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Peter and the Blanket: Letter to a Conservative Friend about Same-Sex Marriage

To make the most sense of this you should read Acts 10:9-23, following the link immediately below.

Dear S—,

The pulled Scripture quote for tomorrow’s Morning Prayer is the best explanation I can offer you for why Episcopalians are getting ready to approve liturgies for same-sex marriage next month.

One can argue that in fact it’s no justification at all; we’re aware of that. The quote is sufficiently vague that it can apply to anything.

However, it perfectly matches our experience as a church and denomination. Just as Peter was surprised, we are surprised.

We think it would be good if other churches would listen to our experience. Indeed, the evidence is that many churches are not only listening, but undergoing the same revelatory experience.

We seem to be among the first to receive it in such a widespread fashion; I think that’s because of our democratic governance as well as unshakable faith. We are able, because of the power of laypeople, to enact changes faster than other churches – even though at that, it’s taken us 40 years of study, argument and schism.

I don’t want to discount the leadership of clergy on this issue, but the key thing is that the people in the pews have learned something that we take, in all godly sincerity, to be the Spirit’s ongoing revelation.

After all, the parish clergy are caught in the middle between bishops and laypeople. The bishops’ power to enact change is limited by the other “orders.” They can’t do it by themselves, the priests can’t do it by themselves, so the laypeople are the key.

When the vote is taken, it will no doubt be divided “by orders,” to make sure that all three orders are in agreement. This is a common delaying tactic, but it also has the happy result of affirming, when votes are favorable, the proposed course of action.

The vote will not be unanimous; people have their own minds. There will be a certain amount – less than you might think – of arguing over scripture. “How can you possibly vote for this, when it says right there…”, etc. But that will be over fairly quickly. The voting will proceed, the tallies will be announced, a brief demonstration (joy!) will be allowed, then everyone will adjourn for ten minutes so people can catch their breath and get ready to go back to work.

The vote will make headlines worldwide, and give hope to a persecuted minority in every country, except in Western Europe, where the attitude will be, “Well, they finally got there. How nice.”

The media will then proceed to recount the schism, quoting liberally from Biblical opponents while ignoring the lopsided vote. The end of civilization as we know it will doubtless be invoked, and we’ll have to suffer yet again having our faith in Jesus Christ the Son of God publicly questioned, doubted and denounced.

It isn’t easy being Episcopalian, but then again it is. We’re not victims here; we know who the victims are, and they’re not most of the members of the Church.

We find it both amusing and sad that our persecutors loudly bewail their victimhood for not being allowed anymore to brainwash children in America’s public schools, or to fight so hard to make their religion the only one in this country. It never has been; it never will be.

The quote? Acts 10:15:

What God has made clean, you must not call profane.

I write you this out of respect, affection and love, not to change your mind. It’s just a little testimony, that’s all. You’ll hear it again from others; you’re hearing it already.

The question is whether one believes in ongoing revelation, or whether the ancient scriptures are the last word on everything. I don’t know why they would be; they don’t make that claim. Indeed they tell us, “There’s more to know.”

Our solution to the genuine issue of whether to trust claims of ongoing revelation is whether they stand the test of time. If we made a mistake, we’ll correct it.

If we didn’t make a mistake, as God gives us to see the light, we’ll ratify the change, no matter what it costs us.

It becomes a matter of discipleship, of following the Lord’s call. We went through the same thing with women priests, whose service and holy leadership have proven impeccable.

We lost a million members over women priests and civil rights, and we’ll doubtless lose more over this. We’ll also gain new members consistently, from people whose churches drive them crazy and drive them out. People of faith will find us; they always do.

No one worries anymore, as Peter and the early Church did, about foods that are clean and unclean. If it doesn’t make you sick you can eat it. His vision, as a righteous Jew, must have been totally amazing. Revelation always is.

To go from a revelation about food to one about gender and sexuality is even more amazing – because the one thing people cling hardest to is their old notions about sex. It’s ironic, given the history of racism in this country and the world, that we’ve found it easier to give up old ideas about skin color than to change our minds about women and men.

But we live in a time in history when all that’s changing too, and I welcome it with everyone else in my Church. It hasn’t been a century yet since women started to vote – when they could own property and serve on juries. If an heiress married a poor man, he ended up with all her stuff.

That isn’t fair – but God is fair.

Of all the things that can be said about God, that one is obvious; God is perfectly and completely fair.

In fact, God is so fair that when his people the Israelites found themselves oppressed in Egypt, he got them out of it.

When all people were oppressed by sin, he got us out of that too – if we want to go free, by taking on the burdens of others in love.

Episcopalians have learned how loving these Gay and Lesbian people are. We’ve slowly started to take on their burdens in love, when they’ve always been there for the rest of us.

What God has joined together, let no human being tear apart.

Thus it seems right to us to bless their relationships in liturgy, which really means less that we impart a blessing (though we do) than that we recognize the blessing God has given them before we knew it.

If God be for them, who can be against them?

Episcopalians can’t, so next month, we expect to begin to celebrate their blessings.

If we are right, within a century the entire Protesting Church will join us; and if we’re not, I guess we’ll find ourselves alone.

We don’t expect to find ourselves alone.

We expect to continue to prosper in the Lord; God knows we have up to now, or you wouldn’t enjoy our boy choirs so much.

What this all reminds me of is the importance of taking a risk for Christ. The first Twelve sure did, when they had every reason not to.

Peter must have been afraid the day that blanket came down from heaven.

But it wasn’t the first time he’d been afraid either, and the previous times seemed to work out okay.

So he went ahead and met Cornelius’s representatives, and gave them shelter and food.

It is likely, though not certain, that Cornelius was the same centurion who met Christ and asked him to heal his beloved pais.

It is possible, though less certain, that those two were Gay. I don’t care what they tell you in Bible class, the possibility is there.

And if it should be true, which we won’t find out about until after we are dead, then Christ adorned and beautified their relationship just like he did at the wedding at Cana.

So Episcopalians, who are uniquely blessed by maintaining the Catholic religion while curtailing the power of the Bishop of Rome and all bishops, are going to take a risk for Christ. I’m excited; it’s better to take a leap of faith than to cower in doubt and fear.

Everything the human soul longs for lives on the other side of fear.

Our fellow Christians know this, and it’s okay with us if they watch while we leap. Somebody has to take the first jump (and we’re not the first; the United Church of Christ gets their name on the plaque).

The second leap is probably as important as the first; if nobody followed the Congregationalists, then nobody else ever would.

Thank you, S—, for your love and faith in me, knowing as we both do that I’m officially disapproved of by your tradition. You’ve taken your leaps too, and I’m thrilled.

I don’t need you to jump where I jump, or when I jump, or even to jump at all. The fact that you love me when I jump makes me, what, Street Vendor #4? [Her son, recently in a high school theater production.] “It’s not that he did it so well, it’s that he did it at all! And he was rather good, I thought.”

I will always cherish you, and whether we meet in this life or the next, I look forward to it. There’s going to be dancing in heaven that day – as there will be in Indianapolis next month.

Yours,

Josh

God damns Leviticus. Again.

The Morning Prayer service tomorrow of The Episcopal Church calls for the public reading of this bit of happy talk from the Hebrew Bible:

If any who are dependent on you become so impoverished that they sell themselves to you, you shall not make them serve as slaves. They shall remain with you as hired or bound laborers. They shall serve with you until the year of the jubilee. Then they and their children with them shall be free from your authority; they shall go back to their own family and return to their ancestral property. For they are my servants, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt; they shall not be sold as slaves are sold. You shall not rule over them with harshness, but shall fear your God. As for the male and female slaves whom you may have, it is from the nations around you that you may acquire male and female slaves. You may also acquire them from among the aliens residing with you, and from their families that are with you, who have been born in your land; and they may be your property. You may keep them as a possession for your children after you, for them to inherit as property. These you may treat as slaves, but as for your fellow Israelites, no one shall rule over the other with harshness. (Leviticus 25:39-46, NRSV)

It makes me furious to have to impose this garbage on unsuspecting faithful people who come to my Daily Office websites looking for solace and strength, only to find bad, bad news.

So I posted this picture and caption to go with it:

Scars of slavery in the United States, 1850′s. These shameful, immoral atrocities are why humanity abolished slavery, no matter what it says in Leviticus. Jesus Christ is the only Word of God.

I could have said a lot more, but I saved that for you. 🙂

A table of lessons appointed for each day, called the Lectionary, is printed in the back of The Book of Common Prayer; every church and website in 18 nations that offers Morning Prayer tomorrow has to print this crap. Every priest and deacon (I’m a layman) has to say it privately if they don’t offer it as public worship. If they’re on an airplane to Timbuctu, they are obligated to read this junk from Levicitus.

Obviously we need a new lectionary. But don’t get me started on that or my head will explode.

Having to post this passage made me so angry this time that I walked away from my computer and decided to go to the grocery store instead – only to find that my car has a dead battery. This did not make me Happy Josh.

The worst of this is that I have thousands of people relying on me to give them some spiritual sustenance; 900 in my Facebook group, almost as many e-mail subscribers, and 2000 more who click on my sites from their smartphones, tablets and desktops. They aren’t an audience of millions like TV, but nevertheless I have a serious responsibility here. And the last thing I want to give them is 5000-year-old rules for ancient Hebrews about who they can buy and sell.

I’m not going to stop posting the Office but it does get discouraging at times – mostly because passages like Leviticus 25 drive people away from God instead of bringing them to her.

It’s hard to be a shepherd with one hand tied behind your back.

If we ever get lectionary reform this passage will be dropped like a hot potato. We won’t be “editing the Bible” to take out the nasty bits; lectionaries are always selective, God’s Greatest Hits. But this isn’t one of them. Hasn’t been for centuries. So what is it doing in our churches today?

God damns Leviticus. You read it here.

(Danny Hellman – and with a name like that, you can figure he knows what he’s talking about)

The existence of the passage can be rationalized; God’s actually putting limits on slavery, which was universally practiced when Leviticus was written. But that doesn’t do us much good now, when it’s universally abolished (though not, of course, eradicated). Google “tortured slaves” and you’ll get the most awful pornography – almost all of it heterosexual, with women as victims (of course).

The real issue isn’t the original text of the Bible, or even the Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music’s failure to update the lectionary; we’re talking about words from antiquity here, and nobody’s promoting the Code of Hammurabi and the worship of Marduk these days.

No, the real issue is our understanding of the text – and the callous, wrongheaded, damnable promotion of Biblical infallibility by fundamentalist Protestants all over the world. You know, brain surgeons like this guy:

(unfairlybalanced.com)

“Possibly a meteor?” Only if it falls on your head, Pat.

The issue is fundamentalism, whether Muslim, Jewish or Christian; not every last word in their holy scriptures.

The issue isn’t conservative vs. liberal, or or modernity vs. the Middle Ages, or science vs. faith; it only masquerades as these things. Fundamentalism is a method by which some people gain money and power over others, exploiting them and eventually trying to destroy them.

In that way fundamentalism is exactly like the human nature described in holy scriptures: Evil. Selfish. Violent. Deadly.

That’s why we need redemption, and the bibles are right about that. You can’t trust humanity at all.

Christian fundamentalism was invented as a vehicle of power in 1910, with the publication of The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth.

We know, with the rise of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, when Muslim fundamentalism was invented; we know, too, when the Jewish Haredi version appeared, about 1830. All these forms of fundamentalism, which cause so much trouble (and death) in the world, are defensive in nature, trying to protect “the old religion” (or their claims about it) from reason, scholarship, changing times, improving ethics – and the ongoing revelation of God.

Never put a period where God has placed a comma.

 

The slave atrocity photo I embedded in tomorrow morning’s prayers is an example of improving ethics. Americans fought a Civil War over whether people could own each other; hundreds of thousands of men died saying yes or no. The answer was no; people came to the moral conclusion that no matter what Leviticus says, you may not own another human being. Full stop.

No matter what Leviticus says.

So here came these American fundamentalists to say, “No no no! The Bible is perfect, it’s infallible, it’s inerrant! You must live this way or go to hell!”

And they still say it. Bi, Trans, Gays and Lesbians are the current targets of their murderous ferocity.

Make no mistake, their philosophy is violent, just like the Taliban, just like the ultra-orthodox Jews. They want power and money and they’ll do anything to get it; people are sinners.

And this philosophy has largely captured the Republican Party. Wealth is now God, and war is how they get rich.

They all swore that George W. Bush was appointed by God, and in 2008 they decided Obama was the antichrist. The latest one, anyway; they’re forever declaring antichrists.

We can certainly expect a knockdown-dragout campaign this year. Ironically, one of the targets of The Fundamentals was Mormonism, a new religion which was becoming more and more popular.

Now they’ve got Mitt Romney, a Mormon one-percenter and high school bully, as their Republican nominee.

But since they don’t care about the actual Christian faith, which was only a means to an end anyway, they’re free to hail the Mormon as their new savior. Any port in a storm, I guess.

I’m sure Mitt’s better than John Rushdoony, the ultimate Christian fundamentalist, who hated democracy, promoted home-schooling and wrote that America should enact Leviticus as its moral law, including putting homosexuals to death, along with women who lie about their virginity. (Men apparently are free to lie about theirs.)

Rushdoony wanted his brand of Christians to control the government and every other aspect of life; this is not much different from Pat Robertson or ultra-orthodox Jews.

But God damns Leviticus; you can see why. If Leviticus was the final word, there was no need for Jesus Christ.

I would like The Episcopal Church to stop thinking it has to promote these foul excerpts of Leviticus to satisfy its fundamentalist critics.

But more than that, I think we all need to understand that God does give us the comfort of ongoing revelation; that God hated slavery so much he slew Mississippi to get rid of it; that male ownership of women is as wrong as wrong can get; that capitalism is the unleashing of human depravity; and that, at the very least, we need to treat others as we’d like to be treated.

President Obama cited the Golden Rule and the Crucifixion of Christ last week in endorsing same-sex marriage.++

Who wants to be the first to stone these boys to death?

 

Online Ministry: Do’s and Dont’s

I am a “lay vicar” who runs a successful Episcopal Church website and blog called The Daily Office with 1.3 million visitors so far. Assuming this gives me some expertise to tell everybody else what to do (churches are good at that!), let me start by picking on a parish website that’s actually better than most, from Christ Church, Hamilton, Massachusetts:

(Click to enlarge)

What do we see? Name at the top; that’s always a smart idea. Navigation tabs across the top: Home, Worship, Christian Ed, Ministries, About Us, Parish Life Notes. A Flash banner of changing images; here we’ve got a little blonde girl and other kids. Directly underneath is a crawl containing events of immediate interest. On the left, Quick Links; an e-mail subscription and a Facebook signup. But after that, we start to find problems. The lead story is a Shrove Tuesday event that came and went three weeks ago; dead news. The next story, “Lenten Discipline,” begins, “Lent is rapidly approaching.” No, kids, it’s already here.

And what is “Lent,” anyway? For that matter, what might “Shrove Tuesday” refer to?

The obvious problem is the church doesn’t update its website often enough. Why not? Nobody on the staff or in the church is assigned to keep it current. Why not? Takes too much time, “we’re too busy.” Why? “We have other priorities.” Why? “Our website never has paid off for us that much.” Why? “We don’t keep it updated.”

That’s circular reasoning. If you’re going to have a website, do it right. Don’t just have a website because every other church has a website and you’ve heard it’s the thing to do.

Christ Church Hamilton offers a feature I’ve never seen anyone else make available, and it’s right on the front page: Music by the organ scholar, which you can play and download anywhere in the world. That’s excellent! Music is a priority in churches, which is why there’s always a staff person assigned to music. (I’m going to steal his podcasts and put them on dailyoffice.org.)

This church has spent some time and money on its website. It’s not a very big church but it’s sophisticated. At first glance its content is fairly comprehensive; remember those navigation tabs up top. If you know what you’re doing, and if you already speak their language, you can easily find out a lot of information with just one click. However, the website is also a failure, because it does not immediately answer the most basic questions a visitor wants to know. These are:

• Where is this place?
• What time is church?
• What’s the preacher like?

To find Christ Church Hamilton, you have to scroll to the bottom of a rather long page to find the address. It’s in tiny type, so I hope you have 20-20 vision and you’re not older than 40. You can find the location, and even a link to a map, AFTER you’ve run past the organist’s podcasts, a paragraph and two photos of the Annual Meeting, news of a death in January, something about a “kegger” before that, helpful news of Community Groups, a Note from Eileen Thomas (as if you care), a blurb for All Saints’ Day five months ago, surprising and welcome information that the church serves a substantial lunch right after the main 11:15 service every Sunday—and then, only then, do you learn where all this wonderfulness is happening.

I guess the graphic designer thought s/he was doing business letterhead, with the name of the company at the top and the address in 6-point type at the bottom. (They’re on Asbury Street in South Hamilton.)

I would like to see every Episcopal congregation answer the key questions at the top of its website: where are we, when is church and who runs the place. For the latter, run a mug shot at the top of the page. I don’t care whether he or she is young or old, male or female, Black or White or Hispanic or Asian, pretty or not; run a photo of the main minister so that I, a web visitor, can judge whether or not this church looks promising.

(In my own parish the priest, who’s just retired, had a thing about not wanting his picture taken. And we allowed his neurosis to interfere with our mission. He has a kindly face; he is a kindly man. But no-o-o, he’s secretly vain and doesn’t think he’s pretty enough to be in pictures where other people can see him, because he doesn’t like seeing himself. Tough luck, buster!)

Meanwhile the Episcopal Church on a national level is forever running articles bemoaning declining attendance at church. They seem to think A) this is unique to us, when it’s happening to all American denominations; and B) we should moan and groan about it instead of coming up with solutions.

For these and other reasons I find myself owning the biggest Episcopal megachurch in the country. It’s only virtual, not bricks and mortar; we don’t have a soup kitchen or an organ scholar; we can’t baptize babies, marry or bury you; we have no sacraments at all. These are very big drawbacks, but we’re more popular than anybody. And it’s not because I’m brilliant or handsome, but because I work on my website every day. Those 1.3 million visitors tell me I must be doing something right.

All we offer is prayer. That’s it; you can’t even get a hug out of the deal.

Major advantage of a real church.

On the other hand, by offering prayer and nothing else, we don’t have a light bill to pay.

Major disadvantage of a real church.

No cynic can accuse me of being “in it for the money.” I’m not; I’m in it for the prayers—because they are how we make contact with God no matter where or when.

I am all in favor of this next photo: Jesus said “Do this” and he wasn’t kidding.

Holy Communion, the Mass, Eucharist is the other major way we make contact with God. The only problem is you have to be in the right place at the right time.

Therefore, church webmasters, tell me where and when! Don’t make me search, don’t make me wonder, don’t make me click.

We always do this with bricks and mortars, but we make it tough to find out online.

Still, these Do’s and Don’ts are only technical; I’m not saying anything that isn’t taught in Advertising 101. And advertising isn’t the real point of a religious presence on the internet; we haven’t figured out how to do ministry online yet.

Or actually, I have and you haven’t. 🙂

If church webmastering were understood as ministry, it would become a priority. We wouldn’t find leftover blurbs for a service in November still running at the end of March.

The fact I find odd about all this is that it really doesn’t take much time to run a church website correctly. Every congregation of more than 25 people has somebody who can do this—someone with a few leftover minutes per day or per week, who already knows or can easily learn the technology. (I don’t write internet code and I’ve still got a million visitors.) At this very minute in every church in the world, an idle member is watching TV and telling herself, “There’s nothing on.”

You get 10 bonus points if you can tell me which actress played the mother.

Church websites aren’t advertising, they’re ministry. Find a need and go meet it. Your church could be getting my million visitors if I hadn’t beat you to it. Copy me if you have to, don’t reinvent the wheel! Link your site to mine, your members and visitors will appreciate it: “Prayers for Right Now.”

And please, purge your site of every bit of churchtalk you can. If I’m a stranger, the person you want to meet, the possible new member of the church, don’t fill your website with jargon that only the in-crowd understands.

The Episcopal Church is terrible about this. We’ve got a churchy word for everything. Our buildings are full of places called the narthex, the nave, the undercroft, the vestry; where’s the freakin’ front door? (Or the back one, lemme outta here.) I’ve seen parish websites that think they have to explain what the Worldwide Anglican Communion might be, or apologize for Henry VIII. I don’t want to meet that old fat gasbag, I want to meet Jesus Christ.

Don’t tell me about the Collect of the Day; help me pray.

Most of all we are failing to make our sites interactive. All the information we publish is from the in-crowd to the out-crowd. No wonder our websites don’t draw people in.

It’s fine to show people that “we had a great time at the parish picnic,” but that’s just somebody sayin’. Show me pictures or video of the parish picnic and let me comment: “I had a blast at Lake Shafer, let’s do it again!”

Don’t tell me you have a Sunday School and nursery; show me the pictures, let me see the space, introduce me to the teachers, tell me their qualifications and all the things you do to keep my kids safe: “Anna Jones, our preschool teacher, is certified in First Aid, has passed a criminal background check and graduated from the KidSafe training program.” Plus a video of a typical activity would be nice.

Minister to people online. Know what their questions are. Provide visual examples of what you do. Got a praise band? Let me hear them. Show me what it’s like to sit in your pew. Show me the kinds of people who already go to your church. Help me decide whether I want to try you out.

This may seem pretty basic, but show me what people wear.

No, I do not care to visit your blog discussing the 39 Articles of Religion. (Sorry, Scott Gunn.) Nor do I want to listen for 20 minutes to an old sermon—though a 3 minute video of what you try to accomplish when you preach would be nice.

If the church is ritualistic/liturgical, show me it’s easy to learn so I don’t feel embarrassed if I make a mistake. A video of a layperson would help; “We always stand up to sing. We sit to hear the Bible readings and sermons. We kneel on these little cushions to pray—but you don’t have to. At communion time we walk up to the altar, ushers show us where to go, we fold our hands to get bread, [we drink from a common cup but they wipe it off,] then we go back to our place. It’s easy, but it helps to know what to expect.”

If you don’t care whether I’m rich or poor, say so. Spell it out. Make it clear—and mean it.

On the other hand, if you’re rich and powerful, don’t apologize; it’s a selling point. Maybe I like being around educated people who know what they’re doing. (This was the Episcopal Church’s strength for centuries, until about 1970 when we started feeling guilty about it.)

If you’re progressive and you believe in social action, show me. If you’re (also) conservative, show me that. If you bless cats and dogs on St. Francis’ Day, I’ve got a dog, can he come too? If you have special services to bless firefighters, cops and EMTs, I want to come.

If I have to believe exactly what the preacher does, tell me. If I’m allowed to think for myself and that’s okay with you, please, God, let me know.

I wasn’t born an Episcopalian; is that okay? Show me a video of an ex-Catholic or Baptist or Pentecostal.

It’s all about who’s in and who’s out. I might want to be in, but don’t push me out. Is it okay if I never learn where the “narthex” is?

Finally, this is important and problematical in most Episcopal churches: Do I have to juggle books to keep up? The more I have to turn to page 502, the harder it gets.

Either announce loud and clear where to go next, or print it out in a booklet. I know it takes time and costs money, and small churches may think they can’t afford it. BUT the more I have to locate the right book and turn to the right page, the easier it is to forget why I’m even there. Keeping up with the Joneses becomes more important than saying Hi to God.

Dailyoffice.org got those 1.3 million hits by abolishing book-juggling. We are Your Online Chapel of Ease™. We juggle the Bible and Prayer Book so the congregation doesn’t have to. Simple as that.

We are the biggest online “cathedral” in the Worldwide Anglican Communion.

And we are constantly looking to make the experience better—more timely, more pastorally sensitive, more useful. We have a rich spiritual and artistic culture to draw from and we put it out there.

The vicar isn’t handsome. Isn’t famous. Isn’t even ordained. Doesn’t preach. Doesn’t tell you what to think. Doesn’t care whether you know his name. He just offers what he’s got, come one come all.

Final thought: if you create your church to be a true Christian community, accessible to all or at least to many, people will come from miles around—because true Christian community is rare and very desirable.

If our churches are shrinking it’s our own damn fault. Far more often than we realize (though we’re sensitive on this point), the message we send is in-crowd vs. out-crowd—and this is the opposite of community.

Decide today that you will never hold another meeting in the undercroft; hold it in the basement instead.++

Love,

Josh

Episcopalians might as well be speaking Latin for all the good our jargon does.

A Letter to God: Where from Here?

Started here…

(This is a letter, not a literary device, and you may not find it interesting, but it does concern something real I need to talk to God about. We know that writing and reading sometimes bring catharsis; can they also bring discernment and dialogue?)

O Holy One,

I need your help. It’s about my website, prayer blog, ministry or whatever it is you see me work on every day, The Daily Office.

Today I added a new permanent page on the main site, an Introduction to the Prayer Book sent to me by a priest in Massachusetts. He’s getting ready to teach this on Sunday to his Inquirers’ Class, and he e-mailed it because he commends the Office sites and a few other spiritual helps, including Forward Day by Day. I hear fairly often from Episcopal newbies who find the Prayer Book confusing, and who might be helped by his short paper, so I asked and he gave me permission to reprint it. But that’s just one of the pages I want to add; the others concern the letters I get and the artwork I show. And then there’s my Grand Plan.

Every day for almost seven years now, I’ve found two images that illustrate the faith in some way, or the state of the world; photography, paintings, sculpture, photojournalism, icons. Tomorrow’s saint is Richard Allen, founder and first Bishop of the AME Church; I paired him with Sojourner Truth, whose “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech connects not only with Allen’s story but with my Lenten theme this year on violence and abuse toward women and girls.

To put up those pictures I had to take down the most gorgeous image of St. Joseph and your Son – which I didn’t want to remove. It belongs in an art gallery or museum, where visitors can sit and gaze on it as long as they want. I could make a virtual gallery, Lord; I’ve got 1500 images in my computer and I find more every day. I’d have to organize them by theme – Saints, Architecture and Jesus’s Ministry come to mind – but a web visitor who had the time could drop by anytime to look through these windows into heaven.

I could do the same with videos and podcasts, Lord; with the hymns and anthems I’ve bought. Suppose someone is awake late at night, too troubled to sleep; they could come and put their minds at ease.

I’m not wanting to do the Episcopal Church YouTube or the Cyber Hymnal; I just think there should be an archive, not a discard pile. Remember those suppressed civil rights photos from the Birmingham News, that they finally published 30 years later and I reprinted? Those are valuable, to history and souls; they also made my website grow when I posted them years ago for Lent.

Then there are my podcasts of Julian of Norwich’s Revelations in A Lesson of Love; the Order of Julian wanted to collect them as a treasury, since they’re Father JJ’s translation. But now the Order he founded is going through turmoil, monks and nuns coming and going, and they’re not able to accomplish much in the outside world. Maybe the sister who was going to spearhead this project has flown the coop; at any rate they’re having hard times. Do bless them, Lord, they need you. It’s a monastery with both men and women, which exactly fits the imagery and experiences you gave to Mother Julian 800 years ago.

About the letters: in the past 24 hours I’ve heard from a woman who’s just started dialysis and prays the Office while she’s making her exchanges; she stumbled across the site and now feels like she’s part of a much bigger community. Hallelujah! This morning a man wrote about how having the complete service in one place, and printing it out from our blog, has increased attendance at daily Morning Prayer at his church. Most of their parishioners are elderly, some are disabled, and juggling books doesn’t cut it for them anymore; but when they can see it all on the printed page, they can pray like they want to.

I don’t want a Letters Page so everyone can see the praise and thanks I get, but so that we can read each other’s faith stories. It increases intimacy and community, which are hallmarks of your Church – yet more difficult online without good tools.

And I come back to my Grand Plan, which I dreamed up with John in an amazing phone call a few months ago: social networking, a kind of FaithBook for the Episcopal Church and your friends. So much could be done there, Lord, while keeping worship front and center. It’s the obvious next step, the technology exists today, something better than Facebook, a specialized form of it without all the ads and assumptions (like we only want to talk in 144 characters).

John had said he can’t talk about his faith on Facebook, or anything real or important to him, because most of his friends use it as a kind of social club/pickup joint; the last thing they want to hear is how he really feels. I said, “That’s odd, I have spiritual conversations all the time on Facebook.” It depends on who our friends are, Lord.

But now John’s out of touch, has been for months, traveling the world or something with his broken heart; he’s great at the technology, Lord, he could give me what I want, and is even willing to do the work for free – but where is he? I hope he’s all right; please watch over him. He’s a genius; he started coming to the site when I was featuring Anglican chant, which comforted him. But I’m no music expert, Lord, I’m not trained in it, and lately on the site it’s hit or miss.

So here’s what I think I need to do, or want to do or could do, depending on your vocation for me: apply for a grant from the Lilly Endowment or Trinity Church, Wall Street, and hire a technical expert to turn my little site and blog and Facebook group into a comprehensive Episcopal Church megasite, with one-stop shopping for prayers, blogging, art, music, friendship networks, news, ministries, causes, photos of babies and kids at camp and altar guilds, old men in pointy hats, and that crazy lady in Dubuque who thought for sure she saw an image of the Virgin Mary on a piece of rye toast.

(Of course, if it worked for us it would work for every parish, diocese and denomination in the world.)

That’s what John and I came up with, Lord. I’ve got the liturgical training, he’s a techno wizard, and together we could have done it. But now he’s gone and it’s up to me, if you want it done. Or even just tried.

‘Cause I’ve kinda got a megasite already – 1.3 million visitors – but you know my current webhost is completely inadequate and will never offer what I need; they’re not in business for it. I have to move the site for it to grow, so I can merge it with the blog and work more efficiently.

I’ve got 850 members in my Daily Office group on Facebook, but that site’s bias is toward a mass medium, not a niche like I’m describing. If young adults want to turn it into a giant singles bar, what does Mark Zuckerberg care? The company’s business plan and technical choices sideline small groups like mine, no matter how faithfully I post. If a member hasn’t clicked Like on my posts in the last seven days, I stop appearing in their main News Feed; Facebook goes wherever the action is. Okay, fine.

You know, Lord, I’ve been concerned about my succession plan for years now. I wrote to the Bishop, asking if the diocese wanted to administer those millions of visitors once I’m dead; as currently constituted, it’s mostly a matter of finding seven Daughters of the King to take a day a week. Little work, little income but no financial drain. She was noncommittal. I approached the Forward Movement in Cincinnati, a successful organization since 1932, with a budget over $1 million and a dozen paid staff; the director called my site statistics “astounding,” especially compared to theirs, but otherwise told me not to hold my breath while they go through a strategic planning process. They do printed tracts, known in every parish in the U.S., but their web presence is much smaller; in other words, they’re the old technology with the budget to match.

There were John and Robert and Jim, techno guys willing and able to some extent, but involved in other things. I don’t blame them one bit; this is my baby and I have to figure out how to help her grow up while I still can. Now that I’m not drinking I might last a little longer on this earth.

Lilly and Trinity Wall, the possible funding sources, have stated goals for their grants, and my project doesn’t particularly fit – assuming I could satisfy their grant proposal requirements. They don’t generally fund a one-man shop, and who can blame them? True, if they somehow made an exception, mine might be one worth looking at, but what happens after I’m gone? That’s why they need an organization, evidence of stability, not just a good beginning. I don’t have an organization; what I’ve got is a community. It’s amorphous, literally ether-eal; it’s the internet, for crying out loud. They’re used to buildings, job descriptions, minutes from the Annual Meeting, and pictures of poor children going to school, villagers and their new clean well; not me and my wireless keyboard with a Prayer Book in arm’s reach – in my bedroom, no less.

What should I do, God?

You know, but I’ll write this down anyway, that my biggest stumbling block is that I don’t want to ask for money or profit from this. I’ve posted your services 10,000 times now and never once was it for money. I run the sites to thank you for my house, a roof overhead, a place where I’ve put roots down next to my flowers and tomatoes. And you know too that I’ve benefited from this more than all those 1.3 million visitors combined. You know what I’m like, good and bad, and I know what you’re like, all good. I completely identify with the man Jesus talked about who found a pearl of great price. He sold everything he had, to get that pearl.

It’s all I have now, and you know that too. No job, few friends, no family; no prospects of ever getting them back. No income – and you hear my prayers about that, ’cause it scares me. I’m doing nothing here but operating on faith, like you told us to. And it’s working out so far. I don’t begrudge you any of this; I’m happy for my life. I’m confident that relying on you is sufficient, and you’ve never let me down.

Meanwhile it’s quite clear that I’m boxing myself in; the whole point of this is “Yes, but.” Yes, I want the money but I’m not willing to ask for it; yes, I want the site to grow but that takes money. So help me get out of the trap I’m in; show me the Way.

(I’m thinking of Marcia and spiritual direction now; of Stephen and all my mentors, of Julie with the dialysis, and Clint the “kid” of 60 taking printed Morning Prayer to the old folks at St. Peter’s, of all my letter-writers and commenters, my small donors and other helpers. Next month is the “feast of Matt S.,” whom I barely remember, just enough to know he gave me a helpful idea last year that I was so grateful for I wrote down his name. I’m not alone here and of course I do have friends.

(I’m also thinking of the people I met last weekend at St. John’s, Crawfordsville, who asked me to speak about all this for the first time. They were lively, enthusiastic, and I guess I did okay; I remember telling them, concerning their own website, “There’s no reason this is taking place at my house instead of yours; those 1.3 million visitors I’ve had could have been coming to you. You have to provide people a reason to come. Find a need and go meet it.”)

I’m willing to do whatever work it takes to build this little cathedral of the mind. If that means asking for money I’ll ask; if that means learning a new program I’ll learn it. I’m willing to starve in the streets if it would glorify you, but I really doubt it would.

Meanwhile this much I’m clear on. I do not want to be Rabbi Wolpe, a “public figure” with a following on Facebook (he now advertises himself as “the #1 pulpit rabbi in America,” but who compiled the rankings and what’s a “pulpit rabbi”?), or a televangelist or megapreacher. This isn’t about me. I’m not essential to this operation, which isn’t much more than the Bible, the Prayer Book and keyboarding. The Church, or better yet the Holy Spirit, has given me and given us objective tools, a roadmap of the Way. Anyone who can read a map or a psalm can get to where they need to go. I understand that building up the worship leader as the focal point is the way to grow a TV ministry or a megachurch; those things don’t interest me. (And now that Robert Schuller is 80, his Crystal Cathedral is in receivership while his kids fight it out for his throne. “The Lion in Winter” was interesting, but the Schullers are just banal.) To Episcopalians nothing depends on who the worship leader is, and I’m happy with that. I’m secure in my relationship with you and nothing else matters. Let me be forgotten when I’m dead – but do let the services go on.

As long as I’m here I’ll continue to think up new ways to draw people together and draw them to you. I’ve told you my ideas; please show me better ones. Give me your directions and I’ll do my best. Today I’m close to my limit of knowing what to do; I’ve started a new page and I’ve got those galleries in mind. What next? Say the word.

Thank you for what my life has been these Daily Office years. Even when I’m howling in frustration I’m having fun. You are… what words? Unbelievable, unimaginable, ineffable, pure goodness. I like hanging out with you.

And since I know you never stop working, never stop loving, never quit drawing us to you, here’s what I’m saying: I need more task, because otherwise I’ll just continue this indefinitely. I need more supervision, a little more face-time.

Here I am; send me.

Love,

Josh

Ending here. Maybe.

A Gardener’s Hope Springs Eternal

I bought onion sets today at Murphy's.

It’s Monday, after a big weekend of good highs and one horrible low that threatened to leave me depressed all day. But now things are looking up, because I’ve been gardening on the first day of spring. It was 75º in Indianapolis this afternoon, tomorrow will also be warm, and I’m just back from the village market with onion sets ready for planting. Onions like cool weather, which will return by the end of the week.

My outdoor activity today consisted mostly of cleaning out the remaining beds I didn’t get to last fall. The vegetable garden is ready, the strawberry plants are putting out green shoots and the perennial herb garden is already producing chives, oregano and the first tarragon. I know there’s a baked potato in my future, and tonight when I make enchiladas the sauce will be enhanced by some baby oregano leaves. Plus my crocus are starting to pop.

Up front, with its northern exposure, the hostas are stirring; no sign of them yet under the big old maple tree in the back yard, but that may be because there are no leaves to shade them from the sun. I’m also hoping my lily of the valley bulbs start to wake up; May will be here in 40 days, my birthday month, and that’s the time for lilies of the valley. The azaleas have new leaves, the tulips are rising, and I even hauled a trunkload to the recycling center. Things are starting to look good at my house.

Two good things happened last weekend; I made a presentation to the adult education class at St. John’s, Crawfordsville about dailyoffice.org, and Luke spent a successful night at the doggie hotel, the first time we were apart since I got him. I accepted the speaking invitation before I realized I’d have to make provisions for him, and that proved surprisingly difficult; my hosts Helen and Marc have cats, so they really didn’t want me to bring him, my vet was full, the county extension agent (any pet sitters in the 4-H club?) didn’t return my call, and kennels in Lafayette wanted me to come in and fill out paperwork two weeks in advance when I was already past their deadline. (I don’t fill out paperwork for the privilege of giving somebody money.) But Helen found a pet boarding place in the country outside Crawfordsville, it was a lot cheaper than anyone else, and the couple who runs it were as nice as could be. Pa took a shining to my dog. Sunday morning he put Luke inside his jacket, went indoors to eat his own breakfast, and fed the boy a few morsels of toast. “They don’t come any better than him,” he told me when I picked Luke up. I was thrilled – because he’s right. He also wished all his dogs were as quiet as Luke, who doesn’t bark indoors.

The people at church were warm and friendly, a responsive audience, and I’d put together a little outline of what I wanted to say about the Daily Office online (Morning and Evening Prayer on a couple of websites I run). Saying the Office regularly is the best way I know to get closer to God, who gets closer to us every time we turn to him/her. The more often we do it, the closer we get; and after 1.3 million site visitors, I’ve learned some things about online community. I’ve come to “know” a lot of people I never would have met without the internet; when I ask them to pray for someone they do it, and they write e-mails and leave comments that fill me with joy. Now here I was with a real congregation (maybe 30 people) who wanted to know about the Church of the future and how the online experience fits with that. It’s no substitute for the sacraments and belonging to an ongoing community, but God wants us to communicate with each other. We looked at parish and diocesan websites on a big screen and watched part of a video of Eric Whitacre’s virtual choir singing his composition “Lux Aurumque.” It’s quite moving and we all wondered, “How’d they do that?”

http://www.youtube-nocookie.com/v/D7o7BrlbaDs?fs=1&hl=en_US&rel=0

I’ve spoken in public a lot, and I was well-prepared for this gig, but I also felt myself rambling a little as I spoke; it’s the first time I’ve ever been asked to give this presentation, and I could probably have gone twice as long if anyone would listen. Praying the Daily Office has changed my life; I’ve learned an awful lot about the Episcopal Church these past six years, that we’re much stronger and more faithful than anyone thinks, but we do have to make some changes if we’re going to attract more people. Using the internet well is one way to do that.

At any rate Helen said the crowd at St. John’s liked it, so I guess I didn’t do too bad. It was lovely to go to church afterwards, since I don’t get to make my communion all that often, stuck here in the hinterlands.

Crawfordsville is also personally significant – it’s the setting for my next book – and I learn more about the place every time I visit. I have some rewriting to do now on my novel in progress; I’m writing this first, then I’ll break for enchiladas and spend the rest of the evening composing new sentences.

Meanwhile for the first time Luke is sitting quietly on my lap as I type; we’ve never done this before. Usually when he sits in my lap (a little rat terrier, ten pounds) he’s all hyper. Maybe he knows that farmer loved him like I do.

As for the thing that bummed me out, Purdue men’s basketball team lost in the NCAA tournament to a team they should have whipped like heavy cream, the worst performance I’ve seen in decades; it was bad coaching in my view, and it’s too bad because they’re great kids who’ve had a fantastic season. College basketball is my other religion, and it’s hard to watch your team Go to Hell, Go Directly to Hell, Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200.

But it was just a game, and when you’re down, do something constructive instead. Take out the recycling, love your dog, clean out the flowerbeds and the herb garden, ’cause there’s baby oreganos already, yours for the taking. It’s spring, and good eating’s on the way.++

Even with directions on their butts, Purdue lost.

One Small Neurological Episode; One Giant Leap for My Mind

I don’t want to hype this, cause you to worry or make it melodramatic. It was pretty unusual but it only lasted a couple of minutes and now I’m fine. I can prove how well I am by typing this with all ten fingers.

Wednesday just before noon I had a small neurological event. Two minutes tops. I feel great; within an hour I experienced a fairly amazing spiritual discovery for which I’m very grateful to God. S/he is with me, and I’ve got more work to do, so I don’t expect to keel over anytime soon, especially if I change my life and start to minimize the damage.

Still, at age 59 I began to see that my body is absolutely mortal. I got the first definitive preview; in X amount of time I’ll start to rot.

The strange thing happened;when it faded away I went out to get the phone number of my nurse-practitioner and pat the dog, I left my nurse a message, and then I wrote this so I could read it back to her efficiently. I typed it with all my fingers and named the computer file Paralysis.

I’ve just had a weird experience – a transient paralysis in the middle finger of my left hand – and I realize I’ve gone through this several times before, though not so dramatically.

It began with a small sudden pain, which quickly grew into something so sharp it drew me out of my chair. Then I noticed that once again, that finger was stuck straight out. The pain began to stabilize and I tested my hand for movement. That finger could move down, but not up beyond a certain point.

This continued for over a minute before ebbing away. Previous episodes, maybe four of five of them, have always been over in 15 seconds.

I walked gingerly downstairs to get my nurse practitioner’s name and number from my car, then back upstairs to the phone, where I called V— (my nurse) and left a message. As a strange new symptom, I want her to know.

I typed this note normally with both hands.

November 10, 2010

Around 5 p.m. the triage nurse at the clinic called back. I described the experience as objectively as I could, reading her the above, answering her questions, including my recent diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis in the knee; she consulted V—, then promptly phoned back. I need to see a neurologist as soon as possible.

About five years ago I saw a neurologist after another strange experience, which was later termed a transient ischemic attack – a mini-stroke. I was at work in the psych ER in Merrillville, 2nd shift, when all of a sudden electricity passed through my brain, zzzt! It didn’t last longer than that, two seconds. Some TIAs go on much longer.

It left me a bit dazed, and certainly knowing that this never happened before. I called a nurse on our inpatient unit, went upstairs and described it to her, and she said to get to the closest general hospital ASAP. A social work co-worker, working late, offered to drive me; thank you always, Tina.

The hospital in Crown Point ran a test or two, referred me to a neurologist, Tina drove me back to work, I finished my shift and drove myself an hour home once my relief worker came.

The neurologist ordered a couple more tests, put me on aspirin to thin my blood, and shortly discharged me with orders to call him if this ever happened again.

It hasn’t, for five years. But there have been these few episodes of the middle finger of my left hand losing contact with reality and suddenly listening to Glenn Beck.

Wednesday’s episode was only slightly more dramatic, but I knew to call V—. Was something wrong with my finger joints, like rheumatoid arthritis? Or was something wrong with my brain and my blood, that my finger (just one finger, not the whole left side of my body) went suddenly haywire?

The triage nurse will make an appointment for me today with a neurologist in Lafayette. And if this gets complicated, with thousand dollar tests, I will probably have to sign up for Medicaid, because I have no income or insurance.

(The supervisor of that great job I excelled at in Merrillville made keeping the job impossible. First shift, second shift, third shift, two shifts back to back, it was ridiculous. I could never get a sleep pattern; she didn’t care. She favored her cronies, not her best workers. The whole work schedule was designed to protect a terrible moonlighting teacher from a failed inner-city school in Hammond, who never admitted anyone to the hospital because that was actual work, but the entire agency’s bottom line depended on admitting the seriously ill to the hospital.)

I have avoided taking anything approaching “welfare” my whole life. Paid off my student loans, went hungry a time or two, supported a desperately ill lover all by myself (and signed him up for the Medicare he had earned), but I’ve never accepted a dime from taxpayers. Where I come from, that just isn’t done.

Still, for a couple of minutes that middle finger on my left hand simply didn’t work, and this could get expensive. I don’t want to lose my house over it, anymore than I want to have a stroke.

God only knows how long the waiting list is for Medicaid in this Republican state. If the neurologist wants a thousand-dollar CAT scan, what will I say? “Not till I know I can pay for it.”

But now that I realize I’ve seen the first glimpse into my own death – now that I know I need to make some serious lifestyle changes, stop smoking and drinking – and now that I’m going through the first few hours of mourning, regret, self-justification, confession and faith, I’m feeling pretty good. That finger works just fine.

On a QWERTY keyboard the left middle finger rests on D. So here are some D’s to prove it, each one typed rapidfire, not just holding down the key to repeat itself: DDDDDDD!

I don’t mind dying; I haven’t minded it for years, though some while ago I did get shocked into realizing this actually applies to me. I want to get to heaven, I want to be immortal. I want to meet Jesus, Lincoln and Martin Luther King. Jane Austen, LBJ, Harvey Milk, Mozart, Bach, Schubert; Howard, Brooke, beloved Ervin, Bishop Craine and you better believe it, Fr. Ben. He may have stayed too long at the fair, but my God, what a good priest he was. Not the best administrator, the best priest.

How I loved being his go-to acolyte for every wedding, funeral and unscheduled thing. He was a master of priestcraft; I’ll never forget my first confession, face to face in his office, when he offered to turn his back so I didn’t suffer the embarrassment of seeing his face as I admitted my puny adolescent sins. I don’t remember what my transgressions might have been; I remember his sensitivity, if I’d rather talk to his back than his face. No, Ben, I can tell you eye-to-eye; he gave me two Hail Marys and an Our Father and that was that, scot-free. I skipped out of there like a fox terrier, hyper and jumping for joy.

Most of all I want to see my mother again; I want to see my bro. I want to hug my Grandmas; I had the best Grandmas any kid ever did. They were very different but equally kind. I want to offer them my little triumphs and tell them, they showed me how, just from hanging out in the kitchen. Kids watch; kids notice everything.

I’d like to shake hands with my grandfathers.

Still, I’m not ready to give up anybody’s ghost, especially when in that same hour, I got a new assignment. It concerns adding music to the Daily Office website (over a million page-views), with Anglican chant so that Evening Prayer becomes Evensong online.

Having chant for all the psalms and canticles will make the Office a much more spiritual experience for site visitors; singing with a congregation is so much better than reading a website.

That’s what God wants me to do, to find a way to add all the psalms and canticles in song, with text so people can follow along, to approximate the experience of singing the night prayers in a monastic community, a seminary or a great cathedral.

The work may be difficult; I’ve contacted a faculty member at General Seminary about the possibility of podcasting the chants, but so far no word. It’s apparently never occurred to them to record Psalms 23 and 27 in the chapel and sell it on YouTube for 99¢ a download.

I know my congregation would love to hear our seminarians opening up the Magnificat. With text-blocks I could preserve that sound forever.

Anglican chant is distinctive. It’s not Gregorian, it’s Anglican, and I’d like to get American voices singing modern psalm texts for world audiences, not just reproducing the beautiful but outdated English cathedral sound of the 1662 Prayer Book. It’s lovely but I want contemporary Americans singing in their own tongue, a modern translation, because Anglican chant has to be a living language to survive.

So I’ve got work to do.

Today I got a warning; my time here is not unlimited. I mean, paralysis does get my attention.

But I still have work to do before I turn these fantastically successful websites over to someone else.

Here was my spiritual experience, within an hour of my mini-stroke if that’s what it was.

I made this fast recovery from a finger that quit working (I’m still typing on all ten fingers, my left middle finger on DDDDD) and started posting Thursday’s Offices, which involve plugging in new Psalms, Lessons and Collect of the Day into a pre-existing template. I have about 10,000 files which include most of the Bible; psalm, Old Testament, New Testament, prayer; psalm, Gospel lesson, repeat the prayer. It isn’t clockwork, I constantly have to reformat my files as technology changes, but it isn’t that tough. I often get aggravated over the extra work, but humans like to complain and God doesn’t mind listening with half an ear.

Then I got this idea; why should we read the Magnificat when there are people singing it in community every day? Why not be able to listen and read simultaneously?

Not just the Magnificat and the Nunc, but all the psalms in their liturgical pairings; all the chants a visitor would hear at General Seminary or Holy Cross Monastery?

I can’t afford six weeks of hanging out at the seminary in New York to make a podcast a day; could I interest a seminarian in recording young Americans singing the psalms in community? Should I pay a student an honorarium to make such recordings? What techno already exists, since the seminary already podcasts sermons from the pulpit?

That’s when it happened, less than an hour after my neurological episode, when all ten fingers were working again. God visited me.

I didn’t hear a voice, I didn’t see a spectre; God doesn’t go for melodrama either, unless we’re too dip—- stupid to get it any other way. God’s preferred method of communicating, at least for me, is a loving, gentle, warm sensation in my body, a thrill down the back.

God’s usual way to show me s/he’s here is a little tingle somewhere; distinctive but no big thing. I suppose s/he talks back according to the quality of what we’re saying, our openness as we say it and pray it.

Well… not this time. What I got was one big top-to-bottom thrill-ride, which I took to mean “Yes, Anglican chant on the site, Evensong every day, not just reading. I reach people through art, through song, not just words.”

That was certainly impressive, at least as much as a wayward finger. But then it happened again, even stronger, bodylong. Which gave it a kind of command aspect; “Do this.”

There were very few times Jesus ever spoke in the imperative voice. He reserved it for the few times he gave orders. Very often he taught and gave advice, but seldom did he command and say, “Do this.”

He said it loud and clear at the Last Supper; the Eucharist, the Mass, the Holy Communion. Christians understand, when Jesus said do it, he meant it in no uncertain terms.

And here I was, getting something close to a command.

Jesus likes Anglican chant as much as I do!

Since I can’t take six weeks (the psalm cycle) in New York to make podcasts at the seminary, I’m exploring alternative ways to accomplish the same thing. I really don’t want Oxbridge videos from YouTube. They’re wonderful artistic and spiritual expressions, but they use archaic language when I’m an evangelist in 2010 USA.

(They also invariably say, “We’re high-class Brits and you’re not,” and that stuff bores me. If you want to see faith at work, go to Guatemala or New Orleans or Baghdad.)

So I’ve been given a clear sign of my mortality; a reprieve, an idea, an assignment. I don’t know what’s going to come next, though I know a lot will depend on my response to the call and confrontation.

I’m very grateful for the forgiveness accompanying the thrill, so soon after the quiet fright of paralysis.

A crossroads is before me. My job is to stay on the Way and keep working, not to succumb to the domestic violence, bullying, suicidalness and self-destruction I was programmed with long ago, just because I liked Julie Andrews, “My Fair Lady” and that sexy, untouchable high school quarterback.

This isn’t going to be easy, I will have to pray night and day to get over my addictions; but the Way is well-lighted if we look.++

One Million Prayers: A Letter to a Friend

Psalms, Bible lessons and prayers twice a day for six years.

Dear Leonardo,

Thank you for your Facebook greeting on the news that my Daily Office website and blog have together recorded one million page-views. It feels pretty significant and I’m still reacting to achieving this milestone. Let me tell you and other readers here what it means to me, in ways I would not do on the prayer sites themselves. There the focus is on God, not on Josh – though I can’t help but intrude at times anyway.

It took me awhile to get used to that; I select the artwork and write the captions, and those obviously come out of my faith, values and priorities. I follow the Episcopal Church’s official calendar and lectionary, rules and regulations and try not to deviate. But I do have some discretion at times, such as what saints we celebrate – and don’t. Last week I chose to feature news photos of a pilgrimage held in Alabama to remember the seminarian and civil rights martyr Jonathan Daniels every night; the whole Church celebrated his day on August 14, the same day the pilgrimage was held, and I alone decided he was worth an octave of days. They were good pictures, very moving.

A few years ago during Lent, I featured a trove of old lost photographs of the civil rights days, discovered in a closet at The Birmingham News. Since we were repenting of our sins, let’s show what some of those sins were and are. Page-views skyrocketed, and that’s really what put our sites on the map. We’ve also raised some quick money for tsunami relief in Sri Lanka and South Asia and other natural disasters. Editorially I covered Hurricane Katrina for a solid month, all along the Gulf Coast, with prayers to match. Then there’s the complete destruction of part of Haiti, our biggest diocese. Six months later we’re still using a prayer I wrote for Haiti twice a week. Those are all my choices.

Earlier this year, for the first time (I think) in Anglican history, and certainly the first time in Episcopal history, the 16th century theologian John Calvin had a proposed feast day; in other words, we’re testing whether he gets a saint’s day. I didn’t run it – and I won’t. I was lucky this year because it fell on a Sunday and we never observe saints on a Sunday. But I won’t run John Calvin Monday through Saturday either; this guy is the Protestant crank in the 16th century who tried to turn the capital of Switzerland into a theocracy – which meant killing a lot of people and hounding the rest to prove they believed and behaved “rightly” according to him. The same impulse was behind New England Puritanism and the Salem witch trials.

I’m Gay. I don’t do John Calvin and his ludicrous notion that humanity is “utterly depraved” and alienated from God, who then picks and chooses his friends (“the elect”) to get into heaven anyway, because he’s a nice God after all, if you’re the “right kind” of person. Jesus consorted with the “wrong kind,” including our kind, all the time; he didn’t like the “right kind” that much.

I then sent an official notice to the Church Bigwigs in Charge of Who Our Saints Are that my million-visitor website and blog will never celebrate John Calvin, who constructed his Reformed theology on a belief that the Bible is never wrong. Biblical inerrantists are also anti-Gay.

It’s beyond me why Episcopalians should be asked to cheer for this Presbyterian/Congregationalist fanatic. So I won’t ask them to. I’m the kind of Episcopalian who, if you turn too Catholic on me I’m a Protestant (protester; that’s what it means), and if you turn too Protty on me I’m all Catholic. That’s who Episcopalians are.

The Calvinists of the Episcopal Church are largely schismatics who’ve now left and tried to take our property with them – and their whole schtick is hating Gay people because they think the Bible says so. The proposed feast of John Calvin is homophobic, bigoted and anti-Gay – if his modern adherents can be taken at face value.

The next time General Convention meets, and will decide whether Calvin gets a day, is 2012 in my home diocese, Indianapolis. I plan to be there, and I’ve already started campaigning against him. A million page-views makes my virtual church bigger than any parish and diocese in this Church. I don’t go mad with power but baby, I’ve got some.

So it’s taken me awhile to realize that the personality, background and experience of the Worship Leader in any church or prayer website inevitably influences what goes on. I don’t feel guilty about it or apologize for it. Instead I think about the priests and lay leaders who have influenced me and my faith. I’m eternally grateful for them, even as I know they were just human beings. I’m allowed to be too. “Of course I could be wrong.”

Beyond this issue of how I intrude on and guide the prayers, which is a serious responsibility and about which I am sometimes wrong, there are two other things running around in my head. When I started this operation six years ago tomorrow (August 24, 2004), I was just a guy owing God a big thanksgiving (for a home of my own) and looking for an easier way to pray, instead of all the page-flipping that saying Morning and Evening Prayer requires. I wanted it online – and God immediately answered, “That’s a great idea. I nominate you.” She has a wicked sense of humor.

Often people thank me – you did, Len – for putting in the work. I have a two-part reply; one, sometimes I just hate it, because it can be work. Updating every day (now on three different platforms) seems to impress people the most, but that doesn’t bother me at all. I do want it to go smoothly and when it doesn’t I’m apt to let loose with more curses than all 150 psalms. When a computer stops working or there’s an electrical outage, that’s a major problem; people depend on me, and I like being dependable. I’ll get up in the middle of the night to post if I have to, and I always work a day ahead on the main site; I get visitors from all over the world and I can’t forget the “all-important New Zealand market,” where it’s already tomorrow. (That’s an inside-my-head joke, but clocks in Christchurch, Sydney, Kabul and Baghdad do in fact structure my day.)

My second answer is this: I tell people that if they want to get closer to God, saying the Daily Office is guaranteed to do that. I give that guarantee because I know from personal experience, doing the work every day, rain or shine, no matter where I am. I don’t get to pray the same way as my site visitors do, but the work is my prayer, and God has blessed me a million times with it. I’ll look over a Bible passage and ask out loud, “What the hell does that mean?” And often he’ll show me; maybe not right at first, but as I keep going.

Once I put together an online Festival of Lessons and Carols, which is a big Anglican thing around Christmastime. I spent hours at it, but I was ecstatic, and in the midst of it I finally began to understand the Sacrifice of Isaac. I won’t tell the story now but it’s not what it appears to be, God thirsting for a little boy’s blood; it’s human beings who are bloodthirsty (and don’t we know it today), while God put a stop, once and for all, to child sacrifice. That’s why Abraham, Isaac’s dad, is the father of three major religions and reverenced in all of them. The Jews were the first to get that God doesn’t need appeasing for sin.

Isaac also brings the crucifixion of Jesus, God’s own Son, into his supreme place in the whole history of salvation.

This is not primarily an intellectual exercise for me; I’m not a theologian and I distrust people who are, when they go off the deep end. It’s a spiritual exercise for me, and oh my my, I love everything about our God.

When, last Sunday, I ran the site counter numbers and realized we’d hit the million mark just two days shy of our sixth anniversary, I surprised myself; yes, I knew we’d get there, but not how I’d react to it. I looked at the number, 1,000,067 as of 12:34 p.m. on August 22, 2010, then I looked up at the crucifix hanging over my desk – and started applauding like Jesus just scored a touchdown or somethin’. I laugh now to think of it, but what I did was cheer him.

It wasn’t me who got to a million, it was the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I’m just the bus driver here, they tell me where to go.

But there’s something else, and this is the intimate part for me, that I can only tell a good friend who knows my story. And you do; you feel it with me, because we’re about the same age and we’re both Gay and we love this Jesus fella completely, and all his saints whether quick or dead:

I feel as if I’ve finally done the one great thing I was put on earth for, but had never accomplished.

True, we believe in faith, not works, but St. James taught that works are good too; and here is the work of my life.

One million views of the work of my life.

So I finally feel like I’ve arrived – not in heaven; but in my own mind, my own expectations of who and what I can be.

I have always, since childhood, expected greatness out of myself. But I’ve never quite achieved it before.

I’ve done many things I’m extremely proud of; I founded the world’s second-oldest AIDS organization, after Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York, in Cincinnati in 1983. They’re still going strong and now have a million-dollar budget, but I turned it over to other good people and went to New York to work at GMHC.

I did very good work there, and spent Christmas Eve making hospital visits; one was pretty important, a middle-aged, friendless closet case with fundamentalist parents who came north from Carolina and cut off all contact with his support system, made up of Gay people in GMHC. He didn’t want to hurt his parents, but when I came to visit that night, he finally sent them out of his hospital room and talked to me, honestly and deeply.

It was an honor. I didn’t even make it to midnight mass that night, though the cathedral wasn’t far away; I felt like I’d already been to midnight mass, so I let it live in my heart.

In later years, back in Ohio, I ran the toughest, most hard-hitting (and journalistically reliable) Gay newspaper in the country. In the early ’90s the Gay and Lesbian Press Association named me the Best Investigative Reporter in North America, for breaking news and followup on a serial murder story, Gay men from Indianapolis murdered and dumped all across the Midwest.

That led to my first novel, which until Sunday and the million visitors milestone, is the thing I’ve been proudest of. It’s a fictionalized retelling of those murders, complete with a message to the killers in Chapter 2: “I know who you are.”

But it went beyond the whodunit genre by introducing the purest, most chaste Gay romance ever. The reporter (who is younger, blonder, smarter and richer than me) meets this cop… and they don’t even get their first kiss until the last chapter.

(I’ve been working on the sequel ever since, about how to build a Gay Christian marriage.)

I’m terribly proud of my second book, which is a Gay comedy. It has a serious point but it still makes me laugh every time, in the exact same spots where I’ve always laughed; where I laughed the day I wrote it, and in every rewrite since.

But however proud I am of them, these books didn’t sell nationwide. The first one sold well in the Midwest (and with heterosexual women) but outside these states no one ever heard of me, and book sales are publicity-driven. I could not say, “Well, I have a right to be on this planet, I’ve changed the world in some way.” I love the books but the world wasn’t changed, only a few readers.

In my definition “greatness” requires something that changes the world.

I’ve always expected something of myself and never done it. Never gone mass market. I’ve been in The New York Times but they didn’t offer me a job. (A commenter once kindly suggested they do so.)

I guess I’ve chosen to define “going mass market” and “changing the world” as a million hits on dailyoffice.org.

One could argue with that choice but I’m comfortable with it. A million prayers! All of them originating from my fingers, in my office, in my bedroom.

Last night, when reality began to sink in, I talked to God about all this; that I finally feel I’ve met my own expectations, much less hers. I mean, she knows what a sinner I am; I was drunk half the time. But I got those prayers and lessons up letter-perfect. (In the early days I typed it all myself. Now there are more resources online and I type less. Much of my job is formatting.)

When I was done talking, God gave me a rather serious but common affirmation for all this – serious so I’d remember it and know it was real, but familiar too, the same physical stirring we’ve shared countless times in six years and 2,190 services. It’s like a pat on the head but nicer! A rub on the spine, head to toe – or just a part of me.

So yes, I feel proud of myself; I feel like I’ve been on this earth for something. I feel like I’ve finally fulfilled my potential, that I had all along but never could channel before, in part because I don’t have much or any personal ambition. I don’t see how a person can have that ambition and get about serving God; those goals seem to clash. So I never made any money – and I couldn’t care less.

You can see why I was so thrilled to finally be able to afford a house! All that wandering, all those years, but now I get to grow marigolds and dill, chives and tomatoes. I can smell the dill from my back door.

Now I’ve got a little fox terrier to love, so I’m not pouring it all out of my fingertips (or the palm of my hand).

Those million visits are “great enough” for me. And that’s a major rearrangement in my psyche.

Y’know, I may never write a bestseller; may never get much credit for anything; may never be on Rachel Maddow or be intimate with a man again. John Calvin may get a feast day out of the Bishops’ Church, when he hated bishops!

I don’t care. Those million prayers – which relied on me but I didn’t originate, my congregation did – resound with the Holy One on whom all life depends. We, you and me, are part of the communion of saints. And no, we don’t understand that or see all the directional arrows, here to here and her to her; but they are part of the life-force that sustains us all.

So man, I’m content. Don’t got no laurels to rest on, and there are six more saints this month, but I can die happy. And that really is what it’s all about to us mortals; we don’t want to die, or get Alzheimer’s and be useless, but since we’re going to die, let us do it happy, knowing we did our part.

God doesn’t require me to be Moses; God requires me to be Joshua. And finally, for the first time, I am.

Love,

Josh

Claudio Cassio: St. Rosa de Lima, whose feast is today.