The author probably does not realize what he is trying to espouse is a naive and simplisitic version of the political philosophy of John Rawls. He is looking for a "thin theory of the good" -- a basic set of social goods that are necessary to actually allow us all to seek our individual vision of the good. But wait, just legalizing things doesn't make them possible. Rawls knew that -- so we have to have a floor of economic security, we need roofs over our heads, we need law enforcement, fire protection, and infrastructure. We need healthcare and education. Even Rawls' thin theory of the good turns out to be pretty thick -- and it is the view of the good supported by the social teachings of the Episcopal Church, the Catholic Church, and all the mainline Protestant Churches -- a far, far cry from what Newsweek attributes to us.

Ok, rant over. The cultural norm of conformist Chrisitainity really is in decline in America. A word from those of us here in the Wild West where cultural Chrisitainity never took hold. It's a mixed thing. The Church here is more alive, more vibrant, more authentic, because no one here is worshiping becasue their neighbors expect them to or becasue they hope to meet a business contact at Sunday School. Our people are real deal Chrisitans -- and that makes us considerably more energetic and interesting. The decline of cultural Chistiainity is a spirutal liberation for us.

The downside is for the folks outside our walls. The social indicators of despair -- suicide, alocoholism, other addictions -- are higher where the Church is weaker. There are ample medical studies showing that the unchurched are less healthy. Being a minority is not a spiritual privilege. It means we have to roll up our sleeves and spread some authentic gospel in a lonely, alienated, disempowered, despairing society. Lives are not fully lived. People do not become fully themselves. Souls are twisted and shrunk where the gospel is not shared.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Statement on the Enviornment from Western Bishops

The House of Bishops
Province VIII
of the Episcopal Church

April 21, 2009
Beloved in Christ,
We are writing to each of you about one of the most urgent issues facing our world today: global climate change, a crisis caused by rapid increases in the emissions of global warming gasses such as carbon dioxide. Most leading climate scientists believe that we have a very limited time in which to address this situation effectively. We must act quickly and decisively if we are to avert catastrophic and irreversible changes to life on this planet. Climate change is already affecting people around the world, particularly those living in or near poverty.
Our recent meetings at Canterbury with colleagues from across the Anglican Communion at Lambeth have caused us to become more acutely aware of the gravity of the challenge that we face. We know what is ahead if we don’t find a way to change course quickly: more droughts and floods around the world, more severe storms, a rise in infectious diseases, desperate shortages of fresh water, millions of environmental refugees, and, as one study recently reported, a possible sea level rise of seven feet within this century.
As Christians, we proclaim that God created the Earth and that God delights in it (“God saw everything that [God] had made, and indeed, it was very good,” Genesis 1:31). God entrusted the Earth to human care, and as faithful stewards of God’s Creation, we need to understand the devastating impacts that global climate change will have and is already having on human communities around the world. As faithful witnesses to the power of the Risen Christ, we need to work together to become healers of God’s Creation and to do everything in our power to reduce the world’s output of greenhouse gas pollution.
We ask each of you as members of this province, as dioceses, as family members, neighbors, and citizens to respond to this crisis in ways that bring healing to our Earth and all its creatures. We appeal to you:
• As members of a congregation
We ask that you establish a faith and environment group in your congregation. We ask you to support it in determining your church’s carbon footprint (your production of greenhouse gases from lights, heat, and other sources) and in completing an energy audit of all your buildings. We ask you to take measures to increase energy efficiency and conservation throughout your church, and to educate each other about sustainable living. We ask that you engage in this work with our young members, those who will live out their lives in the world we leave for them.
• As members of a household
We ask that you assess your personal and family carbon footprints, and find ways to decrease and offset your greenhouse gas pollution. For instance, where possible, walk rather than drive, or use public transportation. Turn the heat down; avoid or turn up the air conditioner. Re-use, re-cycle, and buy products that are re-cycled. Use compact fluorescent bulbs, and turn off unneeded lights.
• As citizens
We encourage you to advocate for public policies at local, regional, national, and international levels that serve to decrease global warming emissions, conserve fossil fuels, and build an economy that is based on clean, safe, and renewable energy. We urge you to vote for political candidates who will help our country make a swift transition to clean, safe, and renewable energy. We urge you to support the Millennium Development Goals developed by the United Nations, which include preserving the natural environment as an essential part of relieving human suffering around the world. As Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori commented in her testimony to the U.S. Senate in 2007, “We cannot triumph over global poverty… unless we also address climate change, as the two phenomena are intimately related.”
• As Episcopalians preparing for General Convention
We urge you to support the Genesis Covenant, an initiative by which the Episcopal Church will commit to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from every facility it maintains by a minimum of 50% in ten years ( We urge you to encourage delegates not to buy bottled water, but instead to bring metal or ceramic water bottles that can be refilled with tap water.
There are numerous resources available to support us. Some dioceses have formed diocesan-level Care for Creation groups, such as the Bishop’s Committee for the Environment in the Diocese of Olympia. Province VIII also has a Faith and Environment network that will gladly assist you in identifying which measures to take, and in networking with other congregations and dioceses that want to become better stewards of God’s Creation. (Chris Christensen convenes this network; she can be reached at
The Genesis Covenant website offers a helpful list of theological and practical resources for greening congregations and households, such as David Gershon’s Low Carbon Diet: A 30 Day Program to Lose 5000 Pounds []. The website of The Regeneration Project and Interfaith Power and Light offers a wide range of resources, including an online store for energy-efficient products and a tool for calculating your church’s carbon footprint (

This is a crucial moment in human history, a time when people of faith have a powerful opportunity to bear witness to hope. As author and environmentalist Bill McKibben has observed, this is the kind of time for which the church was born.
We ask that you pray about this challenge, that you seek wisdom and guidance for your decisions and responses, and that you trust in God’s goodness and love for each of you.
Emboldened by the Spirit given to us by the crucified and risen Christ, we have an opportunity to proclaim: our reverence for the Earth that God has given us to cherish and protect; our commitment to the poor, who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change; and our concern for future generations, who depend on us to pass on to them a habitable world.
With God, In Christ and By the Holy Spirit,
The Rt. Rev. Marc Andrus, Bishop of California
The Rt. Rev. Barry Beisner, Bishop of Northern
The Rt. Rev. Steven Charleston, Suffragan Bishop of California
The Rt. Rev. Dan Edwards, Bishop of Nevada
The Rt. Rev. Sanford Hampton, Bishop of Oregon
The Rt. Rev. Carolyn Irish, Bishop of Utah
The Rt. Rev. James Mathes, Bishop of San Diego
The Rt. Rev. Mary Gray-Reeves, Bishop of El Camino Real
The Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel, Bishop of Olympia
The Rt. Rev. Nedi Rivera, Bishop Suffragan, Diocese of Olympia & Bishop of Eastern Oregon
The Rt. Rev. Kirk Smith, Bishop of Arizona
The Rt. Rev. James E. Waggoner, Bishop of Spokane

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Life On The Moon

I am reading David Kranes' Low Tide In The Desert, a collection of Nevada short stories out of UNR press. One is "Life On The Moon." It is about a brilliant but sadly deranged college boy from Tonopah. He goes to college back East and meets a girl from the Eastern Seaboard in his freshman year. They fall in love and he calls her Ondine, a reference to a mermaid. He then has to go back home for the summer, where of course no one understands him. In his letters to Ondine, he says he has gone to the moon. I love this passage.

"The moon is composed as follows. Sixty percent sandstone. Twentyfive percent sand. Seven percent porous white bones (mostly skulls and spines). Three percent bleached lumber. One percent bomb testing sites. One percent casinos and motels. One percent human beings and lizzards. The texture everywhere is like pumice. The topography is pocked and cratered and uneven. There is no Time here. An early probe tried to bring Time to the moon, but it could not survive. Time died. Its remains are in a museum in Reno. School children go and look through the glass at it and have no comprehension. Time is 97 percent water."

Nevada produces some great writers only some of whom are named Laxalt.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Low Sunday In Bullhead City

It was low Sunday at Holy Spirit, Bullhead City, but still a healthy turnout of 34 people including 4 first time visitors and 3 folks to be received. More green shoots than I saw last year on a higher Sunday. On Easter they had 11 children present. Not bad for a congregation that was understandably greying. Bullhead is a retirement Mecca. I met several other people, other than the visitors, who I am quite sure were not there last year. All in all, quite a bit of vitality out there in the Mojave.

They were once again quite warm and welcoming, though they do miss Fr. Lionel whenever he is not there and the downside of my annual visit is that they miss their priest who serves at St. Matthew's when I am covering Holy Spirit. Fr. Lionel has served this congregation faithfully and they are flourishing with his care. Fr. Tim Swonger also drives down to Bullhead from Las Vegas once a month. Holy Spirit would be fantastic if they had more support, but they are doing great with what they've got, and they are getting more support than other congregations like Pioche, Tonopah, and Yerrington. We are doing our best with the loaves and fishes in our basket.

The stress of the day for that congregation is that the Water Company has retroactively changed them from residential to commercial billing, which will wipe out half their bank account tonight. I talked with them about ways to deal with the Water Company and suggested ways the Dioceese might help if that doesn't work. It's church in the real world. Boilers. Roofs. And utility bills. All the stuff that people can skip by being "spiritual but not religious" -- meaning keeping their faith unsullied by reality. As for me, I'll cast my lot with the real folks at Bullhead trying to be Christains while the Imperial Water Company sends in the lions.

One troubling question: I stopped off at Cafe 95 on my way out of town for a caffeine fix for the road. In response to my polite inquiries about her welll-being, the waitress said. "I'm doing alright -- for a Sunday -- not my favorite workday." To which I replied, "I guess you get pretty busy." She said, "Yeah but the problem is customers on Sunday are so rude!" "Why do you suppose that is?" I asked. She said, "I guess they've just gotten yelled at for an hour." Hmmm. Yes, I was in full purple shirted, pectoral cross, backward collar clerical attire. She knew quite well who she was talking to, and thought I needed to know this.

I hope our preachers don't yell at people for an hour, but it does make me wonder what kind of mood are our folks in as they go out into the world? How do they treat the world while they are freshly washed in the dew of faith? And what might we need to learn from the Fellowship For Faith In Daily Life? Have you ever been cut off in traffic by a driver with a religous emblem on his or her car? I have. It made me feel irreligious. Are we proclaiming gospel out in the world? Are we empowering each other to proclaim gospel when we gather for worship? When it comes to gospel sharing of God's love, are we doing more harm than good? Are we getting the word out that we do Christainity differently and are we doing it differently enough to make a difference? Just questions to ponder.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Standing Committee At Work

The first 3 hours of Saturday morning were at a Standing Committee meeeting on Skype. I am proud of this group first of all for its sound stewadship of diocesan funds by meeting on line instead of spending the money on travel.

I was again struck by how faithful, competent, insightful, and sagacious our leadership is in this Diocese. Not all bishops are so blessed. I am truly grateful.

The SC tended to all sorts of business matters like approving a $25,000 loan at 2% to St. Timothy's for a desperately needed heat pump. They approved ordinations and did all the required canonical stuff. They surveyed the doings of the diocese, reveiewed the finances, and did all those things it is so much easier not to think about. I am glad they do.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Prophet Nathan or Cardinal Richilieu

I spent yesterday morning in league with RESULTS, Bread for the World, and the Soroptomists (4 of us in all) doing MDG advocacy with two of Sentator Reid's aides. Today, I was at a large meeting at Mandalay Bay hosted by Senator Reid to discuss ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009) aka the stimulus package.

I am not used to all this political stuff, don't know how to act -- can't tell if I'm supposed to be Nathan or Richilieu. Actually though, the Senator's staff were a class act. They knew their facts -- both the underlying facts of the situations and the political realities of what can and cannot be achieved this year. I felt heard and understood.

There were a lot of administation people from various departments and agencies today. It was a bit of information overload. Clearly a shotgun approach to the stimulus. I hope some good will come of it. We have some folks whose lives are severely impacted by this economic crunch. I plan to pass on some of what I heard to folks in the diocese who might be able to make good use of it. I am particularly interested in several programs that make money available to First Nations reservations.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter Adventures

My Easter began at St. Paul's, Sparks with an eclectic and moving Easter Vigil Service. They do good liturgy there in a church well adorned for the occasion with flowers, streamers, candles, and all the trappings. After the service we had a country hoedown with line dancing an country music kicked off by Toby Keith's "I Love This Bar" -- with lyrics espousing a kind of secular inclusive catholicity. A good time was had by all. St. Paul's is a lively place growing larger and younger these days. That's what happens when you put a good bunch of clergy (Kirk, Chip, and Kathy) together with a good bunch of laity.

The next morning was Easter at Pryamid Lake Reservation. Before the early service at Wadsworth, the worship leaders were smudged with sage in the tradional Paiute way of blessing and purifying, comparable to the European use of incense. Ed Ely in Nixon had blessed water from the sacred lake, also using tradional Paiute prayers. We had a huge turnout in Wadworth despite the fact we had fewer than usual baptisms. There were around twice as many people as last year. One of the baptisms was an adult, Norman. He had a broken gas guage on his truck so he ran out of gas on the way to the service but was just barely able to coast to a gas station. Grace abounds, and Norman was determined. Good on him!

At Nixon, we had only one baptism so attendance dipped just slightly, but given the low baptisms, it was really an excellent turnout. And we had a fabulous feast aferward.

We have a special mission on the Reservation. There are practioners of tradtional Native Spirtuality, and there are Protestants who insist that the Native traditions are pagan evils to be deplored by Chrstians. We are the place where First Nations people can stay true to their culture and the ways of their ancestors and follow the gospel of Christ. The gospel is not about European culture. It is a flower that can grow in different soils. Seeing the gospel in these different contexts reaveals its essence and keeps us from confusing it with the social norms of our own backgrounds.

Pryamid Lake Reservation is a place rich in history and tradition. It is also a land with a deep sacredness. I wrote this poem after a solitary visit to the lake during a windstorm.

The wind,
resolute, indomitable,
swoops over bare snow mountains
down, down onto Pyramid Lake,
blue water skidding
away from shore, not to.
windblown mist twin, not spray,
races across, above
the breakers
toward island peaks
– how far?
I stand,
then kneel
at the edge,
dip my fingers
into mysterium tremendum
and cross myself with fascinans.
Then turn,
boots sinking
in wet sand,
face wind-grit stung,
straining toward
any shelter
I can find
from God.

Friday, April 10, 2009

In The Air Again

In a few minutes I head to McCarran to fly North to Reno. This is probably my favorite trip of the year. I am going to celebrate Easter, as generations of Nevada bishops have done, at Pyramid Lake Reservation with the Paiute people. We always have a slew of Baptisms. It is a glorious way to rejoice in Resurrection hope.

Before the joy of Easter morning, this year I will spend the Great Easter Vigil with the saints at St. Paul's, Sparks -- a lively and faithful crew of committed Christians, with a dynamic new rector, the Rev. Kirk Woodliff. I also plan to meet with several folks, including a few who are working on grants to help us resurrect a comprehensive program of Christian formation and ministry development in our Diocese.

The Spirit is particularly moving in the Reno-Sparks area these days. First, St. Steven's, Reno has opened their doors to Faith Lutheran. They are sharing Holy Week and Easter in the wake of a fire that has caused smoke damage to Faith Lutheran's church building. In Fernley, one of our priests and one candidate for priesthood are working with Pastor Paul Theis to build up the new Lutheran Fellowship there. In Virginia City, the Roman Catholic Church building is out of commission for a year's worth of remodelling, so they are worshiping at St. Paul the Prospector.

It isn't about denominations. It's about the gospel. I feel great and our people feel great when we help anyone anywhere share God's love with a world that needs it.

Easter blessings to all of you everywhere. The A word is on the tip of my tongue.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Salvation By Grace Through Faith (?)

First, the confession -- this little series of blogs on the process of salvation has been a Lenten Discipline of mine. Holy Week is waning, so I must hop to with my final post.

Salvation -- not just forgiveness, but a healing and wholeness -- is a gift, not a wage, not an award, not a personal accomplishment (for if it were, then the whole process of ego-trancendence would clench in a Catch 22) but a gift -- received through "faith."

I was on a plane recently sitting beside a woman who was saying how her mother had insisted that certain things must be believed unquestioningly, unthinkingly, because religous teachings are based on "faith" -- meaning blind acceptance of things unevidenced, unreasoned, and not understood. She justifiably objected to such an epistemology.

One test of good religion vs bad religion is whether it grows or diminishes its adherents. A religion that shuts down the mind diminishes it adherents. Thankfully, that is not what "faith" has traditionally meant.

"Faith" is not an opinion embraced or assent to an intellectual truth claim. Faith is an orientation of the heart toward the ultimate mystery. It is not faith that certain facts are true, but trust in the Giver of grace. Faith is actually the opposite of dogmatism. It may be expressed in formularies but the faith is not in the forumlaries. Faith is in the Giver toward whom the formularies feebly point. (I say this as one who is rabidly committed to the regular recitation of the Ancient Creeds.)

Faith is not a closed mind. It is an open heart. Faith is not the opposite of doubt. But faith does insist that when we doubt grace, we doubt our doubt, and so remain open the possibility of miracle and wonder. That openness to possiblity is the open gate through which the grace of salvation passes.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Humanly Engaged Holy Week

Palm Sunday found me at St. Timothy's, Henderson. I feel so welcome there! Their open-hearted hospitaliy must be why they are making such a lovely comeback. After delcining during the national controveries of years gone by, they are now on the way up. New people are joining them. They are a noticeably younger congregation than when I saw them less than a year ago. There are young families, lots of children.

I had the joy of confirming two middle school boys. Their parents and grandparents can be justly proud of them. The children's choir joined the adult choir for a fine musical offering. They have a well designed building for worship. I see good things for this parish.

Holy Monday evening the Interfaith Coalition for Jobs and Housing held their first town hall meeting. Grace in the Desert was there in force. St. Timothy's was strongly represented. A few folks from Christ Church came. I am grateful for their support of this mission. I gave the invocation and participated one of the small groups.

All in all, about 150 people gathered in small groups to tell stories of how the economic crisis has impacted them and those near to them. It was the first time some of the folks had been able to talk about what they are dealing with. A feeling of caring support prevailed. But the goal goes beyond comfort in knowing others are hurting too. The goal is to put a human face on the crisis and do a reality check on the solutions. I hope the silver lining in all this will be to bring the people of this Valley together.

Holy Tuesday began bright and early with a peace rally at the Martin Luther King statue. I blessed about 40 peace activists from Nevada Desert Experience and Pace Bene before their long walk to Creech AFB. They are bunch of good hearted folks gathtered around some veteran Franciscans. Utterly uncompromised with the world.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Consolation & Desolation In The News

Having just finished The Hour I First Believed, a book on the aftemath of Columbine, I am all the more speechless at the killings in Binghamton today. The 14 deaths, the other physical injuries, the PTSD that will afflict survivors -- some for a long, long time -- it is all beyond words.

Meanwhile in Fargo, ND, faced with a certain disaster, volunteers flooded in ahead of the water to make and stack 3 million sandbags!! It takes four people to do one sandbag. The spirit of common concern, the self-giving, the for-otherness -- again it is beyond words.

Such words as grace and salvation must pertain to these things. Some quality of mercy, some moment so of mutuality to overcome the lethal power of alienation -- grace must flow into the lives and deaths in some salving/healing way. Else I do not know how life is livable. Life is livable even in the face of horrors. That is to me perhaps the most mysterious gift.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Some Lines On Grace And Salvation

Wendell Berry's book, Given, is a quiet celebration of grace. Hence, the title. Here are a few lines:

"There is a place you can go
where you are quiet
a place of water and the light

on the water. Trees are there,
leaves, and the light
on leaves moved by air. . . .

This is the time you'd like to stay.
Not a leaf stirs. There is no sound.
the fireflies lift light from the ground.
You've shed the vanities of when
and how and why for now. . . ."

Georgia poet, Judson Mitcham, in his book A Little Salvation, writes:

". . . some days,
the simplest things matter,
and you are fascinated by water, there at the faucet,

watching it flash and break, amazed at being alive,
washing your face."

The comment on my post about grace quoted Rowan Williams as saying salvation has to do with the experience of being, feeling, and knowing that you are seen another way, knowing you are wanted. It is essential to be seen, and also to see. Wendell Berry and Judson Mitcham see grace and salvation in "the simplest things."

Jesus said, "What do you want me to do for you?" "Master," the blind man answered, "I want to see again."

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Salvation By Grace (?) Through Faith

I dont' know whether this line of conversation can go anywhere. It may stall out at the first word. The replies I have gotten suggest that, in the ears of my readers, "salvation" means something "abstract, theoretical, and distant" -- maybe having to do with the afterlife -- and that is by and large not relevant or of concern.

I just need to note that has not been my experience. I have had times of moral and spiritual lostness in which salvation was a "gracious light" a "homecoming," "a hearth of consolation," a sense of coming back to my true self.

A real life metaphor: I was nearly killed by a piece of barbecue chicken not long ago. It went down wrong and I was choking, unable to breathe. A friend at the table did the blessed Heimlich manuever so I am still here. For those moments I could not get my breath, salvation was breath (pneuma, spirit) -- not something distant or theoretical. And I assure you, I have had times of moral and spiritual choking, when life went down wrong, that made me far more desperate for salvation than that piece of chicken.

So all that said, what about "grace?" The word comes from the Greek "charis" meaning a gift. Back when I thought salvation was judicial, I thought grace was the merciful spirit that commuted my sentence. It really is that, but if salvation is something larger than forgiveness, then grace has to be larger too.

Everything is gift. There is creative grace that means there is something rather than nothing becaue God is generous. There is prevenient grace -- the awarenes of a need for God, the God-shaped hole in the human heart is a grace.

So if salvation is something larger than a commuted sentece, something that makes us whole (remember I am not making this up, it's what the word literally means), how is grace involved in that. How does grace grow us into what we were intended to be? How is our very self a grace? How is grace moving in our lives now to form us anew into the likeness of Christ? Into our own unique expression of God as Rahner would put it?