Reflecting on Lent: Mortality and Martyrdom

Coptic Christian martyrs

by Ken Howard

I still cannot speak of this without a misting of my eyes and a twisting of sorrow in my heart…

I woke up yesterday to the news of 21 Coptic Christians executed for the “crime” of being “people of the cross” – brutally murdered in the name of “God” by men who pretend to be brave and heroic while covering their faces in a way that can only be described as cowardly. And as I looked at the picture of those 21 men, forced to kneel at the feet of their soon-to-be executioners, I realized that if ever I am tempted to think that we as Christians face persecution in this country, my mind’s eye will return to this picture. Indeed, nothing I have ever experienced can hold a candle to this. This is the real deal.

As I looked at the faces of the 21 kneeling men, I also realized that I these were the faces of people who would soon be martyrs. “Martyr” – which literally means “witness” in the original Greek of the Bible – is not a term we use much in church these days. So I had never really wrestled with that meaning…until yesterday. But now it made a deep kind of sense. And oddly enough, that sense was made plain by the “verdict” given by the video’s narrator. They were being beheaded, we were told, because they “carried the vision of the cross in their heads.” Other than that, they were regular people. They were husbands, fathers, sons, simple fisherman, doing a day’s work to provide for their families. Except for the fact that they lived in a part of the world where simply being a follower of Jesus Christ was actually dangerous, they could be us…and we could be them. We share in the crime for which they were martyred: the crime of being a witness – the crime of carrying the vision of the cross – the vision of the cross of Jesus – in our heads.

Which brings me to the subject of Lent. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. Christians – little Christ-followers – around the world will participate in the sacrament of the Imposition of Ashes, in which the ashes remaining from the palms of last year’s Palm Sunday will be applied to our foreheads in the shape of a cross. These ashes are not a sign of fasting – as some think – but a sign of our mortality.


These ashes we wear say to all that see us, “I know that I am mortal.” And the crosses that they form on the outside of our heads say, “Guilty as charged…I hold the vision of the cross in my head.” It says to the world, “You may take my life, but you cannot separate my spirit from God.”

Remember you are dust

These ashes remind those of us who wear them that God created us from dust and blew life into us. They remind us that without God’s breath within us, our bodies return to the dust from which we were created, yet the unique spirit that God breathed into each of us – the unique spirit that IS us – returns to be with God. And these ashes also remind us that life is a fragile thing that must be nurtured, a priceless gift from God that must be treasured, and a taste of participation in Christ that must be savored.

It is part of our tradition to choose a Lenten discipline: a thing we will do during the 40 days of Lent to focus our minds on mortality, the fleeting preciousness of life, and the vision of the cross that we carry in our heads.

What will my Lenten discipline be?

For each of the 40 days of Lent I will give thanks for lives of the 21 who lost them because they carried the vision of the cross, and who by their deaths have returned to the One who created them, the One who redeemed them, the One who kept them in life. And because Jesus asks it of me, I will strive not to hate those who took their lives, but rather that they experience the love we know in Jesus Christ in such a way as to turn their hearts away from evil and towards a heart-rending repentance for what they have done, as Christ has done with Saul of Tarsus and so many others who have persecuted and killed his followers.

And I will meditate on these words from Richard Hooker, widely acknowledged as one of the founders of the Anglican Church:

Dangerous it were for the feeble mind of man
to wander too far into the doings of the Almighty.
Our highest knowledge of him is that we know him not,
our safest eloquence concerning him is our silence.
Therefore our words should be wary and few.

Wishing you a holy Lent,
Ken Signature

When a moment’s significance does not compute


By The Rev’d Curtis Farr

I was tremendously unprepared to visit the Holy Land. Logistically, my plans were resolute—the two-week course on “The Palestine of Jesus” was absolutely all-inclusive, and I even had purchased travel insurance for my airfare. The latter ended up being an expensive mistake, but that is beside the point.

I was prepared, and yet I wasn’t. Despite being surrounded by thousands of years of history—all of which is particularly relevant to my vocation—I felt as if I was unable to register the significance of walking on that ground, and it made me angry. I wanted to “get it,” but I knew that I couldn’t.

Perhaps you’ve felt this on some vacation of yours, and maybe it was even to the extent that the anticipation and/or memory of such a thing far exceeds the reality. Think of a trip, a holiday, or your wedding day…it’s kind of disappointing to experience something wonderful and yet be burdened by the thought that you weren’t prepared to fully comprehend the sacredness of the moment.

When Jesus walks up Mount Tabor with Peter, James, and John, his face and all of his body and clothing becomes a dazzling white. Moses and Elijah appear and have a chat with Jesus, and when they leave a cloud surrounds them all as a voice proclaims that Jesus is “my” Son, the Beloved.

Peter, who always has something to say (and always needs something to do), suggests they build something to commemorate the experience. Instead Jesus leads them down the mountain, instructing them not to tell anyone about it until after the resurrection.

The thing is, they really didn’t quite grasp the whole resurrection thing yet, nor did they understand this whole transfiguration thing yet. Peter, James, and John, were having all of these wonderful experiences with Jesus—the Living God in their midst—and they weren’t prepared to comprehend the sacredness of the moment.

These disciples would spend their lives, after the resurrection, with a deep conviction about the events, which led up to and included the resurrection. They would form communities of varied people based on belief in the transcendent and yet imminent reality of a Living God who values more than wealth and domination.

We live our lives in similar ways—not that we’ve seen Jesus transfigured on Mount Tabor—but we have experienced moments of transcendence, thin places, God sightings, and what have you. Yes, we can scientifically explain why music seems to enchant our souls or why good wine changes our lives, but there seems to be something more to it, doesn’t there?

When we have big, wonderful experiences like tremendous vacations, memorable holidays, or the day we make a commitment to our beloveds, we may not fully realize the potential or sacredness or significance of those moments, but we have opportunities to grow into them as God continues to sustain our blessed existence.

Curtis Farr is an Episcopal Priest in West Hartford, Connecticut. He lives with his husband, Antonio, and rat terrier Sabina. He enjoys Batman, eating, and watching HGTV (in that order).

A Jewish-Christian marriage ceremony, a Washingtonian article, and a Reflection on Modern Culture

The Rev. Ken Howard, a Jewish Christian and an Episcopal priest, blesses Elena Taube (another Jewish Christian) and Paul Bailey under an improvized huppah at the Washington National Cathedral.

The Rev. Ken Howard, a Jewish Christian and an Episcopal priest, blesses Elena Taube (another Jewish Christian) and Paul Bailey under an improvised huppah at the Washington National Cathedral.

By Ken Howard

Late last year, I performed a Jewish-Christian marriage ceremony at the Washington National Cathedral (that’s me in the kippah and tallit on the right – I’m a Jewish Christian myself). Elena Taube and Paul Bailey, the prospective bride and groom, were a delightful couple. And the service was great fun (especially the part where I snuck a huppah into the Cathedral, disguised as my tallit… Yep, we bad).

Editor’s Note:
In response to those who have asked the difference
between the terms “Jewish Christian” and “Messianic Jew,”
the meanings are roughly equivalent:
a Jewish follower of Jesus Christ (Hebrew: Y’shua ha-Mashiach),
who believes that following Jesus as the Messiah (or Christ)
does not negate his Jewishness.
My preference for the term Jewish Christian
has more to do with clarity than meaning.
More on this topic is available in my two books,
Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them

Excommunicating the Faithful:
Jewish Christianity in the Early Church

Earlier this week, Washingtonian Magazine published pictures of the wedding in its “Real Weddings” section. I thought it was great fun seeing the pictures in print. As usual, I posted them on Facebook, where a colleague observed an interesting omission. See if you can pick find it in the list below, copied directly from the original article…

Ceremony: Washington National Cathedral

Cocktail Party Venue: National Cathedral School

Reception Venue: The Mayflower Renaissance Washington, DC Hotel

Photographer: Susie & Becky Photography

Bride’s Gown: Custom designed

Groom’s Tux: Calvin Klein

Hair: Get Gorgeous Hair & Makeup By Zia

Makeup: Pakito Internacional

Event Coordinator: Washington National Cathedral, Schelle Be Done, The Mayflower Renaissance Washington, DC Hotel

Cake: Fluffy Thoughts Cakes

Florist: Washington National Cathedral, Blanca Zelaya, and Bergeron’s Florist

Caterers: Flik International and The Mayflower Renaissance Washington, DC Hotel

Transportation: ABC Limo Service

Videographer: Michael Brazda Films

Music/Entertainment: Washington National Cathedral organist, Violin Dreams, and Night & Day

Did you find it?


Yup! The list included the names of everyone involved in preparing for and carrying out the event, right down to the person who baked the wedding cake (which was beautiful and quite tasty, I must say), with one omission: the officiant who presided over the ceremony…me.

Now, I really don’t crave publicity. What I enjoy is the pre-marital work with the couple, and helping them make choices about which prayers and readings from Scripture best express the their thoughts, prayers, and dreams about their marriage and their future life together as a couple. Seeing the pictures in the Washingtonian was fun, but for me they were the “icing on the cake,” as it were, rather than the main course.

But as I reflected on it, I did think my colleague had a point: not about about the ceremony (which was a profound and joyful event), nor about the couple (Elena and Paul were involved with me in the preparing themselves and the ceremony for the better part of a year), but about the culture. In modern culture, faith is relegated to an afterthought, if thought about at all. Nowhere is this more evident than in modern weddings, where the officiant and the church are often booked last, after the Caribbean island honeymoon reservations and the cruise ship. In that context, it makes a certain upside-down sense, doesn’t it? I mean, who remembers the name of the captain of the cruise ship, right?

It’s also become more and more evident during the marriage ceremony itself. I’ve had wedding coordinators attempt to advise me on which stole I should wear (so as not to clash with the bridal gown). I’ve had photographers kneel in the aisle, stopping the procession, just to get a picture-perfect “here comes the bride photo” and try (unsuccessfully) to step behind me during the vows in an attempt to get an “over-the-shoulder” (my shoulder) shot of the bride and groom exchanging rings [I banished him from working in my church again]. I’ve even had a wedding in which the bride’s mom set up not one, but two video cameras to capture the blessed day “for posterity,” which made the shy bride so anxious that when she walked down the aisle, as she passed her mom, she projectile vomited and fainted (to this day, the couple still watches the video and laughs, having defeated Momzilla’s plans). My point is that, as the culture has shifted, some weddings have developed the “who’s she wearing” feel of the red carpet at the Academy Awards, than a sacramental act.

Oddly, while separation of Church and State is an issue that provokes controversy in almost every other area of public life, weddings seem to be the one public act that gets a pass. Yet over the 20 years I have been ordained I have become more and more theologically uncomfortable with acting as an “agent of the state,” in performing marriages: a role I cannot play in any other area. Another reason my quasi-public official role discomforts me is that is it obscures what for me is the most important role I play in the ceremony: pronouncing God’s blessing upon the marriage. And more importantly, it obscures the real role the couple play in the marriage. Theologically, neither I nor the State perform the sacrament of marriage. Rather, the couple themselves perform the sacrament with their vows.

That’s why more and more, I am suggesting that the couple first go get married at the Justice of the Peace, then come to the church for what we call “the blessing of a civil marriage.” Because then the couple know what real reason they are coming to the Church to receive: the blessing of God and the prayers of their community of faith.

Time for a searching and fearless moral inventory of our church

Maryland Bishop Charged With Manslaughter

Makeshift floral memorial on the spot where bicyclist Tom Palermo was struck and killed.

The Rev. Ken Howard

On Saturday, December 27, the newly installed Suffragan Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, Heather Cook, was involved in a hit-and-run accident in Baltimore, in which she struck and killed bicyclist Thomas Palermo. In the weeks following the incident, various facts – as well as much speculation – emerged about Heather’s earlier DUI arrest, potential weaknesses in the search process which resulted in her election, and whether she had been drinking at the time of latest accident. Last Friday, January 9, she was formally charged with vehicular manslaughter, driving under the influence, texting while driving, and leaving the scene of an accident. She turned herself into authorities and was sent to the county jail to await arraignment. Those who are familiar with Maryland law say that, since the facts of the case are not in dispute, a conviction seems likely, as does jail time. Still, we must allow the justice system must run its course, and pray that justice is served…and tempered with mercy.

There have been many calls for prayer for all connected to this tragedy – Tom Palermo, his wife and children, Heather Cook, the Diocese of Maryland – from the Bishop of Maryland, the Presiding Bishop, my own Bishop of Washington, and many others. The response has been enormous and continuing: prayers for justice, prayers for mercy, prayers for forgiveness, prayers for accountability, and most off all prayers of profound solidarity in grief, in sorrow, and in loss. I join in them and I bid you to join in them as well.

Yet not even our most fervent prayers can change the fact that a man is dead, a wife is left without her beloved husband, and two children will never know their father. There is no way to measure the magnitude of their loss; no way to quantify the senselessness that occasioned it. A trust fund for the children has been established (the Palermo Children’s Fund), and I encourage you to give to it. By doing so we can help assure their education, but nothing we can do can make up for the loss of a father. And my guess Heather will struggle for the rest of her days with feelings of guilt for actions and consequences that cannot be undone. I cannot imagine the anguish I would be feeling if I were in her shoes.

The Bishop of Maryland, Eugene Sutton, a friend and colleague of many years, has pledged a review of search and selection process that resulted in the election of person with continuing uncontrolled alcohol problems. I trust he will follow through on that pledge and carry out its recommendations. At the denominational level, The Episcopal Church has inhibited Heather from acting as a bishop and has begun an investigatory process which will likely result in her being stripped of her ordination.

All of these things are healthy. All of these things are necessary. But in-and-of themselves they are not sufficient. If all we do as a church is pray and pay and make changes in one diocese’s search procedures – as important as these things are – we will have failed to seek the full redemption to which this tragedy calls us.

Some of the lessons we can learn from this tragedy are simple and straightforward. Don’t drink to excess. Don’t drink and drive. Don’t drug and drive. Don’t text while driving. Don’t leave the scene of an accident. Don’t keep secrets.

But what about the deeper and less obvious lessons?

In the last few weeks I have been involved in several online discussions about this tragedy. Much of it has focused on those involved in this specific case. Many important questions have been raised about Heather Cook and the Diocese of Maryland, which called her to be their Suffragan:

  • Did she or her diocese seek her elevation to bishop too soon after her 2010 DUI, before she was sufficiently established in her sobriety?
  • Assuming she deserved a second chance, was she and/or her diocese sufficiently transparent about her history, so that those who voted for her election could understand and support the risk they were taking?
  • Did she or her diocese put adequate safeguards in place to protect and maintain her sobriety, and to ensure their mutual accountability in that endeavor?

These are all good questions. And they deserve to be addressed. But if we only ask them of her and the diocese that elected her, we will have failed to fully redeem this tragedy.

Indeed, just as AA calls upon those following the 12 steps to make “a searching and fearless moral inventory” of ourselves,” those of us who follow Jesus Christ must open ourselves to the same level of fearless self-critical introspection and examination at every level. Individual followers and leaders, guilds and committees and the congregations of which they are apart, dioceses and synods, national churches and denominations, and the whole Church (indeed following all 12 steps wouldn’t hurt us). We have to begin to ask ourselves provocative and uncomfortable questions – questions like:

  • Do we strive to maintain a balance between acceptance and forgiveness on one hand, and transparency and accountability on the other? Or do we view them as mutually exclusive and tend to err on one side or the other?
  • Do we view differences or dissent as a sign of disfunction and avoid discussing them (either by avoiding those with whom we disagree or by changing the subject)? Or do we welcome differences as a sign of God-given diversity. and discussion of them as an opportunity to for Holy Spirit to teach and transform all of us.
  • Do we fall into what Jim Fenhagen (former seminarian dean and former rector of a Diocese of Maryland congregation) called the “unholy bargain,” in which the rector assures his congregation that they are “good people,” while they pretend to respect his authority? Or do we contract with each other name these unhealthy dynamics and subtexts whenever and wherever we find them.
  • Do our aspirancy, screening, discernment, education, and training processes for those who sense a call to ordained vocation produce healthy, assertive, servant leaders willing to take risks, learn from failure, ask tough questions about “the way things are done?” Or do they screen them out in favor of passive-aggressive, control-oriented leaders, who are risk averse, hide their mistakes, and “go along to get along?”
  • Do we elevate to the episcopacy, as my mentor Verna Dozier used to say, “too many people who want it too much?” Or do we look for candidate who, as the Bishop Ordination service says, must be “so persuaded” to accept the call? (BCP, p. 517)
  • Do our disciplinary processes allow us to prevent unhealthy behavior before it starts or intervene while there is still a chance for correction and a return to healthy functioning? Or do we tend to use them to dissociate ourselves from those who have publically embarrassed the church by getting caught?

It is not easy to ask such questions of ourselves and of our institutions. They do not lend themselves easy (or even consistent) answers. In fact, they may lead us to deeper and more uncomfortable questions, or to answers that may disrupt “safe” but unhealthy ways of being and doing church that have taken us generations to settle into and may require additional generations to fully break out of.

Yes, the Church is the body of Christ, and as such, God can work through us to transform the world. Yet, we must never forget that the Church is also a human institution, subject to every human weakness, error, and sin – including willful blindness – and as such, is capable doing great harm…even evil.

At its start almost two decades ago my congregation, St. Nicholas Episcopal Church, affirmed a vision credo which states our aspiration to be “A Place to Belong! A Place to Become!” In the days since this senseless tragedy, not a day has gone by that I haven’t given thanks for those two mutual callings, because, taken together, they define the tension that the we in the Church must maintain to keep the body of Christ healthy. “A Place to Belong” requires acceptance, forgiveness, and LOVE. “A Place to Become” requires transparency, accountability and LOVE.

Indeed, one might say, “the greatest of these is LOVE.” Not mushy affectionate love, not make me happy love, but the kind of LOVE that the crucified and resurrected One taught us. And that kind of LOVE might best be defined as forgiveness and accountability in dynamic tension, held within a relationship of mutual commitment.

That kind of LOVE is not easy, but hard. In fact, it’s beyond hard. Without the love of Christ surrounding us and filling us and flowing through us, we are unlikely to have sufficient desire, let alone capacity to LOVE like that.

Yet that’s the kind of LOVE to which our savior has called us.

Which makes it a blessing that God doesn’t require us to be successful, only faithful.

As always, I offer these thoughts and questions, I not with a sense of self-righteousness, but with a deep sense of my own shortcomings and sin. I cannot be certain that I would do better than she did. I came to the realization years ago that given the right set of circumstances, there is no sin that I am immune to committing.

Ken Howard is the Rector (Episcospeak for “senior pastor”) of St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Germantown, Maryland, a parish of the Episcopal Diocese of Wasington. He is the author of “Paradoxy: Creating Christian Community Beyond Us and Them,” “Excommunicating the Faithful: Jewish Christianity in the Early Church,” and to the forthcoming book, “Church-X: Experimental Christianity for a Church Beyond the Event Horizon.”

In a previous career iteration Ken was director of a drug and alcohol crisis intervention hotline and coordinator of a DUI program for the Virginia Beach, Virginia Community Services Board, coordinator of community substance abuse prevention for the Chesapeake Virginia Community Services Board, and training director for the Virginia Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Substance Abuse Services. 

Related Articles

Forgiveness and Accountability Not Mutually Exclusive – by Ken Howard

The Right Questions - by Mike Kinman

A thoughtful pastoral letter – by Anjel Scarborough

Forgiveness & accountability not mutually exclusive in aftermath of fatal hit-and-run accident

By Ken Howard

As is often the case with popular reporting on “religion” issues, Michelle Boorstein’s article in the Washington Post (“Bishop accused in bicylist [sic] death raises question: Who’s qualified to be clergy?” – December 31, 2014) somewhat missed the mark. Still, it has sparked a needful conversation.

It seems to me that the central question is less about clergy qualifications (or more to the point, automatic disqualifications) than it is about how the Church approaches (or more to the point, avoids) dealing with potentially conflictual issues before they become public.

The article, like many discussions of this issue I have heard in the days since the accident, presents the issue in either/or terms. Should Bishop Cook’s previous D.U.I. conviction have automatically disqualified from episcopal office? Or not? Should Bishop Cook be held responsible for her actions? Or should she be forgiven?

Too much of the conversation around this incident seems to have come from the mistaken assumption that forgiveness and accountability are mutually exclusive choices. They are not. Because forgiveness and accountability are two discrete decisions about two separate issues. Being forgiven does not relieve us from responsibility for our actions any more than making amends for our actions forecloses forgiveness.

I hope the family of the victim may some day find it in their hearts to forgive Bishop Cooke, for their sake as much as hers. I hope she will be able to accept that forgiveness if it comes and that she will come to the place where she can forgive herself. Still, forgiveness is not a once-and-done proposition, but a repetitive process that will span both their entire lives, as they deal with their feelings of loss and she deals with her feelings of guilt.

On the other hand, Bishop Cook’s acknowledged actions in leaving the scene of an accident in which she had likely fatally injured someone is such an egregious and irreparable lapse of judgment, moral responsibility, and basic human compassion (not to mention, a serious crime), that I cannot see how she could continue in the position. I say this not with a sense of self-righteousness, but with a deep sense of my own shortcomings and sin. I cannot be certain that I would do better than she did. I came to the realization years ago that given the right set of circumstances, there is no sin that I am immune to committing. If I were in her shoes at this point, I would hope for forgiveness, but accountability would require my resignation.

Too much of the conversation has focused on issues of individual responsibility and accountability while avoiding issues responsibility and accountability at the systemic level. It seems to me that the church as a whole (not just the Episcopal Church) is so conflict-averse that it focuses more on avoiding public controversy than it does on healthily confronting issues. While I understand the discomfort involved in addressing conflictual issues and the desire to avoid it, giving in to that impulse never helps, but always makes things worse by allowing them to fester and grow and escalate. And ironically, in the end, the issue almost always erupts publically anyway.

It is worth noting that the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland and Bishop Eugene Sutton are doing all the right things in response to this incident. Bishop Cook was placed on administrative leave and a statement issued almost immediately. I understand that the Diocese will be reviewing not only this incident but also its own internal processes. These are all healthy responses. And while the police are investigating the causes and the criminal aspects of this tragic accident, it is worth reminding ourselves to take care to avoid speculation, judgments, and conclusions about things we do not yet know.

Still one has to wonder whether in the church as a whole our internal dynamics don’t get in the way of prevention and early intervention in situations like these. Is it possible that we place too much emphasis on deference to authority? Is it possible that we place too much emphasis on ridding ourselves of those of us who fail big and publically, and too little emphasis on accepting and learning from smaller failures? Is it possible that we simply lack the stomach for the routine conflict of intervening while problems are still small and large problems are still preventable? Is it possible that our vocational discernment processes for aspiring clergy function like an overactive immune system, weeded out those who would ask tough but healthy questions about the church, and selecting instead for people who won’t rock the boat? These and more are questions worth considering.

So as we hold in our prayers the bicyclist and the bishop, and the families, friends, and co-workers of both, I hope we will also pray God that might redeem this tragedy in part by opening us a the institutional church to self-critical introspection, insight, correction, and healing.

Who would Jesus torture? Poll suggests majority of U.S. Christians support “enhanced interrogation”

click here for original story

New poll finds majority of Americans think torture was justified after 9/11 attacks

by Ken Howard

If, as this article and poll implies, a majority of Christians believe that torture is justifiable, then Christianity has failed in its teaching mission, and we who call ourselves Christians (literally, “little Christs”), as a body, have betrayed our founder.

While I personally believe, based on my reading of Scripture, that Jesus opposed violence of any kind, even in the most expansive interpretation of Augustine’s “Just War Doctrine,” torture has been considered an unimitigated evil: an end that can never be justified by any means.

I am terribly saddened, and I ask for God’s forgiveness for the evil done on my behalf.

Nov 11 – Martin of Tours – Bishop + Theologian

Nov 11 - Martin of Tours

Martin of Tours
Bishop + Theologian
11 November 397

click here for books about Martin of Tours

From the Satucket Lectionary

Martin of Tours dividing his cloak in halfMartin was born around 330 of pagan parents. His father was a soldier, who enlisted Martin in the army at the age of fifteen. One winter day he saw an ill-clad beggar at the gate of the city of Amiens. Martin had no money to give, but he cut his cloak in half and gave half to the beggar. (Paintings of the scene, such as that by El Greco, show Martin, even without the cloak, more warmly clad than the beggar, which rather misses the point.) In a dream that night, Martin saw Christ wearing the half-cloak. He had for some time considered becoming a Christian, and this ended his wavering. He was promptly baptized. At the end of his next military campaign, he asked to be released from the army, saying: “Hitherto I have faithfully served Caesar. Let me now serve Christ.” He was accused of cowardice, and offered to stand unarmed between the contending armies. He was imprisoned, but released when peace was signed.

He became a disciple of Hilary of Poitiers, a chief opponent in the West of the Arians, who denied the full deity of Christ, and who had the favor of the emperor Constantius. Returning to his parents’ home in Illyricum (Yugoslavia, approximately), he opposed the Arians with such effectiveness that he was publicly scourged and exiled. He was subsequently driven from Milan, and eventually returned to Gaul. There he founded the first monastary in Gaul, which lasted until the French Revolution.

In 371 he was elected bishop of Tours. His was a mainly pagan diocese, but his instruction and personal manner of life prevailed. In one instance, the pagan priests agreed to fell their idol, a large fir tree, if Martin would stand directly in the path of its fall. He did so, and it missed him very narrowly. When an officer of the Imperial Guard arrived with a batch of prisoners who were to be tortured and executed the next day, Martin intervened and secured their release.

Martin of ToursIn the year 384, the heretic (Gnostic) Priscillian and six companions had been condemned to death by the emperor Maximus. The bishops who had found them guilty in the ecclesiastical court pressed for their execution. Martin contended that the secular power had no authority to punish heresy, and that the excommunication by the bishops was an adequate sentence. In this he was upheld by Ambrose, Bishop of Milan. He refused to leave Treves until the emperor promised to reprieve them. No sooner was his back turned than the bishops persuaded the emperor to break his promise; Priscillian and his followers were executed. This was the first time that heresy was punished by death.

Martin was furious, and excommunicated the bishops responsible. But afterwards, he took them back into communion in exchange for a pardon from Maximus for certain men condemned to death, and for the emperor’s promise to end the persecution of the remaining Priscillianists. He never felt easy in his mind about this concession, and thereafter avoided assmblies of bishops where he might encounter some of those concerned in this affair. He died on or about 11 November 397 (my sources differ) and his shrine at Tours became a sanctuary for those seeking justice.

The Feast of Martin, a soldier who fought bravely and faithfully in the service of an earthly sovereign, and then elisted in the service of Christ, is also the day of the Armistice which marked the end of the First World War. On it we remember those who have risked or lost their lives in what they perceived as the pursuit of justice and peace.

by James Kiefer

The Beatitudes – A Reflection

By The Rev’d Curtis Farr

IMG_1131“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

These statements that Jesus makes during his “Sermon on the Mount” are often referred to as the Beatitudes. They are counterintuitive—poor people, in spirit or otherwise, are not “blessed” or “happy,” not in my experience anyway. Nor are mournful, meek, hungry, or persecuted ones happy. In fact, in our culture, happiness is tied to the pursuit of getting more—more stuff, more friends, more likes, more, more, more!

But what if that pursuit is a distraction from something…more?

Among other things, Jesus introduced in these statements a completely new set of values—ones that lifted the lowly, offered hope to the hopeless, and marked the miserable with a sign of redemption.

Often we operate with a different set of values, so I wonder: what might happen if our quiet prayer, deep within our hearts, echoed the counterintuitive words of the Beatitudes? Would we be changed? Would we change the way we engage others? Would they be changed as well, and would the world change around us?

Nov 1 – All Saints

Nov 1 - All Saints

The Feast of All Saints
1 November

click here for books on the Feast of All Saints

From the Satucket Lectionary

[Note that these readings are from the old Episcopal Lectionary].

FIRST READING: Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10,13-14
(a commemoration of patriarchs, prophets, and other heroes of ancient Israel.)

Let us now praise famous men,
and our fathers in their generations.
The LORD apportioned to them great glory,
his majesty from the beginning.
There were those who ruled in their kingdoms,
and were men renowned for their power,
giving counsel by their understanding,
and proclaiming prophecies;
leaders of the people in their deliberations
and in understanding of learning for the people,
wise in their words of instruction;
those who composed musical tunes,
and set forth verses in writing;
rich men furnished with resources,
living peaceably in their habitations —
all these were honored in their generations,
and were the glory of their times.

There are some of them who have left a name,
so that men declare their praise.
And there are some who have no memorial,
who have perished as though they had not lived;
they have become as though they had not been born,
and so have their children after them.

But these were men of mercy,
whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten.
Their posterity will continue for ever,
and their glory will not be blotted out.
Their bodies were buried in peace,
and their name lives to all generations.

ALTERNATE FIRST READING: Isaiah 26:1-4,8-9,12-13,19-21
(“Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee…. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in the dust.”)

(The Lord watches over those who trust in Him.)

EPISTLE: Ephesians 1:1-23
(The heavenly glory in union with Christ that awaits the redeemed.)

THE HOLY GOSPEL: Matthew 5:1-12
(From the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” etc.)

PRAYERS (traditional language)
O Almighty God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord: Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those indescribable joys which thou hast prepared for those who truly love thee: through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, in glory everlasting.

Almighty God, who by thy Holy Spirit hast made us one with thy saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to thy power and mercy. We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit, and who liveth and reigneth for ever and ever.

Almighty and everlasting God, we yield unto thee most high praise and hearty thanks for the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all thy saints, who have been the chosen vessels of thy grace, and the lights of the world in their several generations: for Abraham, the father of believers, and Sarah his wife; for Moses the lawgiver, and Aaron the priest; for Miriam and Joshua, Deborah and Gideon, and Samuel with Hannah his mother, and for all the holy patriarchs; for Isaiah and all the prophets; for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God; for Peter and Paul and all the apostles; for Mary and Martha, and Mary Magdalene; for Stephen, the first martyr, and for all the martyrs; and for all other thy righteous servants, known to us and unknown; and we beseech thee that, rejoicing in their fellowship, encouraged by their examples, and aided by their prayers, we also may run with steadfastness the race that is set before us, and finish our course in faith; and that at the day of the general resurrection, we, with all those who are of the mystical body of thy Son, may be set on his right hand, and hear that his most joyful voice: “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Grant this, O Father, for the sake of the same thy Son Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate.

PRAYERS (contemporary language)
O Almighty God, who have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those indescribable joys which you have prepared for those who truly love you: through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.

Almighty God, who by your Holy Spirit have made us one with your saints in heaven and on earth: Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage we may always be supported by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to your power and mercy. We ask this for the sake of Jesus Christ, in whom all our intercessions are acceptable through the Spirit, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

Almighty and everlasting God, we give you most high praise and hearty thanks for the wonderful grace and virtue declared in all your saints, who have been the chosen vessels of your grace, and the lights of the world in their times: for Abraham, the father of believers, and Sarah his wife; for Moses the lawgiver, and Aaron the priest; for Miriam and Joshua, Deborah and Gideon, and Samuel with Hannah his mother, and for all the holy patriarchs; for Isaiah and all the prophets; for the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ our Lord and God; for Peter and Paul and all the apostles; for Mary and Martha, and Mary Magdalene; for Stephen, the first martyr, and for all the martyrs; and for all your other righteous servants, known to us and unknown; and we beseech you that, rejoicing in their fellowship, encouraged by their examples, and aided by their prayers, we also may run with steadfastness the race that is set before us, and finish our course in faith; and that at the day of the general resurrection, we, with all those who are of the mystical body of your Son, may be set on his right hand, and hear his most joyful voice: “Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Grant this, O Father, for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, our only Mediator and Advocate.

The litany of saints that follows is chanted annually at the Church of St. Stephen and the Incarnation in Washington, D.C., at the principal eucharist celebrating All Saints’ Day. It was composed around 1979, largely by William MacKaye, former religion editor of the Washington Post, though some of the images were taken from A Liberation Prayer Bookof the Free Church in Berkeley, California, and has been adapted here and there in the subsequent years. Naturally, the selection of names reflects the personal biases of the compiler. A selection by me would inevitably reflect my biases, if I had any, and if you adapt this litany for use in your worshipping community, the adaptations will reflect yours.

The litany is intended to be chanted in procession. The procession moves from station to station around the church during the singing of the verses of “For all the saints.” Each section of the litany is then chanted at a station. The final sections– to martyrs, to all saints, to Mary, and to Jesus–are chanted at stations in the center aisle as the procession makes its way toward the sanctuary. The litany concludes with the singing of the Gloria in excelsis. (The usual salutation and the Collect for Purity are omitted.)


Cantor Let us go forth in peace.
People In the name of Christ. Amen.

For all the saints, who from their labor rest,
Who thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be for ever blessed.
Alleluia, alleluia!

Holy ones present at our beginnings:
Abraham and Sarah,
Isaac and Rebecca,
Jacob and Rachel and Leah,
makers of the covenant, forebears of our race:
Elizabeth and Simeon,
Joseph, Monica and Helen,
exemplars in the love and care of children:
John the baptizer, map-maker of the Lord’s coming:

Thou wast their rock, their fortress, and their might:
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, the one true Light.
Alleluia, alleluia!

Holy ones who showed the good news to be the way of life:
Thomas the doubter;
Augustine of Canterbury;
Francis Xavier;
Samuel Joseph Schereschewsky;
all travelers who carried the Gospel to distant places:
Bernard and Dominic;
Catherine of Siena, the scourge of popes;
John and Charles Wesley, preachers in the streets;
all whose power of speaking gave life to the written word:
Benedict of Nursia,
Teresa of Avila;
Nicholas Ferrar;
Elizabeth Ann Seton;
Richard Meux Benson;
Charles de Foucauld;
all founders of communities:

O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old,
And win, with them, the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia, alleluia!

Holy ones who gave their lives to the care of others:
Louis, king of France;
Margaret, queen of Scotland;
Gandhi the mahatma, reproach to the churches;
Dag Hammarskjold the bureaucrat;
all who made governance an act of faith:
Peter of the keys, denier of the Lord;
Ambrose of Milan, who answered the Church’s summons;
Hilda, abbess at Whitby;
Robert Grosseteste, bishop of Lincoln, protector of the Jews;
Jean-Baptiste Vianney, cure d’ Ars,
patient hearer of catalogues of sins;
all faithful shepherds of the Master’s flock:
Mary Magdalen, anointer of the Lord’s feet;
Luke the physician;
Francis who kissed the leper;
Florence Nightingale;
Albert Schweitzer;
all who brought to the sick and suffering the hands of healing:

O blest communion, fellowship divine!
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in thee, for all are thine.
Alleluia, alleluia!

Holy ones who made the proclaiming of God’s love a work of art:
Pierluigi da Palestrina;
John Merbecke;
Johann Sebastian Bach;
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart;
Benjamin Britten;
Duke Ellington;
all who sang the Creator’s praises in the language of the soul:
David and the Psalmists;
John Milton, sketcher of Paradise;
William Blake, builder of Jerusalem;
John Mason Neale, preserver of the past;
all poets of the celestial vision:
Zaccheus the tree-climber;
Brother Lawrence;
Therese of Lisieux, the little flower;
Andrew of Glasshampton;
all cultivators of holy simplicity:

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, alleluia!

Holy ones haunted by the justice and mercy of God:
Amos of Tekoa, who held up the plumbline;
John Wycliffe, who brought the Scripture to the common folk;
John Hus and Menno Simons, generals in the Lamb’s war;
Martin Luther, who could do no other;
George Fox, foe of steeple-houses;
all who kept the Church ever-reforming:
Paul the apostle, transfixed by noonday light;
Augustine of Hippo, God’s city planner;
Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin, architects of the divine;
Charles Williams, teacher of coinherence;
Karl Barth, knower of the unknowable;
all who saw God at work and wrote down what they saw:
John, the seer of Patmos;
Anthony of the desert;
Julian, the anchoress of Norwich;
Hildegarde, the sybil of the Rhine;
Meister Eckardt;
Bernadette of Lourdes;
all who were called to see the Master’s face:
Joachim of Fiora, prophet of the new age;
Johnny Appleseed, mad planter of Eden;
Sojourner Truth, pilgrim of justice;
Benedict Joseph Labre, priest and panhandler;
all whose love for God was beyond containment:

The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest.
Alleluia, alleluia!

Holy ones who died in witness to the Christ:
Stephen the deacon, the first martyr, stoned in Jerusalem:
Justin, Ignatius and Polycarp, who refused the incense to Caesar:
Perpetua and Felicity, torn by beasts in the arena at Carthage:
Thomas Cranmer, Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley,
burned in Oxford:
Maximilian Kolbe and Edith Stein, put to death at Auschwitz:
James Reeb, Jonathan Daniels, Michael Schwerner,
Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo, shot in the South:
Martin Luther King, shot in Memphis:
Janani Luwum, shot in Kampala:
Oscar Romero, shot in San Salvador:
Martyrs of Rome, of Lyons, of Japan, of Eastern Equatorial
Africa, of Uganda, of Melanesia,
martyrs of everywhere:

But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of Glory passes on his way.
Alleluia, alleluia!

Holy ones of every time and place:
Glorious company of heaven:
All climbers of the ladder of Paradise:
All runners of the celestial race:

[The people may call out saints’ names]

Great cloud of witnesses:

Mary most holy, chief of the saints:
Mary most holy, yes-sayer to God:
Mary most holy, unmarried mother:
Mary most holy, gate of heaven and ark of the covenant:

From earth’s wide bounds, from ocean’s farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl streams in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost:
Alleluia, alleluia!

Jesus our liberator, creator of all:
Jesus our liberator, redeemer of all:
Jesus our liberator, sanctifier of all:
Jesus our liberator, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and
the end:

The Gloria in Excelsis is sung, and the eucharist begins.

by James Kiefer

Trees and Taxes


By Jim Bahn (Sherman Tree Uploaded by hike395) [CC-BY-2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons

Those who organized the Revised Common Lectionary think they’re so clever. As so many churches make a push for members to begin or increase their giving, they throw in readings like this one from Matthew about paying taxes:

“The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away” (Matthew 22:15-22).

The Pharisees thought they would surely trap Jesus by forcing him to either confirm that the Roman emperor was due taxes or else anger Rome and provide himself a ticket to jail without passing “Go.” Does the emperor deserve this money, or does it belong to God? But unless these Pharisees are also ready to answer the question for themselves, they are barking up the wrong tree.

There’s a lot of this—barking up wrong trees—going around the United States right now as simplistic and often despicable campaign ads and debate performances intentionally churn up negative emotions about opposition in order to win votes by default.

After November 4th, I’m going to be in need of a major detox.

Sometimes I wonder if all of the wretchedness in campaign season is motivated by the candidates’ desire to have an overall low voter turnout—to dissuade conscientious people from the thought that their votes make a difference, leaving a select groups of voters to bring about more controlled and predictable results. Wherever the actual practices come from, those in power too often put humanity and progress at risk for the sake of maintaining power.

I was glad to see that the mayor of my old stomping grounds, Vancouver, Washington (no, not the one in Canada) recently risked at least some popularity by boycotting a prayer breakfast which is to be keynoted by, “former Army Lt. Gen. William G. ‘Jerry’ Boykin, who in interviews, speeches and writings has said that the war on terrorism is a Christian war against Satan and that followers of Islam are ‘under an obligation to destroy our Constitution.’”[1] But the mayor’s boycott is merely a political stunt if it does nothing to bring about acceptance, tolerance, and compassion, for which he claims the community strives.

It’s possible to hear Jesus’ phrase, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” and think that Jesus is making a quick getaway from an uncomfortable situation—when, in fact, he’s saying something quite radical: namely that where, when, and to whom we give our time, money, votes, energy, and compassion matters…

…and that we must think for ourselves how we go about making those decisions. To that extent, he’s not only talking about taxes, but about priorities. In a world where so much is too often sacrificed for the sake of power and control, how are we to give to God what is God’s?

Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree.