New Year, Same Prayer | Jan 8, 2021

Weekend Digest 2021:1
January 8
Friday in the Octave of Epiphany

Dear St. B’s family —

Greetings and Happy New Year! 

In this first Digest for 2021, I’d wanted to start on an upbeat note, but like many of you, I was dismayed at the violence at the Capitol this week. Still thinking about it as I type today, and I don’t feel very upbeat. On New Year’s Day, the Most Rev’d Michael Curry, our Presiding Bishop, had given an interview to Judy Woodruff of the PBS NewsHour calling the time we’re living through a “perfect storm of a pandemic, a racial reckoning, and a polarized American society.” Read the full article >>> here. This week’s events certainly seemed to confirm his observation.

My family lived in Washington, DC, for a time, and I recall the days surrounding the inauguration of a new president as being exciting and optimistic ones, and feeling that our tradition of a peaceful transfer of power was something to be legitimately proud of in a world where revolutions and coups d’etat were often the norm. But I didn’t feel optimistic watching my TV this week. I was moved by what my friend and Dean of our cathedral church, Fr. Timothy Kimbrough, wrote on Wednesday:

It is the vocation of Christians and the Church at large to work for peace by way of peace-making. As disciples of Christ, you and I must eschew civil violence of every kind. Now is the time to condemn today’s barbarity in Washington, D.C. in no uncertain terms and in the name of Jesus Christ. Read the full email >>>here.

Timothy Kimbrough

So we begin 2021 as we ended 2020 — praying for peace in a divided world. But we aren’t called just to passively intercede for the world; we’re called to actively love it. Yesterday’s epistle at mass was 1 John 3, which says “Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and truth.” It’s all the more providential, then, that 2021 started with that interview with Bishop Curry because his is a clarion call not just to prayer but to love. And not a sentimental kind of love, either — he advocates a vigorous, sinewy love that’s absolutely committed to the good of the other. It’s what you’ve heard me call a “my life for yours” kind of love, the kind of love Jesus embodied. Bishop Curry again: 

When we live like that, then Congress can work. When we live like that, then the economy can work. When we live like that, then there is equal opportunity for all. You see what I’m getting at? Love is not a sentiment. It’s a commitment to the common good. (Emphasis mine)

Bishop Michael Curry

And that’s what I want St. B’s to be about. Let that kind of love fill the sails of our Barque — sharing the good news of the reign of God with the world; worshiping with reckless abandon; and serving the poor, the other, the one without position or power or privilege. May this year find us wholly committed to the common good, and see where that takes us.

Speaking of the Barque — this year I hope to talk about “stewardship” more expansively than I have before. The word actually doesn’t originate from the financial sphere, you know. It emerges from many passages of Sacred Scripture, from Genesis and the NT epistles, and most of all from the teachings of Jesus, specifically the Parable of the Talents. Stewardship is faithfully asking how we can “manage or look after” the gifts God’s entrusted to our care — not just our financial resources. So in Epiphany we begin “Seasons of Stewardship,” a series of windows of time throughout the calendar year when we’ll ask how we’ll we’re stewarding everything from the earth, our time/talent/treasure, even our own bodies. The question I want us asking in this first season is about stewarding our spheres of influence. Our networks of relationships. Epiphany is a season of light, so how are we taking light into the dark places we inhabit? How can we love our friends, neighbors, relatives, associates who may be in a dark place at the moment? The vestry and I are thinking about how we’re doing that as a church (you’ll hear more at the Annual Meeting in a couple weeks about how we’re striving toward a “tithe” of our budget going to outreach), and I invite you to ask it about your own life, specifically where you might be able to take the light of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ in this new year. 

A way I consider my network of relationships is to think of an oikos,a Greek word that means “household,” but in this context it means my primary base of relationships and sphere of influence — my family, friends, neighbors, coworkers. I was introduced to “oikos evangelism” in seminary through a classic book by Michael Green called Evangelism in the Early Church. This article >>> here says: “In our COVID-19 world, these are people “inside the bubble,” quoting Green as saying:“Christian missionaries made a deliberate point of gaining whatever households they could as lighthouses, so to speak, from which the gospel could illuminate the surrounding darkness.” I’m not saying we keep our head on a swivel looking for folks to “witness” to so we can “win more souls” to Christ, but that we trust God is leading us to people to bless in his name and for his sake. As the Prayer to St. Raphael the Archangel (click >>> here), which Flannery O’Connor prayed every day, asks:

Lead us toward those we are waiting for,
those who are waiting for us.

In this season of stewarding our spheres of influence, Read more about “oikos evangelism” >>> here.

In the meantime . . . I hope you’re still finding some time to rest, read, reflect, and even listen to some great music during the remaining winter months. Here’s what I’m consuming:

  • If you’re looking for choral music for Christmas and Epiphany, my go-to is a Soundcloud playlist from the Choir of the Church of the Advent where I served in Boston: click >>> here. The staff have also put together an Epiphany playlist that I give a thumbs up to. Find it on Spotify >>> here and on Apple Music >>> here
  • My Flannery and I subscribed to Peacock ( click >>> here — it’s free, for now) just so we could keep watching episodes of “the Office” at the end of the day — it’s my current favorite elixir to soothe a troubled spirit.
  • And I’m enjoying the photography of Coco Liu, a Chicago-based iPhone photographer who chronicles the urban landscape around him. I love cities — the bigger the better — but I’m also fascinated with ways the built environment can abut the natural world, like this shot from Liu’s Instagram account >>> here. More about cities and the built environment in future Digests, I assure you!

That’s it for this week. I leave you with the same prayer the Presiding Bishop shared on social media and via the Living Church earlier this week:

For Peace
Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen. 

God bless you and guide our nation in the way of justice and peace —

Fr. Sammy

A Few of My Favorite Things | Dec. 18, 2020

Weekend Digest 2020:2
December 18

Greetings, St. B’s Family —

This is probably my favorite week of the year — the days are still growing infinitesimally shorter until the solstice (I love winter — the darker and colder, the better!), Christmas is still out in front of us (I prefer my gratification delayed yet a little longer still, thank you very much), and by now packages have begun appearing under the Rectory tree. And some are book-shaped — my favorite kind! A while ago, I collected a wonderful word — Tsundoku: n. “Leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with other unread books.”Those book-like wrapped shapes under our tree may add to my stack. I love the word “tsundoku” for the same reason I love the week before the solstice and the days before Christmas — it’s all about anticipation. About potential. I first came across the word in a review of Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan. 

Umberto Eco among his love, books.

The reviewer, Maria Popova, quoted Taleb writing about medievalist and author Umberto Eco:

Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and non-dull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others — a very small minority — who get the point that a private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

Nassim Taleb

Read Popova’s review >>> here. It’s an act of humility to build a library of what you don’t know. I thought about that often this year when we saw such divides in our country over issues of race, public health, politics — you name it; we found a way to disagree about it. The thing about books is not just that they can teach us truths. They can also correct misperceptions we may not even know we have. I don’t know who said it (Mark Twain?), but the quip seems more axiomatic to me this year than ever: It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so. 

A small sample of Father Sammy’s book collection

If you have room under your tree, maybe buy yourself a copy of Alan Jacobs’ Breaking Bread with the Dead. Jacobs is one of my favorite writers (his The Year of Our Lord 1943: Christian Humanism in an Age of Crisis was a gift from Renee last Christmas and became one of my favorite reads in 2020). Jacobs’ thesis in Breaking Bread is that life in an environment of “high informational density” like ours (we’re awash in a sea of information from Twitter to The News Hour) tends to produce people of “low personal density.” We’re whipsawed by the most recent “fact” we’ve encountered. Jacobs: “A World that seems to give us infinite choice actually makes a choice nearly impossible: the informational context chooses for us. And what that means is . . . our web of information determines what we love.” So he proposes we read broadly, and specifically that we read old books, voices from outside our time, speaking from without our presuppositions and biases. It’s a necessary corrective to our wandering hearts, a way to cultivate virtue, which Augustine called “rightly ordered love.”
For some shorter fare, let me recommend two pieces from Breaking Ground, a web commons collaborative between Comment Magazine and Plough Quarterly (both of which I ravenously consume when they appear in my mailbox), along with the Davenant Institute. One piece is by my friend Leah Libresco Sargeant, and the other is from her husband, Alexi, whom I’ve yet to meet. Both write beautifully and have turned their attention, in different ways, to the world emerging from Covidtide. Leah compares the current state of the world to life on a “generation ship,” a kind of interstellar ark traveling at sub-light speed, leaving our world in search of inhabitable planets off-earth. 

A generation ship spans the wide gap of time between planets. No one aboard at the beginning of the journey expects to see the destination. They commit to the ship in order that their children, or their children’s children’s children will see and reach the promised end. Delivering on the promises of a generation ship requires committing to specific practices of stewardship.

Leah Libresco Sargeant

Leah proposes (>>>here) an ethic designed not to make our lives resemble “normal” in the middle of a disaster but to enable us to rebuild better. 
We aim to conserve the best of our old lives and to discover new strengths and traditions as we go. A generation-ship mentality embraces the continuing crucible as an invitation to become more deeply rooted in what matters most, to leave behind whatever evils we’ve allowed to accumulate, and to discover new gifts. We can’t narrow our vision to only work toward what will be won in one lifetime.
Or, as Wendell Berry would say: “Plant sequoias.” Alexi’s piece, “Small Apocalypses,” begins with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, quotes G. K. Chesterton, and ends with this beautiful resolution:

Let us wake up to ways the world ends every day, responding with compassion when we encounter others going through one slow-motion apocalypse or another. But let us also not turn a blind eye to the grace-filled apocalypses of first steps, surprising kindnesses, and new possibilities. Just because a baby, for example, is a small and ordinary being doesn’t mean she is not also an apocalyptic prophet, tearing with tiny hands at the veil that keeps us looking only at what is and not at what ought to be.

Alexi Sargeant

Wow. Wish I’d written that.
God bless and keep you these long winter nights —

Fr. Sammy
P.S. When you’ve worked through the playlists I shared last week, maybe check out this one >>>here from my friend Mother Beth Maynard. Any Advent playlist that starts with Johnny Cash — I want in on that.

From the Rector | December 10, 2021

Weekend Digest 2020:1
December 10, 2020

Greetings, St. B’s Family —

Perhaps you noticed, during the pandemic I got into a habit of sending you a midweek check-in every week because there was always something to report, an announcement to make, prayers to request. Starting this week, I’m going to switch it up a little for a while — the midweek email from St. B’s will be the E-News with info and links for all that’s coming up around the parish, and my personal check-in will move to most Fridays. Moving it closer to the weekend allows me to share information that may not be as time-sensitive but that I hope you’ll find intriguing, and then you have the weekend to check it out if you’re so inclined. It may be something about one of the parts of our Barque of St. Bartholomew, something I’m reading, a question that’s nagging me, or maybe just a podcast I’m listening to. We’re calling it the Rector’s Weekend Di·gest, seeing as how a digest is a compilation or summary of material or information. Whatever that information is from week to week, I hope you’ll find something that catches your imagination.

For this inaugural edition, let’s do start with something from the Barque — You’ll remember our sails are Evangelism, Serving the Poor, and Worship, each supported by a mast of Formation and held in the hull of our Community. In this year, when we’ve been forced out of our building, which we all love, I’ve thought a lot about the church’s essence and our essential work of worship and serving in the world. In what way are we — the Church — our building, our physical structure? And in what way might the pandemic push us out into the world to do the work God’s given us to do? 

Way back last December, in a longread for The Point Magazine called “A Serious House,” James Chappel wrote:

The earliest and purest Christians had no inkling of the yawning granite structures that would one day symbolize the faith. For them, the church was ambulatory, representing the spirit of Christian assembly operating within social structures, like yeast in dough, rather than confronting them from without. Instead of viewing the church as a “fortified castle,” [Jacques] Maritain urged, “we must think of an army of stars thrown across the sky.” Maritain called for the church to spill its way back into the streets, bringing the mission of Christian love and even revolution with it . . . . Catholics on the ground should be working with anyone, atheists included, in the pursuit of a vision he thought that many shared: a society of tolerance, diversity and freedom. 

[In the church of Chappel’s youth, he says] I remember a place where imperfect people gathered in an attempt to make sense of an imperfect world, and where old words and old music combined to create something like beauty. Some people can find these things in secular places, but many cannot. And the list of secular institutions in which racially and economically diverse populations come together to confront moral questions with any degree of seriousness is not a long one . . . . We need now, more than ever, the sort of space that [poet Philip] Larkin presumed to be a relic of the past: “a serious house on serious earth,” and one “proper to grow wise in.”

I love that image — an army of stars thrown across the sky. In this season of lengthening shadows, we call Advent, and my prayer has been for us to be found that way — wherever the pandemic throws us, that our worship will form us, our Christian Formation offerings will shape us, such that we want nothing more than to go with God’s light into dark places. 

While I’m rereading that piece and typing those words, I’m sitting by the fire in the Rectory, listening to Advent music, which I do a lot. Our staff put together a fantastic “Come and Behold” Playlist on Spotify (I bet you can’t tell which staff member recommended which songs. Find the links >>>here). For more traditional tunes from our Anglican patrimony, the church where I served in Boston has a playlist on Soundcloud >>>here, and here’s another one I love that I found on Spotify >>>here.

And speaking of the Rectory — Here’s your weekly snippet of theological miscellany: Many Protestant church communities don’t maintain homes for their clergy, preferring to include a housing allowance as part of their compensation. Others, however, still do. For instance, Roman Catholic priests, having taken a vow of poverty, own little property and must live in what the church provides. Here are some terms for clergy housing:

Parsonage – Many protestant churches
Rectory – Episcopal, Roman Catholic, Church of England
Manse – Presbyterian, Lutheran
Vicarage – Church of England
Episcopal Residence – Methodist bishops

And my personal favorite –

Palace – Old term for the residence of an Anglican or Catholic bishop, one still used for Lambeth Palace, the London residence of our chief prelate, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Boy, those were the days, huh? 

From our palace to yours, I hope you have a restful and blessed weekend!

Fr. Sammy

P.S. Don’t forget to drop by Kathy Edwards’ pop-up boutique: Original art, home accessories, candles, jewelry, notecards, and clothing. All proceeds benefit New Life Restoration Ministries. Items are not individually priced — you decide how much to pay. She’s open during daylight hours, Monday-Saturday, December 11-18 at her home, 1110 Stonewall Drive.