Thursday, December 5, 2013

A Dark First Week of Advent

Condemned as a traitor for his opposition to Hitler, Father Alfred Delp, a Jesuit priest, wrote this piece in a Nazi prison shortly before he was hanged in 1945. Quoted in Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Plough Publishing House, 2001).
Here is the message of Advent: faced with him who is the Last, the world will begin to shake. Only when we do not cling to false securities will our eyes be able to see this Last One and get to the bottom of things. Only then will we be able to guard our life from the frights and terrors into which God the Lord has let the world sink to teach us, so that we may awaken from sleep, as Paul says, and see that it is time to repent, time to change things. It is time to say, “All right, it was night; but let that be over now and let us be ready for the day.” We must do this with a decision that comes out of these very horrors we have experienced and all that is connected with them; and because of this our decision will be unshakable even in uncertainty.
I am very aware in these early days winter how long the night last and how short the days are. Even though December 21 has not arrived, it is a jarring change.  
Yet night does have a way to focus our minds and bodies. It surrounds us, engulfs us and dampens our horizons -- but only briefly. A new day does arrive, and that is our hope.
Let us give thanks for the night. Let it allow us to rest and renew. May it be a healing space to calm our fears, to dull the pain of life and give us grace to live a new day.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Sin of Smallness and the Grace of More

November 10, 2013
Sermon by Mark B. Pendleton
Christ Church, Exeter

What is hard to know from the way today’s gospel reads to us is how frustrated, annoyed, or even disappointed Jesus may have been from the question asked of him.

The Sadducees, the protectors of the religious status quo of the day with the Temple in Jerusalem at the center of their power, used the same devise the Pharisees would often use: in today’s language one might call it the “trick question.” But in Jesus’ day they were questions that rabbis or teachers would routinely be asked by those who tried to sort out and interpret scripture into their daily lives.  The scenario imagined a childless woman who would have experienced more than a fare share of heartbreak in life having seven husbands die before her – when she died to whom would she be married in the resurrection?

Jesus must have seen through the feigned earnestness of those asking the question, for it is said that the Sadducees did not even believe in resurrection. Who were they to try to trap Jesus into a question and answer gaff?  It was in many ways a ridiculous question: not unlike the question serious theologians tackled in the Middle Ages: how many angels could dance on a head of a pin. 

I suppose these kinds of questions are alive and well in every generation. At their heart they try to get us to imagine a life beyond what we know and see and experience in this reality.  We use the same kind of imagining when we consider how prayer works. 

I have certainly overheard people wonder at times how God deals with the crushing volume of prayers that come God’s way.  Does God prioritize? Do prayers get lined up in a kind of heavenly DVD rental queue where God sorts through the new releases and the old standbys that have been around for a while?  Last week our preacher referred to a fast track for sainthood: is there a similar express or EZpass lane for our most urgent prayers?  Or are they sorted based on how sincere and genuine they are: the tax collector’s humble prayers a few weeks back seemed to win out over the Pharisees gloating me-centered petitions?  Prayers that seek meaning, clarity, and reassurance, like: God make my faith stronger. Help me forgive. Help me be more patient, kinder, more open to hear criticism, smooth out my rough edges, let me have thick skin just enough to protect myself from hurt but not wall me off from real feelings and emotions.   In the cosmic queue of prayers, we are inclined to believe that these are the better way to the heart of God than the throw-away prayers most offered day to day.  Just imagine the volume of prayers offered at the purchase of each and every Powerball lottery tickets? Innocently enough turning God into a divine Jeannie in the Bottle granting us at least three magical wishes.  Imagine if we could only harness the energy of Powerball prayers to solve global poverty and end all war. Who knows? It might work that way, but I don’t think so.

What is clearer to me in the gospel story, in this back and forth rabbinical argument, is that the people asking the question seem uninterested in the answer.  They remain entrenched in limited and literal thinking, failing to imagine anything beyond what they can touch and feel.  They assumed that the same rules and conditions that applied in this world apply in the next. What was binding here, must be binding there, right? In Jesus’ case, there was a right answer to a wrong question. Very little is the same in the resurrection as it turns out. People don’t marry. What’s more, they don’t even die. They are like angels and are children of God, for God is of the living and not of the dead. 

What I most relate to in this exchange is Jesus’ reaction to the smallness of the question. In the face of something so expansive and limitless as the resurrection, what room is there for legalities? God is opening a totally new life to us both here in this world and beyond, and many of us, like the Sadducees, can get caught up and lost in the fine print. And churches love the fine print. We call it by different names:  dogma, theology, rubrics, canons, and even Biblical truth -- when and if we limit, hem in and reduce diving possibilities we miss the mark.  Which is probably why I am drawn the thinking of the German medieval mystic Meister Eckhart who wrote “God is greater than God.”

I believe that we have a complex relationship with the concept of more.

This past week it was announced that thanks to NASA’s Kepler spacecraft there may be as may at least 40 billion Earth-like planets in the galaxy.  The New York Times reported that one out of every five sunlike stars in the has a planet the size of Earth circling it in what they call the “Goldilocks zone” — not too hot, not too cold — where surface temperatures should be compatible with liquid water.  The idea of an expanding universe potentially full of planets that could contain remnants or fragments or advanced forms of life was stunning news – and at the same time hard to wrap our minds around.  We have made room for imaging life beyond in the words of most contermporary of the Eucharistic prayer we use on occasion when we pray: God: “At your command all things came to be: the vast expanse of 
interstellar space, galaxies, suns, the planets in their courses, and this fragile earth, our island home. By your will they were created and have their being.”

Some look for more in the heavens, while others try to find it in earthly things. The so-called prosperity gospel of the last few decades that grew around some of the mega-churches of our country promised wealth and happiness to those who donated to these ministries.  The idea preached was that God wants us to be happy in this life, and the fastest way to be happy in a materialistic culture is to think positively, work hard and attain wealth. If God is the one who gives us what we desire, why not pray with the expectation of prosperity.  This theology may work at the edges in a booming economy of the 1990’s, but many of these preachers and ministries have, not surprisingly, fallen on hard times since the economic downturn of recent years.The prosperity gospel is not the “more” that Jesus was speaking about and hoping that his followers would understand and embrace.   
Jesus speaks to us even today about what I would call the “sin of smallness.”  When we turn an infinite God into one seemingly fixated on every move we take, each thought we have, every mistake we make.  God’s creation does not spin around our axis. The planets do not orbit around us. We are apart of a divine experiment much larger.  Thus Jesus eggs us on through this gospel reading: “You’re thinking too small.”
Believing this: how might we live if we truly open up our lives and our minds to newness and possibilities?  Play it less safe, take on more risks for the good of others and for the health of our souls. This might not be easy for those of us who are “steady as you go” type of people who have survived by drawing inside the lines of expectations. But when we stretch our minds, expand our horizons and open our imaginations, new things can happen.  Consider Psalm 51:10 -- Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
In pulling back the veil that shrouded the world, what Jesus does is to give us all a taste of what awaits us. We do believe in a beyond, an after, and much more than we see and feel.  Learning to trust, imagine and form a hint of belief is what all that we do is about: daring to believe in the certain hope of the resurrection, that our future will be with the angels, we might have courage enough to start living and acting like the angels we will one day accompany.   

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Is Facebook the new 1960’s version of the dreaded vacation slideshow?

I am old enough to remember the ritual of setting up a carousel slide projector in the living room, along with the three legged screen that was always dangerous to put up lest you lose a finger in the process, and sitting on the floor to watch the latest pictures from some relative’s travels. This was definitely pre-HD and big screen TV era when it seems that projecting anything on a large screen was exciting -- no matter how boring the pictures of the Florida vacation from your next door neighbor were.

On a recent trip to Germany I found myself enjoying trying out the camera on my new iPad, ditching a “normal” camera, and then posting many of the pictures that same day on my Facebook page: pictures in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, a shot of my delivering a report at the Community of Cross of Nails gathering in central Germany, gorgeous landscapes of vineyards with Riesling grapes along the meandering Mosel River, and the bustling streets of modern Dusseldorf.  And food. Why did I have such a desire to take pictures of each pretzel I ate, the best potato pancake I’ve ever eaten besides my own, and the incredible pastries on every corner? I have become my teenage daughter who Instagrams each piece of sushi she eats!

Well, in the end, I suppose that I find this practice of virtual vacation sharing simply -- fun. Isn’t that enough?  It does seem to be a way to take others along with you on a journey. And I’m good with that.  

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Reflections on the role of the Community of the Cross of Nails for Oct. 19 presentation in Germany

My presentation October 19 to the German Community of the Cross of Nails in Holgeismar, Germany

The CCN in North America continues a journey and a process shared by others in the network: looking for meaning and message in changing times as the torch gets passed onto future generations. How is the Coventry narrative relevant and imaginative today? Some of the iconic crosses of nails in our cathedrals and churches in North America are somewhat dusty and others even forgotten. Currently we have 38 CCN Friends, 12 Partners and 1 school in the U.S., 9 Friends and 2 Partners in Canada, and 2 Friends in Cuba.

As many of you know, the work of the last two decades for many of the Episcopal and Anglican churches in the CCN network has been lived out in trying to reconcile progressive and traditional sides of the issues of gender and human sexuality as it relates to the interpretation of Holy Scripture, the ordination of gays and lesbians in open relationships, and marriage equality -- and dealing with the energy, tension and conflict caused by this focus. Many of our member communities have worked on these issues in the name of justice, gospel generosity and hospitality -- living out we believe one of the core CCN themes of celebrating diversity. 

The recent changes in the U.S. judicial courts opening the way for greater marriage equality -- accompanied by a rapid and greater openness in public opinion of same-gendered married couples -- has been surprised many who did not think these changes would come so quickly: myself included. We saw these social changes taking place in much of Europe, but many did not see their prospect for rapid change in America.   

We continue to see many of our faith communities in the CCN network reflect publicly on changing and pressing issues that cry out for local models for dialogue and reconciliation: the growing income inequality in the U.S., the lack of movement on immigrant reform status and rights, the growing concern about the changing weather patterns that are accompanying climate change. Part of the constant challenge and opportunity of focusing on forgiveness and reconciliation as a gathering vision and ministry of the network is asking: where does it not touch our lives?

One growing area of concern for many is the accelerating number of mass shootings in the United States and the political paralysis in government, specifically in confronting the powerful  National Rifle Association. Far too often, our churches are praying in the aftermath of the carnage of mass killings. We hold vigils, rallies, and protest the seeming insanity of rising number of mass shootings in a country that is awash with guns.

The National Cathedral in Washington D.C., a CCN Friend, and its new dean held a National Gun Violence Sabbath on March 14-17, 2013 that looked at the impact of gun violence in America and called on people of faith to work towards solutions.  Some numbers: In 2008, there were 39 gun murders in England Wales, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada, and 9,484 in the United States. There have been 20 mass shootings in the U.S. in the past five years alone.   

In his excellent book American and its Guns: A Theological Expose (Cascade Books, 2012) Presbyterian minister James E. Atwood makes a bold claim that America suffers from idolatry with its guns.  He points to a statement by a former NRA executive Warren Cassidy who said “you would get a far better understanding of the NRA if you were approaching us as one of the great religions of the world.” Atwood quotes Martin Luther in his Larger Catechism, “if your faith and trust be right, then is your god also true; and on the other hand, if your trust be false and wrong, then you have not the true God.” Atwood urges peace fellowships to focus on gun violence, because any solution will require not just political will, but a spiritual, ethical and moral solution.

There is, I believe, a place for the Community of the Cross of Nails to be a part of this conversation and movement.  Our challenge is that in both national politics and church conflicts, the opposing sides are moving further and further apart.  Some commentators have made the claim that in Europe there is still a middle ground for compromise and consensus, but that ground is much smaller in the U.S. There is a growing gap in American society that is making it easier to create and foster new political enemies and spiritual “others.”  In so-called Blue America (Obama and progressive) and Red America (anti-Obama and conservative) we are fast becoming a society at war with itself in a time a relative peace and prosperity at home. One needs to look no further than the recent debt crisis and government shutdown in Washington.

With so many living and communicating via the anonymity of social media – Twitter and Facebook -- we are losing the need, practice and art of civil dialogue. Our society is forgetting how to set the terms of debate, disagreement and work for the common good. 

A growing vocation of the Community of the Cross of Nails could become one of creating more intentional and focused meeting places for people on all sides to learn or re-learn how to get the heart of serious issues that cause division.  In this way, we return to our core historical narrative but in an updated context. A defining context that is not post-War Germany and Britain, or Irish Catholic and Northern Irish Protestant, or even the ongoing Palestinian and Israeli divide. The one with whom we may be called to reconcile may be the person which whom we share a workplace, the parents of our child's friends at school, and the neighbor across the street.  Our driving hope remains in John 17:21 when Jesus said: That all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. 

Responding to the Question: What role has World War I in the public memory of your country and will it be especially commemorated in 2014? And will your CCN take up the anniversary?

In current American society, World War II always looms large over demographics, politics, culture, and public memory. We are mindful that each day 600-war veterans die. The children born in the boom years after World War II are now reaching retirement age, causing a stress to social entitlement and welfare programs.

The shadow and memory of World War I is a more distant historical memory in American society, which invites clear benefits of centennial commemorations of the beginning of what was called a war to end all wars. The recent use of chemical weapons in Syria and the seeming pullback from a military strike on the Assad regime by Britain and the United States has allowed the issue of chemical weapons to reemerge in the public debate.  It was after all the use of chemical weapons in World War I, specially the chlorine and mustard gases that caused deaths in the tens of thousands and over a million casualties.  New gases were created and perfected during the conflict, causing some to call World War I the “Chemist’s war.” The use of gas in the Holocaust, in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and recently in Syria – to exterminate, kill indiscriminate and terrorize a population, gave rise to President Obama’s chemical weapon red line comment that gained much attention. In commemorating the beginning World War I, there is an opportunity for the CCN to share in the education of the work that reduce global chemical weapons stockpiles and pray and call for their elimination. 

Mark B. Pendleton
President, Community of the Cross of Nails-North America 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Shutdown and Shut up!

As a self-professed political junkie I find it hard not to think of the current government shutdown as just another bad reality television show writ large.  Everyone it appears is following worn out talking points and falling into familiar narratives: the two sides are being blamed in equal measure, a Shakespearean plague on both your houses.  What does it say about our nation that we have reached this point? How do people compromise without being viewed as weak?  How is a country governed when it seems so equally divided?  Not good vs. bad people per se: just people who passionately disagree.

It does strike me that I wonder what it would be like if people were as passionate about their faith as they are about politics and ideology. Even the U.S. Constitution, clearly a human-made document that has had universal (and I believe a positive) impact on nations throughout the world, in the current debate captures the passions of people far more than that of Holy Scripture. 

I would like to say that we in the Church have a ready answer to the politicians in Washington D.C.: just get along.  But are we on solid and high ground? Our own Episcopal Church, even as we took steps to be more inclusive in our theology and practice of the past 20 years, failed to do so in a way that prevented many congregations and laity from leaving. To be sure, it was a minority of people, but nevertheless it tore apart communities and friendships. Even our so-called extremes – liberal and conservative – find it hard to live together in the same body. Is an Anglican Communion even viable when primates and bishops will not even break bread together?

In two weeks I will travel to Germany for a conference of the German Community of the Cross of Nails. I am invited to give a presentation on the issues that the U.S. is confronting in terms of reconciliation and peace.  What will I say?  That Jesus’ call for us to love our enemies and seek peace is still as vital as ever. I just never thought the enemy would be perceived as so local. The enemy for too many sits across the political aisle. Red and Blue America needs a proverbial “Come to Jesus” moment to ask ourselves: will our common humanity allow us to solve big problems that challenge us and work to create a better society and world?  I hope it does. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Sunday Sermon: The Gospel of No Easy Answers

September 8, 2013
The Rev. Mark B. Pendleton
Christ Church, Exeter

The Gospel of No Easy Answers

On a day like today, I realize that the best part of being a relatively new rector here at Christ Church, who started two Sundays after the crowds of Easter Day had already thinned out a bit, who works and lives on New Hampshire’s Seacoast when folks clearly enjoy getting to the beach and away for the summer – that on a day like today I get to meet many people again – for the first time. 

Though always exciting, new and fresh to be with children as they begin a new year in school this time of year –- during a week where we also launched a new website to better get out the word of who we are as a community -- we have some challenging teaching to wade through this morning.

I have heard the advice from communication professionals that to be relevant and effective in today’s culture, Christians leaders would be wise to find other ways, other words, to talk about the core tenants of faith – words like redemption, salvation, atonement, incarnation, eschatology, apocalyptic – because it today’s modern and post-modern world, these words fail to convey the essence of Christianity.   When one thinks about it – those heavy words and weighty concepts -- I think there is a lot of truth in this critique. Let me offer another word: discipleship.  It goes to the core of today’s gospel reading.

To the crowds that were traveling with Jesus, he turned and said to them:  Luke 14: 26“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.  And to cap off this section:  33 none of you become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.  To sum up: hate your family, be willing to die, and give us everything you hold dear.  Welcome to Christ Church!

These challenging and even uncomfortable words are mostly familiar to the churchgoer if not easy to understand. I view them as verses that stand alongside the more uplifting words of Jesus about forgiveness, healing and love. The attitude we apply as we wrestle with them might be: ‘we have to take the good with the bad;’ or ‘they go with the territory;’ or ‘no pain no gain’ way of looking at the gospel.  Fair enough.  Clearly there’s something there for us to hear.

And then there’s Syria. We have been praying for Syria over these summer months. For an end to the violence. For the shelter of refugees. For its large ancient Christian community. 

And today we hear this:  Jesus says: 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? 31Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.

To me these verses seem eerily relevant and demanding in light of unfolding world events.  What could these examples of vigilance and preparedness in building a tower and waging war contribute to the extraordinary public debate going on this country about what to do -- or not do -- in after the reports of the use of chemical weapons?

If there is a road-map for a disciple of Jesus through the current crisis in Syria, or ongoing threats around the world, it may be hard to see through the filter of the media, politics and national interest and the lens of recent history.  The more I learn and read, the more uncertain I become of what to do beyond praying that peace wins out, which is always something we should do.

There comes a point in a national debate like the one that is taking place, and I believe, in our own personal lives, that we become numb and overwhelmed and we titter of becoming disconnected instead of engaged.  Not indifferent so much, but numb. Numb to war, numb to bad news, numb to more disturbing YouTube pictures of human suffering, retaliation, and senseless violence. It happens in the hours or days after great tragedy, 9/11, Oklahoma City, the Asian Tsunami, the Haiti earthquake, Newtown, the Boston Marathon bombing: enough.  I can’t watch any more. Turn off the TV, get outside, play with the kids, walk the dog, go out to lunch with a friend, watch a mindless comedy or reality TV show.  There’s a reason Duck Dynasty is the highest rated show on cable. 

We are a congregation that remembers every week the names of soldiers who have lost their lives – the most precious gift that God gives – in a war that is coming to a slow and painful end in Afghanistan.  We are a war-weary nation living in a violent world. A memorable cover of an Episcopal magazine years ago put it another way: We are an Easter people living in a Good Friday world. How will we as Christians shape our prayers, our views, our response to this and any other hard decision that will have to be made?

What appears clear in the words of Jesus in today’s gospel reading is that being a follower of Jesus Christ then and now will require some difficult choices and will lead us through dark and lonely times.  For those defined by what they own, a call to give up all their possessions was the best way for Jesus to drive the point home.  In a culture where family was everything, Jesus calling on hating one’s own family hit a nerve.  Especially when many people treated family members as their possession.  

I believe deeply that you and I just can’t come together to hear what we want to hear. We have no other option to wrestle with difficult teachings and passages, intractable problems, over-size challenges.

I do believe that the journey we are all on has a simple message that we best hear: we cannot hold onto what is not fully ours.  And for some it takes a lifetime and even an eternity to accept let alone embrace this.  A parent cannot hide the pain, disappointment and violence of the world from their child forever. This is especially true in a community such as ours. The downsizing grandparent comes to realize that their memories of family and yesterday do last forever – allowing them to courageously let go of cherished homes and family heirlooms. The money that so many work so hard to earn, save and invest can touch and impact a wider community when it is also offered for the good of many and given away. The church at its best makes that possible. Wherever we thought we would be by a certain age in terms of career, relationship, prosperity, security is seldom the place we are today, and that takes some tough soul searching to work though. True grace is discovering that we are in the place where God is fully known to us. 

Lee C. Camp, a writer from Nashville wrote: (in his book Mere Discipleship: Radical Christianity in a Rebellious World)  “Jesus of Nazareth always comes asking disciples to follow him--not merely "accept him," not merely "believe in him," not merely "worship him," but to follow him: one either follows Christ, or one does not. There is no compartmentalization of the faith, no realm, no sphere, no business, no politic in which the Christ will be excluded.”

Tough, challenging, and life giving lessons. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

The 911 Call Heard Around the World

Have you heard the 911 call?   Recorded live as a gunman stormed a school in Georgia on Tuesday, a calm woman took control of chaos and helped avoid another Newtown mass shooting.  

The hero of the moment is Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper at the Ronald E. McNair Academy. When the fully armed (packing 500 rounds of ammunition) suspect Michael Brandon Hill stormed the school, by some stroke of good fortune and God's grace it was Antoinette who talked the would-be mass murderer off the proverbial ledge.  You must listen to the call. She schooled those who would ever hope to train as hostage negotiators.  

What is so stunning is that she spoke to the shooter first and foremost as a person and not as potential murderer or mentally unstable person. She called Hill 'sir' and 'sweetie.' She confessed her own struggles. At one point she told him "I just want you to know I love you, though, OK? And I'm proud of you."  

When it was all over and no lives were lost, it was clear that Antoinette was fully aware of the danger she was in on that day. She also said "Oh Jesus" when it was finally over.  I do not know of her religious upbringing, but I have a hunch that her church and faith formation gave her the words and the courage to tell the shooter that she did not hate him.  All would be well.

We say at each baptism service that we covenant to live out our faith by "respecting the dignity of every human being."  How do we do that? The school bookkeeper from Decatur showed us the way.  Share our humanity. Do not hate. Meet suffering with compassion and look to God to deliver us from moments beyond our ability to manage alone. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Caught between a Kindle and a Hardcover

Christ Church, Exeter
August 8, 2013

Summer Reading: Caught between a Kindle and a Hardcover

I am really trying to like my Kindle. Actually it is an older model that I gave to my wife some years ago. (She's moved on to an I-Pad). I want to like it, and I do, but I am having a hard time giving up THE BOOK.  An actual book.

For me part of the joy of reading is the process of selecting a book. I rarely like a book purchased for me at the holidays because I have been denied the all-important browsing stage part of the process. I need to browse. Read the back jacket. Or at the very least, go online and read the reviews. Plus I like feeling the paper, turning the page, and holding the book in my hand. Dinosaur I am.

So what am I reading this summer? As one always thinking about the next potential church discussion book group, I am half-way through James E. Atwood's America and Its Guns: A Theological Expose ..  30,000 people die a year from guns in America and Atwood, a Presbyterian pastor, tries to get at the why. Sobering read.

Knowing that I would be traveling this fall for a Cross of Nails conference in Germany, a parishioner recommended to me to read Stark Decency: German Prisoners of War in a New England Village by Allen V. Koop.   Stark, New Hampshire is a small town that learned a great deal about war, hospitality and humanity during the cold years near the end of World War II.  I could not help but read it in light of Guantanamo and the challenges we face as a nation today with regard to the treatment of so-called "enemy combatants."

I know I am over ambitious for my week of vacation at the end of August, but I hope to finish at least one of the three real hardcover books I just purchased. Bunker Hill: A City, a Siege, a Revolution by Nathaniel Philbrick (heard the author on public radio and the books sounds interesting for a history lover). Hope to get my political fix with This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral-Plus, Plenty of Valet Parking!-in America's Gilded Capital by Mark Leibovich who spills all the inside info in Washington DC. I am also eager to see what the fuss is all about with Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan.  Aslan, a Muslim, who hit the jackpot after an overly contentious interview on Fox recently takes another look at the historical Jesus, which has always fascinated me.  Who would like to read Zealot during August and pitch a book group?

Happy reading.   

Friday, August 2, 2013

Who am I to Judge?

August 1, 2013
Feast of Joseph of Arimathaea

Who am I to Judge?

The world it seems, and many Episcopalians I talk to, are swooning over Pope Francis. I wrote about his first meeting with the Archbishop of Canterbury back in June. In Brazil this past week the Pope was met by huge crowds, millions of young people from around the world, and parents thrusting their babies towards him for them to be kissed and blessed.

Perhaps his biggest splash came not on the beach in Rio but on the flight back to Rome when he gave a rare press conference to stunned reporters. The statement that received all the buzz was an answer he gave in response to a question about the presence of gay clergy in the Church. Yet, as he responded, his subject and audience seemed to be much larger than a so-called 'gay lobby' at the Vatican. When asked directly about gay and lesbian people, Pope Francis said "If they accept the Lord and have good will, who am I to judge them? They shouldn't be marginalized."

"Who am I to judge?"

My first take is this: shouldn't we expect a Pope or any Christian for that matter to be on firm and well-worn ground when he or she is simply quoting Jesus? Should not be news. But it is.

In the gospel for this coming Sunday from Luke, Jesus responds to a question about dividing a family inheritance by saying: "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?"

We know, as Jesus knew, that people do judge. We judge from our deep sense of self-doubt and insecurity that family pedigree, academic achievement, and material possessions can never paper over. We judge out of a fear that someone is looking over our shoulders and peering down into our lives and secrets. We judge out a place of self-righteousness, political correctness and misplaced superiority.  We judge from our humanity. We do not judge all the time, of course, but enough to be mindful and aware.

So I say: "You go Pope Francis!" Keep reminding us of what Jesus preached. And may Christ give you strength to be a Christian leader from whom all of us can learn and be inspired.  


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Our Man in Havana

Christ Church, Exeter
July 18, 2013

Our Man in Havana

The phrase 'Our Man in Havana' conjures up for me images of the Cold War, Latin heat, and intrigue. Published in 1958, and later turned into a movie, Graham Greene's thriller evokes nostalgia as it offers a satirical way of looking at the world that never seems to get old.

Back in 1986 I was that imaginary man. I spent a year, mostly based out of Havana, working for the Episcopal Diocese of Cuba and attending classes at the seminary two hours away. The Episcopal Church's presence in Cuba goes back to the late 1800's when Americans began taking more of a commercial and political interest with the islands in the Caribbean. Before Fidel Castro took power, the Cuban Episcopal Church was a church of the middle class, with schools having been planted throughout the countryside by American missionaries. Though the government confiscated its schools, no churches were closed by the Revolution. Today the diocese is led by the Rt. Rev. Griselda Delgado Del Carpio, a native of Bolivia but who has lived in Cuba for over three decades.  

My son Will leaves for Cuba on Monday as a Young Adult Service Corps volunteer of the Episcopal Church. Though obviously new to Christ Church since April, you all are his official sending parish. Donations have been arriving from his supporters around the country into our parish office (thank you Lucia!) and then sent on to the Episcopal Church offices to fund his year.  

YASC is inspired in many ways by the Peace Corps.  YASCers are meant live simply, be hosted by local Episcopal dioceses, and use what skills and gifts they possess to further the work of the church.  Will will be assisting in the hosting of various groups visiting from other countries, as well as coordinating the communication of several development and building projects around the diocese.  The plan is for him to live with a clergy family (my former classmate from 1986) about two hours east of Havana, while traveling to the capital often.

This Sunday we will commission Will for his year away in the service of the church at the 9:30 service. As his father, I ask for your prayers for him - for his safety and for the possibilities of what the year can bring. You are invited to follow his journey at his website <>  which is named, of course, 'Our YASC Man in Havana.'

I am planning a trip to Cuba in January. If you would like to join us, please do let me know.  

The Rev. Mark B. Pendleton

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Feast of Independence Day

Christ Church, Exeter

Did you know that Independence Day is considered a Major Feast day in the Episcopal Church? Many of those who had a hand in founding our nation were also one-time members of the Church of England and soon-to-be communicants of the newly named Episcopal Church.  

This is the collect for July 4.

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Enjoy the day and may God continue to bless, protect, and inspire our nation.  

The Rev. Mark B. Pendleton

Monday, July 1, 2013

Make God Real

Christ Church, Exeter
June 27, 2013
Make God Real

"It could be worse!" I announced at the beginning of last night's Celebration of New Ministry.  Though warm, humid and sticky, the afternoon rain cooled down Pine Street just enough to ensure that folks would not topple over from heat stroke by sermon time.

By all accounts, it was a night to celebrate the ministry we share.  Bishop Rob gave a thoughtful, personal and inspiring message that called on all of us to make God real in this world and to love everyone... "love them all" he echoed throughout his sermon.

The musical group Surcari from Connecticut was warmly welcomed and we hope to have them back some time in the future for a Sunday morning. (For those who were asking, I do have a few of their c.d.'s in my office that can be purchased for $12.) Many thanks to the choir for reassembling for the occasion.  

I was surprised and delighted by the Latin-themed food at the reception and thank all of those who made it possible.  

So I believe last night was the last official event in your Search process. Amen. Now: forward.  

I leave you with the text of a quote that Bishop Rob mentioned last night. He framed the quote as a gift to me which I will display in my office.  

Archbishop of Canterbury (1961-1974) Michael Ramsey wrote this to a priest to be ordained:

Through the years people will thank God for you. Let your reason for their thankfulness be not just that you were a person whom they liked or loved, but because you made God real to them. Put yourself into God's hands in joy and thankfulness, and in the words of St. Peter, 'Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that God may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon God, for God cares for you.'


The Rev. Mark B. Pendleton