potpourri \ˌpō-pu̇–ˈrē\ (fr. French, lit. “rotten pot”) : a miscellaneous collection
I keep a notebook wherein I jot down words, ideas, or themes which I may later develop into a blog post or use in a sermon. As I perused that list this morning, I decided to combine three of them into a single post.
It’s not that I don’t think I could write an entire post on any one of them. I find that the one benefit of getting older is that my life experience, after more than six decades, is now so rich and varied that I can wax verbose (if not eloquent) on almost any subject, whether I know anything about it or not.
Truth be told, I don’t think I should devote an entire post to any of these subjects, at least not today. The first two are subjects which are likely to get me in trouble the more I say about them, and details related to the third are simply too sketchy at present. Yet I feel compelled to say something, so here goes.
Number One: The Fourth of July
I am grateful to be an American. (Somehow it seems a bit inappropriate to say that I’m “proud” of something which came to me purely as accident of birth.) I’ve had opportunities here that I might not have had in other countries, that I surely would not have had in some.
At their best, Americans are generous, hard-working, compassionate people. That is something important to celebrate on this Independence Day. At their worst, however, Americans can be—and have been—greedy, bigoted, and hateful. In other words, Americans, as a nation, are no better and no worse than people anyplace else in the world.
It is perfectly appropriate to encourage the pursuit of excellence and to recognize Americans who have achieved a measure of distinction in their respective fields. Why is it then necessary to frame our appreciation (and yes, justifiable pride) in the accomplishments of some outstanding Americans in the language of American exceptionalism? Virtually every other nation can point to important contributions made by their citizens. Is it really necessary to encourage Americans to think of themselves as better than everybody else?
July fourth is the one day of the year when most Americans think about our nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence. Several times this week we will see on television the image of the American flag, waving in the breeze, perhaps with the chords of a patriotic hymn in the background, while someone reads aloud the familiar words—
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Some of us will recognize the irony in the fact that, at the time Thomas Jefferson penned those words, nearly one person in five in the thirteen American colonies was a slave, and that Jefferson himself owned more than 600 slaves over the course of his lifetime.
This well-known and much-discussed fact, along with a reference to the monstrous injustice which freedom-loving Americans of European descent inflicted on the Native American population, should remind us of the immense gap between the ideals we profess and the behavior we practice. That fact alone should temper our inclination toward celebratory excesses that can turn helpful self-awareness into myopic self-righteousness.
Then, too, on this Independence Day, it might be wise, when considering the nature of true patriotism, to recall two other quotes from Thomas Jefferson. In a letter to John Langdon, from 1810, Jefferson wrote, “Money, and not morality, is the principle of commercial nations.” Before that, in 1786, he had written to M. de Meunier, “Merchants are the least virtuous citizens and possess the least of the amor patriae (‘love of fatherland’).” Just saying.
Number Two: Anglican Ministry
For the first time since my ordination to the priesthood in May 2011, I am beginning to consider seriously the possibility that I will not serve the final chapter of my active ministry as an Anglican priest. I hinted at this prospect in an earlier post, and in the past few days it has become a recurrent theme in my thinking.
Two realities, I believe, are responsible for this pattern of thought. The first is my intuitive sense that even my closest friends are beginning to show signs of “compassion fatigue.” When people whom I love dearly and respect deeply start to say things like, “You know, maybe this Anglican priest-thing is not going to work out for you,” then I know it is time to reconsider my options and priorities.
I came to Anglicanism after forty years of ministry in the Free Church tradition, first in mainstream Evangelicalism and then, for more than twenty-five years, among Mennonites. This is the first time, in all those years, that I have not found a place to use my gifts and experience in the service of Christ and His Kingdom. It is troubling, discouraging, and energy-depleting. Increasingly I am coming to believe that a change may be required in order to preserve my emotional health and my spiritual wholeness.
Second is the matter of integrity and candor in the exercise of my Holy Orders. As I’ve mentioned many times, when I was ordained, Bishop Roger Ames commissioned me to plant a new Anglican church in Columbus, OH, near the campus of The Ohio State University. One year later, despite considerable investment of resources and intense prayer, we are really no closer than we ever have been to seeing that vision become a reality.
There comes a moment, it seems to me, when we have to face the situation both honestly and objectively. For reasons that are not altogether clear to me (although some of the reasons are abundantly clear) those obstacles that everyone has acknowledged as insurmountable apart from a miraculous infusion of God’s power remain “uninfused.”
If you’ve been following this narrative with any degree of interest over the past several months, I ask you to join me in prayer for wisdom and direction. And stay tuned to this space for any updates on the situation. Finally,
Number Three: 2013 Celtic Christian Pilgrimage
Despite the uncertainty which has characterized my life and ministry for the past few years, I sense the need to start planning for at least one pilgrimage, maybe two, in 2013. The first one, and the one I would encourage you to consider being a part of, is a pilgrimage to Celtic Christian sites in Ireland and Great Britain.
Along with another couple, Shirley and I led a pilgrimage of this sort in 2006. Thirty-two of us, mainly college students and young adults, traveled to Ireland, Scotland, and England. On that trip, we combined visits to Celtic Christian sites such as Glendalough and the Hill of Tara in Ireland, the island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland, and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off the northeastern coast of England with locations of significance to C. S. Lewis such as his birthplace and childhood home in Belfast, his residence (the Kilns) and favorite pub (The Eagle and Child) in Oxford, and Magdalene College at Cambridge, where he completed his teaching career.
I deliberately use the term “pilgrimage” in describing our plans for a trip like this. We hope that most participants would approach this experience as an opportunity to hear from God and draw closer to Him through exposure to early Christian history and an encounter with some “thin places” where a sense of God’s presence has been particularly real to so many in the past.
Tentative dates for a pilgrimage of this sort are a ten-day or two-week period sometime between mid-May and mid-June next year. At that time of year, the weather is warm, daylight hours are near their maximum, and the crowds that accompany peak tourist season have not yet arrived.
If you have interest in a trip like this or would like to be included on a list to receive email updates with more details as they become available, drop me a line and include any questions you may have. My email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a safe and enjoyable Fourth of July. And join me in this prayer which comprises the fourth stanza of the familiar hymn, “America,” by Samuel F. Smith (1808-1895).
Our fathers’ God, to Thee, author of liberty, to Thee we sing;
long may our land be bright with freedom’s holy light;
protect us by Thy might, great God, our King.