And even Now…Give Thanks

When I was a child growing up in New York, more than anything else, Thanksgiving was all about the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. This is the 94th year of the parade, and unlike any other it will be for television audiences only. There won’t be the 2.5-mile parade route; instead, the event will be held in front of the cameras at Macy’s Herald Square on 34th Street in New York City. And yet, I still give thanks that albeit in a different manner, the parade will still go on.

We have never lived through a year like this one. When I champagne toasted with loved ones on New Year’s Eve, this was not the year I thought that I was heralding in! Like me, I suspect that you cannot believe that this pandemic began two months later, and here in November it is worse than ever. So, how do we even contemplate sitting at the table of a Thanksgiving feast when more than 250,000 Americans have perished. How do we honor the significance of this holiday, knowing that many are in hospital suffering, families are missing loved ones lost to Covid, and so many Americans throughout our nation cannot put food on their tables?

Saint Paul writes in First Thessalonians: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

Maybe, just maybe, we who have not been affected as adversely as others by this virus are the ones now called upon to give thanks to God for those who perhaps right now are overwhelmed and cannot. Maybe, those of us who have not become sick with Covid, and have not suffered the loss of a family member or our employment, can at our Thanksgiving tables hold those who have suffered in our hearts and prayers. And with me, imagine that if that prayer becomes through us a tangible and grace-filled response to those in need.

God is always good, and so we must be as well. A Blessed and safe Thanksgiving…

What is Happening to American Christianity?

Six months into this pandemic, I continue to wonder and reflect upon what the Church may look like in our nation when we get beyond this enormous crisis. Certainly, there will be new safety protocols and norms for our worship. However, where I find myself most troubled and concerned is with the cynicism and valid criticism that has grown in this time where we have witnessed a significant portion of the Christian Church in America embracing what can only be called the antithesis of the Gospel teachings of Jesus.

When we strive to live with and in the Gospels and teachings of Jesus, there are some fundamental truths and poignant encounters that one simply cannot miss, unless one willingly does so. I believe that the core of these truths are found in Jesus’teachings in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the poor in spirit; Blessed are those who mourn; Blessed are the meek; Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness; Blessed are the merciful; Blessed are the pure in heart; Blessed are the peacemakers; Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake; Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account…” (Matthew 5)

Certainly, there are many Christians within the Church that are doing their very best to live out these beatitudes. And yet, there may be just as many who claim the Christian faith, go to church, and yet that hardly translates into affecting their very being or national/worldview. The greatest commandment of Jesus is to fully love God and to love one’s neighbor as oneself.

If we are not concerned for the plight of the poor or middle class struggling to make ends meet…If we are not compassionate toward the 175,000 lives lost to Covid and their grieving families…If we are not willing to wear a mask and socially distance to protect our neighbors…If we are accepting of lies, corruption, and unfaithfulness because it suits our agenda…If we are okay with children separated from their parents and placed in cages at the border; and, If we are not willing to confront racism and social injustice believing that until Black Lives Matter, all lives cannot matter…how do we claim the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

I recently said to my wife that: “If I was unchurched and considering joining a church, what I see today in American Christianity would not be very helpful.” And, if you see any of this as less than that to which the Gospel and Jesus calls, it’s time to reread Matthew, Mark, Luke and John…

South Carolina Driftwood Cross

Trust and Pandemic in the Midst of Lent

There are firsts in our lifetimes that we would rather not experience; and, the Coronavirus pandemic is one such first. Within my 34 years as an Episcopal priest, 30 of which I have been the leader of the congregation, I have only twice had to cancel church services and that was because of extreme weather; once an ice storm, and once a hurricane. Yet, never before have I cancelled Sunday worship to practice social distancing and help prevent the outbreak of a virus and pandemic. These are really very hard leadership decisions in which those whom you serve must trust you. And, what is ever so clear in this present and tragic time is that trust is at the core of how we must together move forward.

Henri Nouwen once wrote: “Trust is the basis of life. Without trust, no human being can live.” And, I would add that no relationship or marriage, no institution, nor nation can survive and live as well. This month, March 2020, we have unwillingly entered the uncharted waters of a pandemic in which trust has become central to our getting through this time. And it behooves those in positions of leadership, and those that are the medical professionals to be worthy of such a trust.

The Psalmist writes : “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” (Psalm 56:3). Our nation and the world are now living in quite fearful times. We see empty shelves in our grocery stores; that fear perhaps best epitomized in the insanity of the hoarding of toilet paper for no apparent reason. Fear is always a normal part of our lives, and a pandemic such as this exacerbates and brings it to the forefront. However, as people of faith we know that with God alongside us, we can turn to Him in these darkest of moments and know that He will see us through.

Although we may have great difficulty trusting some that are in positions of leadership, there are many in whom we can trust. And above all in this time, as I have throughout my life and ministry, we can trust in God—the Holy presence of God living, moving, and holding us up in the darkest of times.

Let us pray for all in the world who have lost their lives to COVID 19, to those presently suffering and yet to come. Let us give thanks for the doctors, nurses, and health care professionals fighting the good fight. And, in this holy season of Lent when we remember the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, pray for those in leadership and trust that God will see us through this time…

Managing Aging, Facing Mortality, and Making a Difference

Tree picThere comes that day in our lives when we realize that we are not actually going to live forever. This realization, although so very obvious, takes a long time to surface. Most of us go from childhood and adolescence through our 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and even 50’s believing that this thing we call our life has no end. And then comes that moment, it’s arrival different for each of us, when we finally face our mortality.

My moment came halfway through this 59th year of life. There was no warning, no fanfare, it just suddenly showed up as an uninvited guest. Symptoms for me included reminiscing more than usual about the past, looking at old photo albums, and suddenly creating a 70’s and 80’s playlist on my I phone. When I lived in Manhattan in the early 80’s, I felt that the soundtrack for my life was the “Love Theme from St. Elmo’s Fire,” as I saw all before me that I wanted to love, create, and accomplish. And now, all these years later that song along with others like: “Don’t’ Stop Believin,” “Take it to the Limit,” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop us Now,” play through my air buds.

I am suspecting that this may well resonate with you on your life’s journey. I was called by God and made the decision at age 20 to give my life to Jesus and his Church. You might think that this would have made it easier for me to understand my purpose in life and my mortality. However, just like you it has been a real struggle. You see, it’s just not that easy for any one of us in the life to which we have been called and made, to understand all of its complexities. As a priest and counselor, many have come to me trying to understand the challenges, events, and desires of their faith and life. And in so many of those times, I learned as much if not more from them, than I was ever able to offer. I believe that the importance of that time though, was that I listened and together we searched for understanding.

This past week, in a conversation with a friend and priest, she reminded me of an ancient Greek quote that has been phrased in many different ways, whilst maintaining its essence: “A society grows great when old men and women plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.” I think that if we are fortunate enough to reach this place in life, that is indeed our purpose. When we are young, we expect to sit one day in the cool shade of those trees and accomplishments that we are planting. And, the blessing of our second half of life and latter years is to both understand and accept that what we are now doing is not at all for us, but for others and their future.

I did not expect at this point in my life to still be working for the Church; I was sure that the first time that I retired after 30 years, it would be for good. Yet, here I am serving both a parish and a diocese. What is so very different now though, both in this ministry as priest, and in my life as husband, father, and grandfather is that the trees that I am striving to now plant I will most likely not ever see fully grown.

Are you planting those trees as well? Yes, one day we all shall die. Yet, when blessed by God with many years can we continue to make a difference? Together, can we say that we will continue to plant trees under whose shade we know that we shall never sit…

Be Kind in 2020 and Part of the “Glorious Impossible”

One of my favorite Episcopal authors, Madeleine L’Engle in her book, The Glorious Impossible, wrote: “Possible things are easy to believe.  The Glorious Impossibles are those things that bring joy to our hearts, hope to our lives, songs to our lips.”  Each year during the 12 Days of Christmas, we face once again “The Glorious Impossible” in our recounting and celebrating the birth of Jesus, the Son of God, and his impact on our lives.


The Prologue of the Gospel of John proclaims: “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…”  There is a quite significant debate being waged in present day America on what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  Many, I included, argue that the Jesus of many of our churches and leaders has been so whitewashed as to bear very little resemblance to the Christ of the Gospels.  Jesus often powerfully spoke out on this very subject, such as in Matthew 23: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and the Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous, but on the inside, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”


Certainly, at one level or another, most of us have participated in the whitewashing of Jesus to suit our own thoughts, beliefs, and practices.  And yet to be children of God and followers of Jesus, we ourselves are summoned to be not ordinary and possible, but to be the glorious impossible in our faith, words, and actions.


The witness and ideas of German theologian and Lutheran pastor, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, still calls for our attention some 75 years since he was put to death for his resistance to Hitler and the Nazi Party.  Listen to what he wrote from prison, “To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself  on the basis of some method or other, but to be a person—not a type of person, but the person that Christ creates in us.  It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.”  Bonhoeffer said aloud what we believe in our hearts and minds to be true, but often struggle with both the idea and practice of being that person that Christ has created in us.

That there is suffering and sin in life, is not something that anyone would argue to the contrary; this is why God came into the world in the form of a baby born to poor parents in a stable.  The very birth of Jesus announced that to follow Him, to be a Christian, would mean that you and I become a bearer of Him to others—to our family, friends, community, nation, and especially to the poor, the marginalized, and the persecuted.  This is what it means to accept Jesus and be a child of God.


Anglican Bishop of Durham and theologian, N.T. Wright has written, “The key word of course is ‘love,’ and much has been written about that in itself.  But I want to draw attention to something else—something often ignored in the clamor for better and clearer rules of Christian behavior: that we should be positively kind to one another…tender hearted…as God in Christ.” Could it be in this Christmastide that God is calling all of us, our nation’s leaders, institutions, news and social media folk, and churches to be children of God through our kindness?  What do you think?  How can you practice kindness as we move into 2020?  Fred Rogers once said: “Imagine what our real neighborhoods would be like if each of us offered as a matter of course, just one kind word to another person.”


I end where I began this writing: in the “Glorious Impossible,” where not only joy and hope is found, but kindness is practiced.  Can we commit to being children of God in this New Year by practicing kindness?  “But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…”






Be a Light for Someone in Darkness…

What I know about the Advent/Christmas season from 34 years of parish ministry and pastoral care is that many people are hurting this time of year. This is a particular kind of hurting that is related to loss in one’s life, and especially that of loved ones that are no longer physically present. The sights, smells and sounds of Christmas, coupled with the expectation of being merry and joyful can be a real emotional challenge to someone experiencing loss. All of us have been that person who has experienced loss at one point or another in our lives that was particularly magnified at Christmastime. And, for some individuals their loss is so great that every year at Christmas their pain reemerges.

This past week, I attended the “Blue Christmas” Eucharist at Grace Church Cathedral here in Charleston. This is a service that many churches offer this time of year for those experiencing the pain of loss during this season. I was first exposed to the power of such a service when I was the rector of St. John’s in Versailles, Kentucky. I attended this service at Grace not so much for myself, but to consciously be present in support of the many attending. The power of this service is that all come together in community around the Lord’s Table with the shared bond of grief and faith. There is always a time in this service where candles are lit in remembrance—a time that light breaks into the darkness.

Holy Scripture is filled with references of light that represent both God the Father and God the Son. And, within this Advent/Christmas season we are especially flooded with such images. On Christmas Eve we shall hear again the powerful words of the Prologue of John’s Gospel: “What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” I believe that whether or not we are one experiencing loss at this time, the power of the light of God in His Son Jesus overcoming darkness offers us new hope. And, if you are not one experiencing the pain that another feels, perhaps God is urging you to be a light for them as well. Can you help light another’s darkness?

The power of light and darkness, and our responsibility to be a light for Christ, came to me in a new way during our time in Germany last week for the “Weihnachtsmarkt,” the Christmas Market. Each day in Germany the sun rose at 8:15am and set by 4:15pm—just eight hours of daylight in the midst of very cold temperatures. What struck me though, was how as the darkness converged upon the city of Rothenburg, the lights of the season took hold upon all both magically and in holiness. I reflected upon how those lights overcame the early and sudden darkness in a way that brought all together in a spirit of love, peace, and joy. And, I imagined anew how we as individuals could be that same kind of light for others when they are overcome with sadness, grief, and darkness. This is something that I have tried to be for others in my ministry, need still to be both more intentional and better at, and invite you to strive with me in this challenge.

May the Light of Christ this season shine brightly for you, and through you be a light to those in darkness…

Did I do enough? Let that question go…


The questions that seem to plague each individual at some point in life are, “Did I do enough…Could I have done more, or something differently?” Certainly, this has been a constant theme of conversations that individuals have brought to me as their priest about one or more events in their lives. And, it is as well a question that I focused upon in my pursuit of a Doctorate in Psychology, because it constantly challenged both my ministry and personal life.

Every aspect of our life’s journey and story often has buried within these chapters, a pervasive guilt that we did not do enough, or the right thing to affect the outcome of some event, relationship, or difficult time. Does that resonate with your life’s experience and journey?

Each day, I am awakened by my dog Jack as he jumps into the bed and starts licking my face, before scooting under the covers. Recently, in a dream-like state of mind I for a moment thought that it was my former dog, Maggie, that was licking me and urging me to get up. But, of course it was my new “best friend,” Jack. Later that morning, I wondered what that was all about; and, it came to me that I still grieved her death. But even more, it raised the deep feelings for me about the events leading up to my father’s death last year, and that grief.

Perhaps though, that experience for me was pointing to an even much larger and deeper truth for each of us and our struggles to come to terms with the events of our lives that have pained and affected us deeply. Maybe so much so, that you found yourself bringing to God your pervasive sense of guilt and questions of what you could have done differently to affect the outcome.

I have sat in my office listening to many who have struggled with and questioned what they could have done differently to save their marriage. In the middle of the night, I have stood at the bedside with the wife of a parishioner who had just shot himself in the head, asking me how she could have missed the signs that led to this tragic act. And, I have listened to a corporate executive near tears, trying to figure out how he could have avoided being told that after all those years of dedicated work and service, he was no longer needed.

Did I do enough…Could I have done more, or something differently? Although these are among the natural questions that arise, none of them are helpful, or life-giving. Let these questions go; give them to God, and ask how can I in a healthy and holy way move forward? Give yourself the time needed. Trust and know that you did the best that you could in that time, with what you then knew and were able to handle.

Finally, when possible reach out to others in just such a place and be a listening ear and caring soul for them. And remember, that to give real care means our willingness to help another in taking their brokenness into the gateway of hope. 20th century Psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor, Viktor Frankl, wrote: “In some way, suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.”

The Christian Response in this time of Political Turmoil…A Veteran’s Day Reflection

I am greatly discouraged by where we find ourselves as the nation and people of America. For the first time in my life I am worried about the future of our Democracy. We are entering both an historic and very painful time for our country, as public hearings begin this week in the Impeachment Inquiry of the President. All indications are pointing toward a vote on Articles of Impeachment in the House, and an upcoming trial in the Senate. And this will be only the third time for such an action, provided in the Constitution by our Founding Fathers, in our nation’s 243-year history.


What is most disturbing though is how fractured we have become as people of: “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” I believe that the advent of 24-hour cable news and the power of social media, have not worked to strengthen our union, but rather continues to divide us. We seek out “our tribe,” our people so to speak, that reassure us in our thinking, with little regard for getting to the facts and truth. And, when facts and truth are constantly distorted, ignored, and purely subjective, well, we are terribly lost.

You and I have witnessed the awful vitriol on social media. Recently, I came across a person that had responded harshly to a priest colleague of mine that had put up a theological/political post. I wrote an honest and direct response to this unknown person who had attacked my friend, posted it, and then thought better of engaging his anger and quickly deleted it. Somehow though, that person still saw it and immediately wrote back an incredibly harsh and vulgar response. I was sad about the whole episode, sad for him and his hostility, but deeply saddened by the thought of “what have we become?” Is this the America for which our Veterans served, fought, and sacrificed? My response back to his attack was simply, “God’s peace and love.”

However, I am not so sure that God’s peace and love in these times will be enough. Certainly, we are going to have to try harder as individuals and with one another. We are going to have to appeal to our better angels. Each of us have both political leanings and strong opinions on this impeachment. So, what are we to do?

Perhaps, above all else we should return to positions of love and mutual respect, even in the midst of our grave differences. Maybe we should diligently seek out the truth, and be open to respectful dialogue with those with whom we differ. There will be many unwilling to do this; however, I am counting on that there will be enough of us. And maybe, just maybe, in love and peace we should be in constant prayer for this time, one another, and for our Democracy; that, “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all…”

Claiming Jesus: Just not the American One

The first Bible that I received as a gift, and still have in my library, was from my parents on Christmas Day, 1967.  It was “The Children’s Bible,” one that I continue to treasure with my late mother’s inscription.  Here, was where my first visual images of Jesus from that children’s picture bible was that of a blonde haired, blue eyed Savior.  And, quite naturally that took hold in my young consciousness. Of course, as a first century Jew and Aramean, his resemblance would have been that of a brown skinned, dark eyed, brown haired person of color. And, I find it deeply troubling that the former Jesus, the one created in the image of white America, continues to be upheld in 21st century America and in so many churches.

Why I find it so disturbing is not so much in the false continuance of this European looking Jesus, although that’s troubling, but rather in the ongoing false narrative of what exactly Christ taught, lived, and that for which He died.  QBBG9992You see, Jesus was and is in fact the antithesis of what so much of American culture and religion have neatly packaged him up to be; the nice and comfortable Christ. Jesus was radical in his teachings, whom he loved, whom he forgave and accepted, and with whom he sat at table and broke bread.

Saint Paul wrote in his Letter to the Thessalonians: “Let no one deceive you in any way…” That was written within the first century of the newly forming Christian Church, where we already see the grave concerns that Christ’s teachings would most certainly come up against attempts of distortion and adaptations to the desires of culture and those in authority.

This year, more than others, I was deeply moved on All Saints’ Sunday when I stood up to read the words of Jesus from the 6th chapter of the Gospel of Luke. So much so, that my eyes teared up. Jesus is gathered with his disciples, when he suddenly looks them in the eyes and begins speaking: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh…But woe to you who are rich…Woe to you who are full now…Woe to you who are laughing now…” What is it that Jesus is getting at in these powerful words to his disciples?

Jesus is not so much putting down the rich, those with full bellies, or those who have laughter, but rather he is attacking their often casual and comfortable indifference to those who are not those things and as such suffer. Christ was addressing this great sin of first century Palestine, and one that would be both ongoing and universal. Today, this is sadly so very prevalent amongst those in office in our nation’s capital, within our institutions, and the populace; and, I believe that is why this gospel brought those unanticipated tears.

Jesus ends that talk to his disciples with these words: “But I say to you that listen, Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Are we doing that as individuals, as a Church, and as the nation of America? This week we honor all of our veterans who served and fought for our country; what kind of nation were they risking their lives for and dedicating their service? You see, ifwe want to claim Jesus as individuals and as a nation, then it needs to be the Jesus of Holy Scripture, and not the one that we have conveniently created in some other image.

Jesus was never a single-issue Savior, except perhaps for his call to die on the cross for the sins of the world and the salvation of our souls. In fact, most of the single issues that many Christians claim to be that of Christ’s are never even mentioned by him in the gospels. Rather, what Jesus consistently lived and taught was that all are the beloved of God, and that when we claim him as Lord we do not get to pick and choose where we accept and apply his teachings. By Jesus’ standards we are called to serve and love all; especially, if we are in a position of means to do so by our wealth, full bellies, and happy lives. When Jesus says that we should do to others as we would have them do to us, he is not commenting that this would be nice, but rather stating that this is required when we claim Him to be ours.

If you claim Christianity and you are not deeply troubled by the present state of our nation, well you should be. Imagine Jesus being nice and comfortable with the kind of language, discourse, and behavior that we see and hear everyday on our national news. Imagine Jesus being okay with children being detained and separated from their parents at the border. Imagine what Jesus would have to say about the kind of greed that keeps our citizens from affordable healthcare, prescription drugs, food and housing. Finally, if you see the above as political rather than issues of faith, perhaps you should revisit which Jesus you claim and follow. May we together claim the Jesus of the gospels…


Time to Say Goodbye: Why Holy and Healthy Goodbyes are So Important…

Have you ever missed or been denied the opportunity to say a proper goodbye? I have spoken with many for whom this is true, and listened to the emotional and spiritual difficulties that ensued as a result. And, it is an experience with which I can personally relate.

I remember one of the last times I visited with my mother as she was dying of cancer. As I drove away from my parents’ home in Bluffton, South Carolina, I had to pull the car over to the side of the road just minutes away from their house. I was uncontrollably grieving the inevitable loss of my mother, but as well the possibility that I would not be with her when she died. The grief was so powerful that I thought I was about to be very ill. You see, in addition to my mother’s impending death, I was afraid that we had not yet had a proper and holy farewell. Now, as it turned out, I was fortunate and blessed to be with my mother alongside my father at the moment of her death. We had that proper goodbye, which enabled and empowered me to move forward in both a healthy and holy way. Yet, what about those times when we are not given that chance by fate or circumstances?

Music has always spoken so powerfully to me, and especially in just such times. And, it was Andrea Bocelli’s, “Time to Say Goodbye,” that did so in 2006 when my mother died. A portion of the words are this: “It’s time to say goodbye. When you are distant, dream on the horizon…And I do, I know that you are with me, with me. You my moon, you are here with me.  My sun, you are here with me…With me, with me, with me.”

What are those times, those places, or those with whom you did not have that chance to say goodbye? Those experiences can be very hard with which to come to terms. I have fortunately only experienced this once, yet as you know if you have been there, is one too many.

This past week, I was reminded of this time more than once. One, was with an individual who was struggling in her present work situation. I shared my experience with her of being denied the opportunity for a proper and holy leaving, within a church of all places. I tried to tell her with both understanding and compassion. that if she had control of her leaving and goodbye, then she should strive to make it a good one.

However, the truth is that most times we are not in control of those times and goodbyes. And so, I invite you to let go of any thoughts that you could have done it differently. Instead, rest in the knowledge that you did the best you knew how in that time. And, take that very difficult experience and use it for good in helping others have loving and holy goodbyes. God understands what you have been through, loves you, and calls you to move forward…