Showing posts from 2011

Chain of blessing

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them, The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace. So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them (Numbers 6:22-27).

Every day for the past 3,000+ years, these words of blessing have been spoken to the people of Israel. This "priestly blessing," named as such because it was given to Aaron and his sons, the hereditary priesthood of Tabernacle and Temple, has echoed through the ages, in that lineage, and adopted by the presiding ministers of the Christian Church.*

The photo above is contemporary, taken yesterday. "A descendant of the priestly caste pronounces the High Priest Aharon's blessing at the Western Wall," 70,000 attend Priestly Blessing at Western Wall, Jerusalem World News, 12/31/11.

They are said so…

With us is God

Gracious God, born of Mary and ever-coming into the world, this Christmas may we receive the grace to adore you. May we worship your glory in humble places. May we honor you with fine gifts for those in low estate. And may we, with shepherds and angels, sing praise to God Most High, God Most Near, God Most Holy, God Most Merciful, Jesus Christ our savior, our brother, our king. Amen.

Joy to the World

A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together...” (Isaiah 40:3b-5a).

Three weeks ago the season of Advent began with the reading of these words of prophecy. Isaiah knew that there are so many obstacles between us and God, between the world we have and the world God is bringing into being.

As Advent proceeds, we are asked to be attentive to the ways that God is working in the world, perhaps even look to and minister in the “rough places” as precisely the places where God's glory is being revealed.

The Hudson County Correctional Center (pictured above) is tucked into one of those corners of the County that pass for “wilderness,” surrounded by tangles of concertina wire. If your loved one is ins…

Prayer for healing

Healer of our every ill,
Light of each tomorrow,
give us peace beyond our fear,
and hope beyond our sorrow.

Great God, your very life is healing for illness, for sorrow, for that which is broken. Lay your hand upon us, that we might be made whole, renewed in life, upheld by your Spirit, and possessed by your love.

Bless all those engaged in the ministry of healing, and help our hospitals, clinics, doctors, nurses, aides, therapists, chaplains, and health care administrators be enablers of healing for people and communities. We ask in the name of the great physician, the One whose ministry heals the sick and the world itself, Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.

"Healer of our every ill" verse by Marty Haugen, (c) 1987, GIA Publications, Inc. "Flower Mandala" by Carole Devereux.

"Black" Friday prayer

Generous God, we come before you knowing that every Friday is a bleak Friday when we remember your crucifixion, each injustice, every evil in this world. And yet we rejoice, knowing that each Sunday - in fact every day - is a resurrection day when we celebrate your gift of new life to the world. Help us to trust that your providence is enough, and that each day may bring bread for all who hunger.

Grant that we, like your faithful disciples in every age, might know the power of resurrection in the midst of this world. And enable us to be witnesses to your glory, sharing the good news of freedom from bondage to debt, bondage to lusts, bondage to fear, bondage to any desire other than for good, in Jesus name. Amen.


Thanksgiving 2011

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

The Apostle Paul does not urge us to give thanks for everything, but simply observes that we are created with an orientation towards thankfulness, and that in every circumstance there is something that we can be grateful for.

Being thankful, dwelling in thankfulness, is good for us, and is a holy place to be. For what are you thankful today?

I am fortunate to be blessed with many things. I am grateful for fulfilling work – even in the midst of aggravation! I am grateful for the generosity of others which is helping to feed so many people today. And I am thankful that today is a day of rest for me. I am glad to finally have a nice car to replace the one destroyed by a drunk driver in June, and still thankful that no one was hurt in that incident. And especially grateful that this has carried me to visit my Dad, who is still living and enjoyin…

Remembering Kennedy

Today marks the 52nd anniversary of the killing of John F. Kennedy, President.

Since his death, we have learned some of the back story of his complicated life. Without the chance to complete his term as President - and a full life of public service - we are left with a story of promise and potential not fully realized. So it becomes easy to imagine a flawed Presidency, or an idealized one. And that has probably distracted attention from this American hero, who was elected based in large part on the strength of his character.

Our polis, our civic life has suffered from this traumatic loss. While not my favorite talking head, Chris Matthews' writing on Kennedy is worth reading, and his new book Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, provides a good look at a leader whose loss we justly mourn.

The 9-Percent

"Approval of Congress Matches Record Low," Allison Kopiciki, NY Times Caucus blog, 9/16/11. "Congress faces historically low approval ratings as it wades into the debate over the $447 billion jobs package proposed by President Obama, with just 12 percent of Americans now approving of the way Congress is handling its job, matching its all-time low... Only 6 percent of registered voters say that most members of Congress have earned re-election, while 84 percent say it’s time to give someone new a chance, a historic low for the New York Times/CBS poll. Dissatisfaction with Congress runs deep across both parties, with more than 8 in 10 of both Republicans and Democrats saying it’s time to elect new representatives" (emphasis added).

I would like to know where they found the 9% who approve? People who have been comatose for the past six years? Clones of Grover Norquist, ideologically ecstatic that government has now ceased to function?

First Congress punted the job of fis…


For about as long as humans have been human, we have wondered, feared, and hoped about the souls of our companions who die. Both out of love for those we've lost, and out of fear for what might happen to us, we have felt it important to "put the dead in their place," to make sure they are not wandering the earth causing trouble.

Perhaps it's no problem that we are no longer quite so supertitious in this direction. But there's something missing when Halloween has become just an occasion for dress-up and excess.

Ghosts still wander the earth - in reality, or in metaphor. We do well to respect what they still have to say to us, what we need to do to help assure peace in their passing. In the Western Church, we will remember the departed tomorrow, on All Saints' Day. But tonight, for all the fun there may be in a Fall Carnaval, I hope we do not neglect the spirits that are just out of sight.

Growing faith

We were asked a question today in church: "How do we grow in faith"?

Does the grass know how it grows? It is a mystery.

Good soil, water, and sunlight help - but are no guarantee. We know people with seemingly all the resources, but no results. And, while hardship can stunt growth, new life can unaccountably spring up in the most adverse circumstances.

Whenever it happens, growth in faith, faith itself, is always a gift.

If there is one thing that helps the most... it is the example of others' fathfulness, others' hope, others' love. We see that so clearly in Jesus - but also in so many others. That is the best kind of soil.


God's commandments

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: "Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy." And then the Lord gave ten commandments for the people to follow. Leviticus 19:1-2

Over the years, the commandments have picked up a bad reputation with some, fueled by those who would impose them on others, or who seem to delight in punishing lawbreakers. But the text does not show the commandments given by these lesser authorities, but by God.

And you might simply take them as guidelines for good behavior. We don't need a heavenly enforcer to know that killing, stealing, jealousy, failure to rest, and disrespect to others eventually leads to bad results. Violate them and you violate the conditions of personal and social health, to your peril.

But look back to the way God gives the commandments: not to keep people in line, but out of God's desire that we share in the holiness, the righteousness, the goodness tha…

Prayer for peace

This day marks the 10th anniversary of the US invasion of Afghanistan, our nation's longest war.

Afghanistan War Children, photographer unknown
O God, war rends your creation and multiplies suffering and poverty. Let us cry out in response to war's devastation. Be with all affected by warfare: those who wage it, those caught in its crossfire, and those who fund and enable it. Call forth peacemakers and healers, that the wounds of war and the ills which provoke war might be the subject of your care, your healing, your transformation. Help us to see the many victims of war: the precious lives killed, the beautiful bodies maimed, the spirits afflicted by violence committed, inflicted upon, and witnessed. Have mercy, and heal us.

O God, it is your will to hold both heaven and earth in a single peace. Let the design of your great love shine on the waste of our wraths and sorrows, and give peace to your church, peace among nations, peace in our homes, and peace in our hearts; t…

Friday prayer

From despair and hopelessness: save us, Lord.
From denial and paralysis: save us, Lord.
From indifference and fear: save us, Lord.
From captivity to sin and thrall to death: save us, Lord.

In mercy you came to dwell among us, sharing bread and breath, dining with sinners, forgiving enemies, and caring for creation with the power of God's own love. Hear us now, and heal us from the sin that has twisted us, that we might be upright with you and with one another, in Jesus' name. Amen.

Lloyd Gold

Lloyd Gold died last Friday. Maybe you knew him, or someone like him.

At his funeral, one of his friends observed that Lloyd was “not normal.” And thank God for that. You might have expected to see him in the pages of Faulkner or Flannery O’Connor, the final gone-astray scion of a once grand Southern family. Instead, Lloyd was a fixture of Hoboken and Jersey City street life for the past 20+ years.

His funeral was in the basement of a funeral parlor in Newark. They were going to “throw him away,” until a long-time friend stepped in to make sure that Lloyd was buried right. I don’t know that Lloyd would have cared that much, but it was good for the nine people who came to see him off.

He looked pretty good, considering he was dead, wearing his only suit jacket, his hair trimmed. Lloyd loved his jewelry, but all of it had been stolen before a friend came to pack up his things. So he went out wearing just a tiny shamrock pin, a gift he’d once given, now given back, and a necklace of s…

There can be no doubt

LAST MINUTE UPDATE: In less than 90 minutes, the state of Georgia is scheduled to execute someone whose guilt is very much in doubt. Any hope for intervention rests in the hands of Chatham County District Attorney Larry Chisolm and Judge Penny Freesemann. Please sign the petition asking them to stop what can never be reversed: an execution.

The United States of America continues to kill people, as the State of Georgia plans to do tomorrow to Troy Davis. Mr. Davis was convicted of murdering a Georgia police officer, Mark Allen Macphail, in 1991. Since then, the case against him has collapsed, and a new trial would certainly fall well short of reasonable doubt. (See Amnesty International for a summary.)

I do not know if Troy Davis is guilty or innocent. And that is a problem.

I believe we should not be in the execution business at all. But we certainly can't be killing people when guilt is not certain.

Troy Davis has said "They can take my body but not my spirit, because I have…

Dag Hammarskjöld - I am the vessel

Dag Hammarskjöld (July 29, 1905 - September 18, 1961) was descended from a family line of Swedish knights. The youngest son of the Prime Minister of Sweden, Hjalmar Hammarskjöld, a member of the Hague Tribunal and the Nobel Foundation, he was raised in an atmosphere steeped in an ethic of public service.

An outstanding student, he excelled in his studies, particularly in the Humanities and linguistics. He became known as a talented poet and translator of poetry, particularly the poems of Emily Dickinson; an art and music historian; and in his later years, as a theologian. He was also an athlete: a gymnast, a skier, and a mountaineer. But his main interest was political economy. He earned a law degree and a doctorate in economics from Uppsala University and taught economics, then entered public service. Working for Sweden’s financial health in the years of the Great Depression, and for Swedish foreign policy, he helped to preserve Sweden’s neutrality as so much of Europe fell under the…

Prayer for 9/11 anniversary

O God, our help in ages past,
our hope for years to come,
our shelter from the stormy blast,
and our eternal home.

As we recall terrors past and present, grant that we may remember your response: the way of the cross, the resurrection from the dead, and the sharing of bread. Heal our suffering world, and grant that we may not be marked by evil, but transformed by the power of your redeeming love, in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Isaac Watts, "O God our help in ages past," from The Psalms of Da­vid, 1719.
Stephane Jaspert, "Two candles" (1982) after Gerhard Richter, used by permission.

The New Rugged Cross

Immediately following the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, there was an extensive search to rescue any surviving victims. On September 13, 2001, one of the construction workers, Frank Silecchia, was searching in the debris under 6 World Trade Center. He has said that he had been having a silent conversation with God, in despair at the wreckage. He felt lost in his heart, mind, and every other way. In the tangled mess of destruction, there were no longer any straight lines, no reference points.

Frank turned around and saw a void, which he later called a "chapel," and saw three vertical lines through the dust. As he got closer, he saw three crosses of steel beams. The central one, 20 feet tall, had a shroud of ductwork draped over its left beam. Frank took this as a sign that God was present in the midst of the destruction, and it became used as a shrine and place of prayer. In early October, the central cross was moved to Church & Liberty Streets, next to the m…

Cristobal de Morales Requiem Mass - 9/10/11

Saturday, September 10th at 11:30am, Holy Rosary Church will offer a Requiem Mass in memory of those killed ten years earlier. The mass will be sung by Cantores Sancti Rosarii, directed by Harold Bott.

This is a moving and ethereal treatment of the Mass for the Dead. Cristobal de Morales' music is typical of the polyphony of the middle Renaissance, and the Requiem is a simple, contemplative presentation of the funeral mass. The central theme of the service is in the Requiem text: "Grant them eternal rest, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine on them."

Holy Rosary Church is at 344 6th St (between Brunswick and Monmouth Streets) in downtown Jersey City (FLYER).

Prayer for faith in the storm

Great God, as tumults rage, grant us the impetuous faith to throw ourselves into a disorderly world, that we may find you there. Grant us the power to bring calm to those in trouble, hope to those in peril, healing to any who are broken, and bread to the hungry, in Jesus name. Amen.

Matthew 14:22-33, with thanks to Matthew Skinner for a great idea and some good language.

Taking Jesus Literally

In the gospels we hear again and again how Jesus loved to break bread with others. He repeatedly sent his disciples out to see that people were fed, even when it seemed impossible (Matthew 14:13-21).

Telling about our churches' food pantries or tallying up our hours at the local soup kitchen doesn't feed anyone. When we have more than we need, there is room to share more. At a time when our government is heading in the wrong economic direction and when Congressional leaders are out-doing each another in doing less for those in need, Jesus asks “do you love me”? If we do, we will feed his people. (You can look it up: John 21:15-19).

Perhaps now is a good time to challenge one another to take Jesus literally. Food ministries in the US are close to crisis status, with declining support and increasing need. The front page of today's New York Times features a photograph of a child starving in Somalia (“Somalis Waste Away as Insurgents Block Escape From Famine”). Its famine hits…

9/11 Books, Video and Other Resources

Some of the best resources I've found for presenting and interpreting 9/11.


City in the Sky: The Rise and Fall of the World Trade Center. James Glanz and Eric Lipton, Times Books, 2003. The best, most comprehensive telling of the World Trade Center’s history, from its conception and construction to its destruction and beyond.

102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers. Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, Times Books, 2005. Stories from inside the towers on 9/11. Good architectural diagrams of the buildings’ structure, and discussion of the design decisions which had an impact on survival.

Messages: Signs, Visits, and Premonitions from Loved Ones Lost on 9/11. Bonnie McEneaney, William Morrow, 2010. In a different vein, tells stories of peoples’ after-death experiences with 9/11 victims. Well done and respectful of both belief and skepticism in the afterlife.

Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back. Jere Longman, Har…

Preaching the 10th Anniversary of 9/11

I’ll be preaching this September 11th, the tenth anniversary of the Al-Qaeda attack on the World Trade Center and Washington DC. I have been involved in the recovery work from those attacks since that date, working as a chaplain in the World Trade Center recovery, and more recently guiding tours of the World Trade Center site for the Tribute Center.

This means that I know a lot about those events. They have been part of my life. They deeply affected me and many people I know. It also means I feel the need to do some extra work to think this one through, to put my feelings and experience in service of proclaiming good news.

Beginning that work, there are a couple of thoughts that may be helpful to other preachers and speakers who will grapple with what to say.

Unique Memories

One of the features of 9/11 for the preacher is that most of your audience will know what you are talking about. As one of the signature moments in cultural history, people remember where they were when they heard…

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany

Almighty God, we give you thanks for those witnesses who have preceded us in faith, especially remembering this day the New Testament saints of Bethany: Mary, who sat at her rabbi's feet; Martha, who trusted in Jesus and confessed him as Messiah; and Lazarus, who obeyed Jesus' command and came out of the grave. Give us the grace to listen to your Word, true hearts to know your presence, and the will to follow you from death into life. Grant that we too may follow you in faith, trusting ever in your promise of new life in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.


The U.S. Constitution, adopted September 17, 1787: “Section. 8. The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States; To borrow Money on the credit of the United States;...” (

“This debt limit increase is his [Obama’s] problem...” John Boehner, Speaker of the House, July 12, 2011.

“We need to raise the debt limit - but Republicans can’t take the responsibility.” Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Leader, July 12, 2011. (OK, that’s not a quote - just a summary of what he said. He described his plan where the Republicans would vote “against” a debt limit increase - but also give Obama the authority to do it, abdicating their responsibility under the Constitution. See Mitch McConnell says Republicans will not let government default.)

Shame on you. Your economics are wrong…

Land that I love

July 4, 2011

I used to make a point of calling this holiday “Independence Day.” Its major feature was, for me, the specific point of national pride in seeking independence from a foreign master. It was about standing up, declaring “this is what we stand for,” and being willing to back it up with “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.”

I know a little more history these days, enough to know that few persons’ deeds ever match their rhetoric. Those who talk freedom are not always the ones who sacrifice of themselves to win it. And American freedom has far too often been at the expense of others’ bondage: slaves, women, native peoples, the poor in this land and others.

The very term “independence” rings oddly when we know that independence is a fiction, whether we are talking about “individuals” (who only exist in families and communities), the global political-economy, or the interconnection of all things (dependent origination).

Yet the fourth day in July is a good occasion to …

Sunday haiku

Rain drops, fish plops, monk
chants drift. A carp floats
close by Kwan Yin, belly up.

A glimpse of the Buddha

Today (Saturday 7/2) was the first full day of Buddhist Summer Camp at Chuang Yen Monastery. The day is programmed with Dharma talks and Buddhist education, service, “working meditation,” vegetarian meals, and typical camp activities like relay races. I have visited the monastery before but never stayed overnight. It is a peaceful, beautiful, well-used, and welcoming place.

At the end of the day, I walked back to the men’s dormitory, which sits across from a small lake. In late twilight, I paused to sit for a few moments on a flat rock. The lake was before me, mirroring the surrounding trees and the deepening shades of the sky above.

Every few moments carp would break the surface of the lake, each plop a reminder that the lake was a living thing. And also the occasion to think of how nice it would be have a pond with such well-fed fish, who dine on remainders from the dining hall, and who would no doubt make a tasty, sustainable addition to the dining table.

Then I thought of the kar…