Praying the Psalms

It was eleven years ago that I started City Called Heaven. I began with lectionary reflections for Lent 2008.

Now we are at the threshold of another Lent, and I am happy to announce the launch of a new blog,

It was in my early days as a chaplain that I started to rely on the Book of Psalms as a resource for prayer and faith. It speaks of God and to God in varied voices, and is distinctive in its ability to give voice to deep emotions: joy, despair, confidence, pain, rage, hope, pleas for rescue and complaints at injustice. will offer brief reflections on individual psalms, giving priority and focus to those used in the Revised Common Lectionary for the 3-year cycle of church readings. I do this in part to aid preachers, who tend to neglect the psalms as a resource for preaching. Yet the congregation reads a psalm each Sunday. And those words can speak directly to the heart.

Live today are 63 articles, representing just over half of the 10…

Which Lincoln to remember?

Each February, historians are polled for their rankings of the best (and worst) Presidents. However you choose to rate their performance in office and place in history, Abraham Lincoln surely stands alone like none other, excepting that singular first President, George Washington.

While other Presidents steered the ship of state in times of war, none did so when the nation was at war with itself, citizen killing citizen at a rate of at least 180,000+ Americans per year over the four years of warfare.[1] While 16 times Presidents were elected with less than a majority of the popular vote, Lincoln had the second lowest vote percentage ever, and the lowest ever to win election by the electoral college.[2] While other Presidents were opposed and hated, no other's election triggered armed rebellion. Lincoln, and the events he presided over, led to the first Presidential assassination. And Lincoln was the only President bold enough to risk - and win - freeing America's slaves.


A letter to those urging patience with injustice

I was thrilled to hear Martin King's Letter from a Birmingham Jail read today on the radio. If the Church ever decides to add to the New Testament, this is my #1 nomination.

Today we justly see King as a hero, but that was not how most saw him at the time. He wrote the letter on scrap paper, smuggled it out of jail, and the NY Times turned it down for publication. In the letter, King notes his stand in the prophetic tradition, but also his status as a "n-----r" and "boy" (and implicitly as convict).

"At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist.... But as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love? -- 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you.' Was not Amos an extremist for justice? -- 'Let justice roll down like waters and rig…

A decree went out

In those days a decree went out from President Trump - no wait, it was Emperor Augustus. Well, there's always someone who thinks they're on top... Anyway, a decree went out that all the world should be registered. Because the empire needs everyone to have papers. Without papers, you can't be properly tracked, can't be properly taxed, can't be properly subject to those trying to run the show.

This was the first registration and was taken while Bashar al-Assad was governor of Syria. (Or was it Quirinius? So many governors...) All went to their own towns to be registered. Maybe that's where the original papers were. Or maybe it's because once you're a Judean, always a Judean, once a Mexican, always a Mexican. Once a Kurd, an Eritrean, a Cambodian, a Yemeni... you get the idea. The Authorities said you'd better get the idea.

Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended fro…

The night is long, but the light still shines

Light in the darkness, a road through a wasteland, welcome in a foreign land, shelter in a storm. Pick your image. There is never a time and place where we cannot use hope, and grace, comfort and assurance.

Last week it was with people turning grief into action. Tuesday night it was in jail. Wednesday night it was in church. Thursday it was at a lunch table. Someday soon it could be at a manger.

Where there is love, help us to find it. Teach us to know that a shadow is only a shadow, because the light of eternal goodness shines behind the object of our fears.

May these days be holy for you.

Candlelighting, Blue Christmas service, November 19, 2018, Christ Our Saviour Lutheran Church, Jersey City.

Remembering still

Seventeen years later, we are still in the business of remembering. And there is so much to remember.

The beautiful clear sky. The terror streaking out of the skies. The death and destruction, the anguished waiting. The bravery and compassion multiplied by thousands and millions as people strove to help their neighbors. And also the way the evil of a few escalated into seventeen years of war with no end in sight.

We remember the ones who died that day. The photo above (taken some years after 2001) shows an altar at St. Paul's Chapel, shining forth the faces of some of those beloved people. Their family and friends still know their loss personally. Like Danny Correa, the 25 year old man looking out from the lower left of the picture. "I dance in the clouds and soak in the haze," he emailed a friend, soon after he started working near the top of the North Tower. He was very happy to get that job, which allowed him to provide for his daughter, complete his bachelor's d…

Psalm 24 - The earth is the Lord’s

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it;...
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts, who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.
They will receive blessing from the LORD...
Lift up your heads, O gates! and be lifted up, O ancient doors! that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory.
Psalm 24 (NRSV)

This had better be a psalm of hope. Who shall stand in God’s holy place? Those who have clean hands and pure hearts.

That may add up to a large number - but is definitely a small proportion. Even on my best days, that is aspirational more than actual.

The religion of ancient Israel understood that in the course of life and through our very nature, we will not always be right and righteous before God. We do and say and sometimes simply encounter things which compromise our…