Author Archives: watchingthespaces

About watchingthespaces

I like to watch the spaces between the things that other people see, the overflowing gaps and the chock-full emptiness.

Politics and the Church

Close to the commemoration of the death of a great prophet of our time, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., our 45th president will be sworn into office. To say this election season has been contentious is the understatement of the decade. Verbal bombs have been dropped on all sides, and the rhetoric has been brutal to the point of disbelief. To hold these two events in the life of our country has led some to question whether the National Cathedral’s planned participation is appropriate. The Washington Post posted online: “The Washington National Cathedral, which has long been a gathering spot for symbolic national events, has found itself in the middle of controversy over whether Christians who oppose Donald Trump’s rhetoric should participate in his inauguration. The National Cathedral’s Choir of Men, Boys and Girls will sing at the inauguration on Jan. 20, prompting an outcry from some who don’t believe Christians should participate in a ceremony for Trump, who has been decried for his comments on immigrants, Muslims and other groups. ADVERTISING

invented by Teads

The day after the inauguration, the cathedral will also host an interfaith prayer service, following its tradition for many inaugurations in the past century.” Of course, those Christians who supported Mr. Trump feel exactly the opposite. Is the National Cathedral promoting the same kind of divisiveness that was so prevalent in the election season?

The National Cathedral belongs to the Episcopal Church, and the head of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Michael Curry, posted an excellent response to this. He reminded us that he grew up in a Black Episcopal Church that prayed for civic leaders who opposed their civil rights, blocked their social action and treated them in decidedly unchristian ways. He cited Dr. King’s admonition to his followers (of whom he was one) to pray for all whom you oppose politically, to work for the final end of reconciliation rather than domination, and to work for peace.

In an e-mail I got this morning my brother-in-law, who is an evangelical missionary in central Africa, writes, “During the most recent war in the Central African Republic (C.A.R.), the village of Yaloke suffered much violence between Muslims and non-Muslims (including Christians). Earlier this week a large Christian conference was held there and an incredible thing happened! The sizable Muslim community in the town sent a delegation of representatives tasked with one thing: to ask forgiveness for atrocities committed against Christians.” I asked if the Christians had had the courage to reciprocate.

The National Cathedral has done what faith communities are called to do throughout the ages: to transcend the divisiveness of political machinations and to reach for a higher vision for the social order, one we call a vision of heaven.


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I just read an article in the New York Times Magazine about Bart Campolo, U.S.C.’s humanist chaplain. His father is better known, Tony Campolo, as a witty, compassionate moderate evangelical preacher. I’ve heard his father preach, and it’s highly entertaining. Bart, on the other hand, has lost his Christian faith. From the article it seems it never really took very well. At the beginning it seemed as if he would follow in the footsteps of his father, but he couldn’t reconcile an all-controlling good God with evil in the world, and found another way to do good. Now he gathers others who cannot swallow the conservative Christian message they were raised with and they talk about morals, wisdom and compassion without talk about God.

I have a friend who was raised Episcopalian, in my own church. I know his parents well. They are compassionate Christians, open and progressive in their theology, and wonderful people. The son is a wonderful man, too, but he married a conservative Roman Catholic and found that path very compelling. He told me once, “The older I get the more conservative I get.”

I am certainly not one who has abandoned the God of my youth, but I have abandoned the theology of my youth for something more compassionate, inclusive and non-judgmental. Unlike Bart, I find that my position is not in conflict with the Bible, and unlike my friend, I do not call myself a conservative. But we all three share something in common. We have all drifted from the moorings of our upbringing.

Drift is too pejorative a word, really. I would prefer “drawn,” “bidden,” “led,” “moved,” or even, “stumbled.” There is an ancient Buddhist saying that says, “When the student is ready the teacher will appear.” Buddhism, especially Zen, is a non-theistic system, and yet this axiom speaks wisdom that seems inherent in the universe. Bart looks like a good example of that. Does holding to a specific theology change God’s mind about us? Or does a relationship involve more than the intellect? I think the answer to those questions will lead us to an answer to fundamentalism’s violence, no matter where you find it.

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There are three kinds of quiet.

One is the profound quiet of the soul sought when the chaos of Monkey Mind threatens to unravel life itself and leave you unrooted and unstable in an unpredictable world. This is essential for health and welfare of any human being. We seek it out almost instinctively in a hundred ways, many of which are quite effective—some of which are not.

After one has sat there for a while, though, there is another quiet. It is the quiet efficiency of life lived out of that place of solitude. I have just rediscovered this kind of quiet. In my office before the hubbub of the day begins, I have time to think, to answer a hundred e-mails, to draft thank you letters and to gather ideas for sermons and classes. Fruit of that earlier solitude, it lives itself out in order and structure for my daily living. It bridges the holy inner peace with the world I live in.

Then there is the quiet of an evening at home with my beloved one with nothing pressing, nothing demanding my time and attention because I just didn’t get to it in the work hours. This is the crown on the head of a day well-lived.

I wonder where I have been all this time?

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Now Resolutions

It’s the 2nd day of 2017 and I am socially remiss. I have not proclaimed to the world my futile intentions of living better in some concrete way in this coming year. I haven’t done so because I am weak. I know myself. I will not keep my New Year’s Resolutions any more than a corrupt politician will keep his or her promises. I’ve worn all the excuses out. I give up.

Instead I’m going to make Now Resolutions. Now is a lot friendlier than 2017. Now is right now, with what I have and who I am. It does not look back to unfulfilled wishes or forward to future dreams. It just gives me a moment in which to be authentically me. I don’t have to remember, or to keep a schedule or make plans. The moment comes over and over again, forgiving what was inauthentic about the moment just gone, and overlooking my overblown ideas of what the next one might be—and my devastating fears of what it might be. It just asks of me the one thing I have to give: me.

It’s crazy how hard that is, but at the same time infuriatingly liberating.

But then, if we speak of God living in the eternal Now, maybe this is as close to that as I can get. Maybe that’s why it’s such a gift—a piece of heaven in the midst of our time.

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Ends and Beginnings

I don’t normally repost other people’s creations, but what follows, written by my poet sister, says what I feel.  Maybe you do, too.

Año Viejo*

Debris from fear and anger uncontrolled.
Leftover expectations misinvested,
   Hurts visited by others,
   and those that I provoked.
Bits of self-absorption unprotested.

I lay them in a pile: my might-have-beens.
One by one, I shape with them an effigy –
   my stunted best intentions,
   my must-begin-agains –
and in my imperfection write the elegy.

By choice I lay them down:
   my rightful unmet claims,
   the unfilled aspirations once held dear:
and watch the flames convert  
my año viejo sacrifice
into ash that sanctifies this coming year.

-cs 123116

*In Ecuador, an effigy is built of the Old Year (Año Viejo), then burnt on the stroke of midnight of December 31.

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A Necessary Evil?

In yesterday’s paper there was an article about a ceremony that took place at the Pearl Harbor Memorial in Hawaii at which Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe and President Barak Obama joined to commemorate the attack that thrust the US into World War II on December 7, 1941. Abe is quoted as saying, “As the prime minister of Japan I offer my sincere and everlasting condolences to the souls of those who lost their lives here, as well as to the spirits of all the brave men and women whose lives were taken by a war that commenced in this very place.” Abe is the first Japanese leader to visit the memorial itself, and whereas he stopped short of an apology for the attack, Obama’s response was, “even the deepest wounds of war can give way to friendship and lasting peace.” The article notes that it was an act of symbolic reciprocity, since Obama was the first sitting president to visit the Hiroshima Memorial in Japan. I salute these two world leaders for their courage, and I honor the bravery of those who, in the heat of the conflict, risked all for the ideals of liberty.

However, the devil is in the details. At the end of the article Alfred Rodriguez, a veteran and survivor of that attack, is quoted to say, “War is war. They were doing what they were supposed to do and we were doing what we were supposed to do.” It begs the question, “Who said what we were supposed to do?” Ultimately, it is a vision of the good which excludes someone that allows us to come to the conclusion that we are supposed to treat one another this way. Hammurabi said, “An eye for and eye and a tooth for a tooth.” (I wonder how many in his empire were blind and toothless? And I am sure he was not one of them.) Jesus said, “Turn the other cheek.” I don’t mean to say that we should not lift up our hands to stop evil, but I will say it’s high time we took a long and hard look at how we lift up our hands and what we do. Sometimes turning the other cheek is the most effective deterrent to violence.

I believe that God weeps when we declare that war is a necessary evil.

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Fourth Sunday of Advent

From hoary times the voice proclaims

The coming of a changing world

Of babes and prophets mighty stance,

Of kings in quest and seers’ dance.


Building, building o’er the waves

Of time’s eternal ebb and flow,

The coming of the One we crave

Looms large the skyline here below.


The great crescendo of the song

Collapses into birthing long,

Creator come created one,

And hushing mother’s tender word.


So focused now the act of God

To bring salvation’s story round;

The magnifying of the rays

Reduced to manhood we can hold.


What point of light so caught and held

That shone through angel’s ringing air,

Portends to burst its fleshly jar

Illume the path to heaven brought near.


Reality condensed is here,

To break our frightful treasured cage,

To burst apart the tethers’ right,

And make to soar the human age.


From big to small, to big again,

Here turns the eternal world’s abode,

The axis of our truth to reign

In loving consort with the tide.


Spring forth, oh babe, the hope of thee

Within this feeble, darkened heart.

Show forth the sight I once did see—

I’ll see in you what can be me.


prm, 12/14/16


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