On the 50th Anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s Death

IMG_0087_1I was only ten years old when Lewis, then 64, died at his home outside Oxford in November of 1963, the same day and just an hour before President Kennedy was killed by a sniper’s bullet in Dallas, Texas. On a sabbatical trip to Oxford in the summer of 2002, my appreciation for Lewis’s life story and the legacy of his published works greatly intensified.

During my stay in Oxford, I had an opportunity to visit some of Lewis’s favorite places, from pubs such as the Eagle and Child and the Trout on the River Thames to Addison’s Walk behind Magdalen College, the Bodlien Library, and the University Church.  Oxford is a beautiful and captivating city.  The cloistered colleges of medieval style buildings, are adorned with gargoyles and spires, cobblestone walks and vast green courtyards trimmed to perfection.

But the place where I most felt Jack’s unique spirit, was at his home four miles east of Oxford in Headington Quarry, known as “the Kilns” where he lived from 1930, until his death in 1963. Going through the house was nothing less than a spiritual experience for me.  At one point in the tour, I had a few minutes alone in Lewis’s bedroom and was taken by a black and white photograph of him that hangs over a fireplace. I remember looking at him in that photo, quill pen in his right hand and cigarette in his left, and feeling the spirit and person of Jack Lewis taking greater intensity in that moment, as if a window through time was open. I was able to photograph the picture at close range with my camera. In the picture, you can see a dim reflection of the left side of my face which was caught by the light on the glass frame of the photograph, like a mirror (just above his hand).  The picture is something that I will treasure because it captures an encounter, albeit in two separate dimensions of space and time, that I’ll never forget. I am sure countless pilgrims to Oxford and “the Kilns” have shared similar experiences.

Today, November 22, 2013, is a powerful day of remembrance of two iconic figures who continue to fire our intellect and imagination toward higher aspirations of faith, compassion, and service to the world.  May they rest in peace and rise in glory.

P.S.  The New York Times reports that C.S. Lewis will receive the honor of a memorial stone in the floor of Poets’ Corner, a portion of Westminster Abbey’s South Transept commemorating today’s anniversary.


Memorial Day 2011 – The Noble Call

One of my cherished memories of my father was taking him for a visit to the World War II Memorial which is flanked by the Washington Monument to the East and the Lincoln Memorial to the West.

It was a beautiful spring day in 2006 and he was deeply moved by the graceful and solemn design of the Memorial that honors the sacrifice of those we have come to call “the Greatest Generation.” At the age of 17, he did what so many of his generation did, enlisting in the U.S. Navy and dedicating his immediate future to preserve the liberties we still hold today.

I came across a wonderful essay for Memorial Day by a seminary classmate of mine, The Rev. William M. Shand, Rector of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Potomac.  His words resonate with me:

Political discussion today is fraught with acrimony. It is not worse than in former years, despite the protestations of some to that effect. When America is at war in various parts of the globe, the temptation is irresistible to those who would rewrite history to deprecate the armed forces of the country. Reasonable people can and do disagree as to the proper aims of military action, and no President has an easy time making decisions as Commander in Chief. But as we come to Memorial Day, it is worth remembering words spoken by General Colin Powell to a group of elite intellectuals in Davos, Switzerland in 2003. If one wishes to find the central motivation for so much of Memorial Day, General Powell, speaking as Secretary of State, put it eloquently:

“We have gone forth from our shores repeatedly over the last hundred years and we’ve done this as recently as the last year in Afghanistan [2002]  and put wonderful young men and women at risk, many of whom have lost their lives, and we have asked for nothing except enough ground to bury them in, and otherwise we have returned home to seek our own lives in peace, to live our own lives in peace. But there comes a time when soft power or talking with evil will not work where, unfortunately, hard power is the only thing that works.”

Fr. Shand, “Billy” as I know him, captures a sound understanding of selfless service. Those who act upon that understanding, are the reasons why on Memorial Day, we remember them, honor them, and pray for the day “when nation will not rise up against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4). Until that brighter day, we are required, in spite of all our human limitations, to defend the weak, cherish our liberties, and carry out policies and actions that will best promote the welfare of all. It is fitting and right that we honor those who gave everything for that noble call.

How We Choose To Live The Day After

The juxtaposition of the Easter season with the capture and death of Osama bin Laden leaves me wondering what to preach about this weekend. We are living into a series of days when we contemplate the significance of Jesus’ risen existence and remember that in his earthly life, he forgave his executioners from the cross, in the midst of indescribable injustice and pain.

Like so many, I feel a great sense of relief that a man responsible for the deaths of thousands and a proponent of violence and the manipulation of religion for political purposes has met his inevitable end. I feel a certain gratitude for those who serve our country in both our military and intelligence agencies. As a follower of God in the way of Christ, I also firmly believe that no one’s death is a cause for celebration. Jesus Christ died for all and there are no human beings beyond the reach of his saving embrace. As one rabbi has written:

“It’s not the celebration on the day of the death of an enemy that exemplifies justice, but how we choose to live the day after.”

We will need to be patient with ourselves and others as we reflect on the significance of this momentous development in our efforts to diminish and ultimately eradicate terrorism from our world. The tenth anniversary of 9/11 will now become all the more significant. That day continues to represent a wound deep in the soul of our nation, but perhaps a small measure of healing can emerge in the days ahead.

The real question is “how we choose to live the day after,” and I believe that is a choice made much more vivid by the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. The resurrection of Jesus gives us the capacity to imagine our lives in a certain way, and to build on fundamental values that unite people of faith around the world rather than divide them. Like the two disciples who journey toward Emmaus in our Gospel for this Sunday, we have a companion who joins us on the journey, listens to our despair, and opens our eyes to see a world of new possibilities where we thought there were none.

Terrorism has been dealt a decisive blow. The pursuit of basic freedoms in non-violent ways have increased in nations suffering under totalitarian regimes. With the gift of each day we can choose to pursue the common good and live with respect for the dignity of those we encounter whether friend or stranger. We are not naïve, and know that too often, the distortions of human freedom impact our own hearts and those of others. But each day is a new beginning and we can choose to practice resurrection and share in God’s mission of healing and reconciling the world.

A Litany for Japan

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,
Have mercy upon us.

Holy Mary, Mother of God
Pray for us and for the people of Japan.

Hear our prayers, O Christ our God
Arise, O Christ, and help us.

For all who have died in the earthquake and tsunami striking Japan that they may be given entrance into the land of light and joy, in the fellowship of all your saints
Arise, O Christ, and help us.

For all who grieve the death of family, friends, and fellow citizens that they may not be overwhelmed by their loss, but have confidence in your goodness, and strength to meet the days to come
Arise, O Christ, and help us.

For all who suffer in body, mind, or spirit that they may be comforted, healed, and given courage and hope
Arise, O Christ, and help us.

For all aid workers, that they may be filled with strength, generosity, and compassion
Arise, O Christ, and help us.

For the wisdom, resources, and technological skill that a nuclear disaster might be averted
Arise, O Christ, and help us.

For eyes to see that you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth and linked our lives one to another that we may never forget our common life depends on each other’s toil and that we will always work for the common good,
Arise, O Christ, and help us.

Gracious God, the comfort of all who sorrow, the strength of all who suffer: Let the cry of those in misery and need come to you, that they may find your mercy present with them in all their afflictions; and give us, we pray, the strength to serve them for the sake of him who suffered for us, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

From Michael Marsh at Interrupting the Silence.

Please add generosity to your prayers by giving to the ERD Japan Earthquake Response Fund or a relief organization of your choice.

At The Intersection of Faith and Politics

The memorial event held in Tucson, Arizona this past Wednesday night struck me as one of the most inspiring events I have witnessed in a long time at the often uneasy intersection between faith and politics in our nation.

Both Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, and the Attorney General, Eric Holder, acknowledged the poverty of conventional speech and then proceeded to read from the 40th chapter of the Book of Isaiah and from the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians respectively.

President Obama then gave, in my opinion, one of the most inspiring speeches of his presidency, appealing to all Americans to “expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.”

I felt at times, that I was listening to the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus, the Gospel of reconciliation, of a world where what has been pulled and torn apart is brought together again and evil is overcome with good.  Regardless of political loyalties, you have to admire effective leadership when you see it. Wednesday night was a stirring example for us all.  If you haven’t heard the speech, I encourage you to watch it here.

Largeness of Soul

St. John Chrysostom of the fourth century wrote:

“Christians are to have a wide and big soul–a largeness of soul that can endure annoyances and difficulties over an extended period of time.”

I think of this quote whenever the current debate on matters of  human sexuality and Christian faith come up in our common life in the Episcopal Church and at Holy Comforter.  Those on the more conservative side need to enlarge their souls by a renewed willingness to honor the image of God in all people and be willing to hear the stories that shape the experience of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.

Liberals must honor the image of God in conservatives and concede that advocating traditional marriage should not be interpreted as ignorance or homophobia.  The vast majority of Christians do not take extreme positions and share a commitment to orthodox (creedal) faith.  We believe that our perspectives belong within one Anglican Communion.  Large souls are committed to staying at the table while disagreeing about important moral issues.

This Sunday at the adult forum, I will address the topic: “Same Sex Blessings, Ordinations, and Schisms: Where  might ‘Orthodox and Open’ Anglicans stand?”  I’m not interested in rehashing the arguments on both sides of the debate as much as I’m interested in finding a way forward that helps us focus on the essential task of engaging God’s mission in the world today.  We will have a quick review of recent events in the Episcopal Church and reactions from around the Anglican Communion, but the major portion of our time will be given to identifying how we can “enlarge the soul” and build common ground for the future by practicing the gifts of the Anglican tradition I spoke about in my forum last week.

The skill of living in disagreement grounded in the love of Christ is one of those “treasures” woven deeply into the fabric of the Anglican Way.  It is not an easily aquired skill, nor one that we, sadly, consistently apply.  But it is, in my humble opinion, a practice that can “enlarge the soul,” and at the same time, move us forward from our unhappy divisions toward a greater demonstration of God’s loving reign in the midst of our world today (Matthew 7:1-5).

Thought For The Day

Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks with Archbishop Rowan Williams

From Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks on BBC4 “Thought for the Day”:

Tonight is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, the Festival that celebrates the anniversary of creation, the moment God said “Let there be,” and there was.

So it was with a wry smile that I read the headline last week about scientist Stephen Hawking who said: we don’t need God to explain creation. The universe created itself.

If this sounds like a new challenge to religion, it isn’t. It is one of the oldest of all. For more than 2000 years until relatively recently, there was a much bigger challenge to the idea that God created the universe.

It came from the philosopher Aristotle, who held that there was no creation, because matter is eternal. There never was a beginning to the universe.

It was only in 1964, that Arno Penzias, who as a Jewish child was rescued by the British from Nazi Germany, identified with Robert Wilson the cosmic microwave background radiation that finally established what we now call Big Bang. The universe did have a beginning after all.

But there’s something surreal about this whole line of thought. Religion isn’t science and science isn’t religion. And the best way of seeing this is through Rosh Hashanah itself.

Try this thought experiment. Suppose scientists could determine exactly the moment the universe sprang into existence. Would that change your life? Would it make any difference at all? Would you celebrate? Would you hold an annual holiday to commemorate that moment? Can you even remember the date the human genome was decoded? And that was only ten years ago.

No. Religion and science are different things and we need them both.

Science is about explanation. Religion is about meaning.

There’s a view expressed by Epicurus, Nietzsche and Nobel Prize winning physicist Steve Weinberg, that life is meaningless. I don’t mean individual lives. We each live, and dream, and pursue our dreams. But on their view, the universe is blind to our existence, indifferent to our suffering. We are born, we live, we die, and it is as if we had never been.

On Rosh Hashanah we dare to believe otherwise: that life does have meaning; that there is a Presence, vaster than the universe yet closer to us than we are to ourselves, who lifts us when we fall, and forgives us when we fail.

Can I prove this? No. But this I know, that the mightiest empires have come and gone. The tiny people whose faith I share is still here, still bearing witness to the living God.

Presiding Bishop Pays Pastoral Visit To Haitian Bishop

[Episcopal News Service] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori paid a poignant visit to Port-au-Prince Feb. 8 to survey with Episcopal Diocese of Haiti Bishop Jean Zaché Duracin the devastation wrought by the Jan. 12 magnitude 7.0 earthquake.

After climbing over the ruins of the diocese’s Cathédrale Sainte Trinité (Holy Trinity Cathedral), the presiding bishop turned to Duracin and said “You should skip Lent this year; you have already had your Good Friday.”

“Yes, we can all sing Alleluias together,” Duracin replied, according to the Rev. Lauren Stanley, who accompanied Jefferts Schori on her five-hour visit.

Full story here.

A Welcome Development in Haiti

Last Friday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced its support for relieving Haiti’s international debt. Debt relief for Haiti will free up financing for the country to recover from the January 12th earthquake and rebuild its shattered infrastructure.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has pledged to work with other donor agencies to alleviate this debt burden on Haiti. He said:

The earthquake in Haiti was a catastrophic setback to the Haitian people who are now facing tremendous emergency humanitarian and reconstruction needs, and meeting Haiti’s financing needs will require a massive multilateral effort… Today, we are voicing our support for what Haiti needs and deserves — comprehensive multilateral debt relief.

Full story here.

Bishop Duracin – “What’s important is to keep the faith.”

The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed Bishop Duracin in Port au Prince, as he cares for his people at a tent city he set up behind the ruins of College Ste. Pierre.  Pray that people everywhere will keep faith with the people of Haiti.