flexile-black-logo

From Our Canon Chaplain

October 1, 2021

“How to be a Minister without really trying.”

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Last month I used this letter to pay tribute to one of the people who had a major influence on my formation and eventual decision to become a priest – my High School English teacher. This time I want to do the same for my first Rector – Canon Roland Walls. In 1965 as a newly ordained deacon I became Curate at Rosslyn Chapel, Edinburgh when Roland was the Rector. He had chosen me from amongst the graduating students at Edinburgh Theological College and, as a result, gave me a gift from which I have continued to benefit for all the 56 years of my ministry since then. Roland was the founder of the Community of the Transfiguration at Rosslyn – a community of worker priests and lay persons modeled on the Little Brothers of Jesus of Charles de Foucauld and the Taize Community. While I was not a member of the Community, working alongside Roland, I worshiped with them daily, shared their time of contemplation and their table.

In 2006, a book entitled Mole under the Fence was published in Scotland. This book is a series of recorded conversations with Roland collected over a period of years and edited by Ron Ferguson.In an introductory statement Prof Iain R Torrance, former President of Princeton Theological Seminary, says “He is one of the two or three strongest Christian influences on me. He opened my eyes. Most of the perspectives I still hold were first discussed with Roland or transmitted from him in one way or another.” I can without hesitation say for myself the very same words about the long term impact my relationship with Roland has had on me and my ministry.

At this point, I want to share a couple of Roland’s recorded statements in a discussion on the process of formation for ministry:-

“I would say to any young man or woman who is entering the ministry at present: ‘Concentrate first of all on what God has already done for you, for your community, for where you live, and watch God doing something.’ In a paradoxical way, I’ve moved over, for twenty odd years now, perhaps thirty years, to this ATTENTION. I mean severe attention to the openness, passivity, empty handedness of the human being. Whether he knows it or not, that is what it means to be a human being – a poor soul or an old dear. You’re either one or the other. And to try to cover that up is the exercise of human activity – to make quite sure that you’re not a poor dear and not an old soul. Culture, and I would say church activism, enables us to go on with the illusion that we can stand before God as his strong people, and be somebody.”

Again: “It’s not an easy thing to allow yourself to return to simplicities because you think that’s, well, a bit soft. I do think these three things of the Taize prayer are important: ‘ May the Lord keep us in the joy, the simplicity and the compassion of the holy Gospel.’ Those three little things are the bottom line, I think.”

Over the next weeks and probably months, John Thompson-Quartey and I will be studying Roland’s sayings from Mole Under the Fence. We have already shared some excitement at what we are reading and I am remembering from the sixties when I had the privilege of being with this present day saint of God.

Mole Under the Fence by Ron Ferguson is published by St Andrew’s Press (2006) and can be obtained through Amazon.

Blessings and peace,
JOHN

September 1, 2021
“Let us now praise famous men.”
Ecclesiasticus

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Recently I re-read a book I had obtained a year ago. Pilgrim Souls by Mary MacIver, the widow of my high school English Teacher, Hector MacIver. The book was published in 1990 as an autobiographical tribute to her late husband who had died in 1966. Mary lived on becoming a well-known Scottish artist until her death at the age of 92 in 2012.

Reading this book, I was made deeply aware of the people who have played a major role in my own life and formation – Hector MacIver was one of these. I studied under Hector from 1953 until 1957 while attending the Royal High School of Edinburgh where he was Head of the English Department. He married Mary, who at that time was an English teacher at another Edinburgh school, in 1958 – a year after I graduated. Although I never knew Mary, her telling of Hector’s and her own story awakened in me a remarkable sense of affinity, despite the passage of so many years and the obvious differences in our relationships with her husband and my teacher.

Hector was a Gael, from the Isle of Lewis in the Hebrides. He served in the Royal Navy during the Second World War and, by the time I encountered him at the Royal High School at the age of 13, had become a notable figure in Scottish and Gaelic letters. Amongst his friends, Hector numbered Dylan Thomas, Louis McNeice, Neil Gunn, Sidney Goodsir Smith, Hugh MacDiarmid and Sir Herbert Grierson – all of whom were famous writers by the time I entered high school. Those of us who had the good fortune to study under Hector were imbued with a love of poetry and literature from a wide range of sources. I remember how we were discouraged from using printed textbooks and anthologies and invited to share Hector’s own vast collection – which exceeded anything then in print. We each developed our own collection of readings and quotations based on their personal appeal to us and their special kind of inspiration.

Looking back to those formative years, I realize that they played a very significant and vital part in my own formation and in my eventual call to ordained ministry. I was ordained to the Priesthood in the same year as Hector’s death – 1966.

Perhaps my ability to be fairly eloquent and engaging in my public speaking – not least in sermons – is due to being involved in drama under Hector’s direction. I played Jennet in Chrstopher Fry’s play’ The Lady’s not for Burning’ in 1954 at Edinburgh’s Gateway Theatre. In 1955/56/57 I participated in the production of a literary magazine called ‘Phaeton’ – developed by the school’s English Department – as a contributor of prose and poetry, along with literary criticism, becoming editor in 1957.

Lest this become a catalog of my own accomplishments, please understand that I cite these experiences as a tribute to someone who,to this day, figures large in my memory as having given me gifts of friendship and influence that have survived and grown over the years.

I wish that there were some way that I could now say to Hector – “see what you did and how it turned out.”

Perhaps I should end as Mary MacIver did by saying simply;

“Sith dhith agad – peace and rest be to thee” and “so Hector’s tale was told” – of which I am so proud and so grateful to have been apart.

“Let us now praise famous men.”

Blessings,
JOHN

August 1, 2021
“…make me an instrument of your salvation for the people entrusted to my care, and grant that I may faithfully administer your holy Sacraments, and by my life and teaching set forth your true and living Word.”
BCP page 563

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As most of you probably know I have for the past several months been assigned by the Bishop to provide pastoral support for the congregation of St. Mary and St. Martha of Bethany in Buford. Since mid-April, I have been acting as a temporary Interim Priest there. At this time I am happy to say that on Sunday 15th August The Rev. Laura Masterson will become Priest-in-Charge.

For obvious reasons therefore I have been somewhat preoccupied with the responsibilities of a parish priest and less able to fulfill my normal role as Canon Chaplain. After August 15th that role will resume and I will again be traveling throughout the Diocese and responding to requests for my presence with you, my colleagues.

The experience of these past months has been rich and rewarding for me. It has been valuable to return to the ministry of a particular parish and to worship regularly with a known congregation.

The circumstances that brought me together with the people of St. Mary and St. Martha were, for them, extremely painful and distressing. They lost their Rector somewhat suddenly and unexpectedly over a year ago and, more recently, their Assistant. However, in the face of this, the faithful came together with the leadership of a very committed Vestry and with the spiritual and practical support of their Bishop and Diocese, in a manner that has become positive and hopeful. While several families left the parish, as a matter of individual choice and conscience, they did so with my blessing and the goodwill of their friends and fellow parishioners – leaving a door open for their return to a welcoming community. In fact over the past few weeks, several have.

Without in any way diminishing the painful significance of these events, or the level of grief shared, the members of this church have discovered a sense of renewed purpose and commitment for their future which, in my experience, is rare. Our prayers for the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit have been answered in many collective and individually beautiful ways. There is joy amongst our worshippers and gratitude which is palpable.

I am looking forward to the arrival of Laura with her welcome assured and with many offers of re-activated lay ministry.

This letter, I hope, conveys my renewed faith in our Church’s energy and spirit. It has been so very good to be given the opportunity to see this in action in one of our congregations – despite Covid, financial setbacks, and many other losses.

We are truly living here and now in the context of Jesus’s healing power and, as in Sunday’s gospel, we have “touched even the fringe of His cloak.”

Please be in touch. I am ‘open.’

Blessings and Peace,
JOHN

February 16, 2021
“The beauty that brings us to peace and whispers that there’s something more – And every square inch claimed by God”
Joy Davidman, 1952

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Despite the seemingly endless time of pandemic and its profound consequences I am beginning to notice signs of Spring and of life’s renewal.

In my part of the world we have had bitterly cold weather with stark barren trees and coarse wintry grass amidst patches of unyielding bare ground. Yet, here and there, little green shoots are bravely piercing that ground with the promise of growth to come.

My sister in Kent, England, tells of unusually heavy snow, while my friends in Scotland are in the grip of Arctic weather which they describe as ‘the beast from the east.’ Someone posted a picture of a milk-bottle whose frozen contents had burst through the cap.

It has been a hard winter for all of us in so many ways. The weather has merely provided a literal context for it

I think there is a connection between what we can experience in our deepest inner selves and the wider expanse of the natural, created, the world in which we live and the universe beyond. It is a connection which transcends the more liminal aspects of our thinking and perceiving and of the immediate appearance (usually man-made) of our surroundings. It is that amazing capacity we have to ‘see beyond’ – to reach from our secret interior for those ‘intimations of immortality’ which Wordsworth described:

‘Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting: the Soul that rises with us,our life’s Star hath had elsewhere its setting, And cometh from afar: Not in entire forgetfulness, And not in utter nakedness, But trailing clouds of glory do we come From God who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy.’

Might I suggest some further contemplation of this transcendent experience into which the ‘whispers that there’s something more’ invites us?

And this in the midst of what continues to be a ‘hard winter,’ but in which there are signs of renewed life and perhaps an inward deeper stirring.

Blessings and my continuing prayers for all of us,
JOHN

January 1, 2021
“The hope that we are traveling towards a destiny, rather than a mere collapse, is linked with the faith that our origins were already purposeful.”
The Coming of God by Maria Boulding

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I have to thank my friend John Hamilton at St Elizabeth’s, Dahlonega for the quotation from Maria Goulding. At a recent clerics meeting of the Mountains Convocation, he read a passage from her article in Celebrating the Seasons: The Coming of God. This made a profound impression on me and I recommend the whole article as a great meditation. After much online exploration, I was able to get Celebrating the Seasons from the Canterbury Press in England – a worthwhile exercise for these times.

The whole question of purpose is one that I have addressed myself many times in relation to age, circumstance, decision making, or what befalls. It is not something I believe we dwell on from day to day being preoccupied with routine matters of work or family or planning. However, there come times when questions about where all this is leading, and why, do come up. This is especially true in times of adversity. As people of faith, we have some ready-made answers for this – God’s will, God’s plan for me, God’s gift of my uniqueness, God’s own purpose in and for my life – or just God knows.

In my counseling practice, I have frequently struggled with a person’s lack of purpose – sometimes amounting to despair on their part. Most of the time the problem is narrowed down to dissatisfaction in relationships – especially family and marital relationships – or job, or location. For church people it sometimes arises in disaffection with particular worship or congregational experience – “I’m not getting much out of this anymore” or “what is the point of this commitment?” or “ I just keep hearing the same old words and they don’t connect with me in a meaningful way” or “ liturgy lacks life.” Surely in the context of the Church, we should be discovering some good purpose for our lives.

In these dreary months, I have found a deeper sense of connection through reading the biographies of people who recount experiences of discovering deeper purpose for their lives. I have also tried to draw closer to the natural environment of creation – to the beauty, the vastness, the unselfconsciousness of it, and its constant quiet renewal of life. This has been rewarding as it allows me to step away from my own preoccupations and focus on a larger life than usual.

While I can’t say that I have discovered a specific purpose that I wasn’t aware of. I have discovered a sense of greater meaning about life itself and what it offers as part of the greater plan – dare one say the Divine plan. I have come to love the sense of connection that I have with God’s life in me and in the world around me – not only right now but through the years of my own and other people’s lives.

As we begin another calendar year my prayer for all of us is that we may be able to know – perhaps just glimpse – the great purpose of God in the creation and our part of it. The ultimate revealing of ‘goodness.

 

Blessings and Peace,
JOHN

December 1, 2020
“….the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.”
Ephesians 1:23

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Last week I had a lengthy conversation with one of our colleagues who wanted to discuss the question of how, during lockdown and distancing, we could effectively provide pastoral care especially to those who have lost a loved one and are grieving in isolation. We talked about the use of telephone, video messaging and zoom. We realized, however, that the lack of face to face contact and physical presence left open the question of how priesthood can still provide real consolation and empathetic support. At the end of it we examined the meaning of ‘presence’ as central to our role as priests and pastors and came up with some new and perhaps different ways of defining that role under present conditions. Two words which apply to ordained ministry ‘ parson’ and ‘vicar’ became ‘coat-hangers’ for some of our thinking. ‘Parson’ means ‘person’ and has been used to describe the incarnational principle of presence amongst God’s people.

‘Vicar,’ although, strictly speaking, referring to a bishop’s deputy, can also be defined as representing an ‘on behalf of’ ministry – where our very presence in a congregation has the quality of vicariously sharing the ministry of Christ himself. In these days of ‘virtual’ worship and congregational life the meaning of ‘ vicarious’ takes on added significance.

Recently our Bishop has used the phrase ‘ the buildings are closed – but the church is open.’ It occurs to me that Robert is providing a
basis for deeper reflection on the meaning of ‘church.’ We have often made reference to the church being its people rather than its buildings and institutions.

Now we are faced with an existential reality in which that view of the Body of Christ is presented front and center.

Perhaps our present circumstance portends a future character for ‘church’ that is less and less about the structures (literally) of an institution and more and more about the ‘kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world ‘ – a kingdom into which we are invited as ‘ you who are blessed by my Father.’ (Matt. 25 ). Jesus describes the character of that kingdom as having to do with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner. ‘Righteousness’ is defined in terms of showing compassion and mercy to the least of these ‘who are members of my family.’

At our recent Diocesan Council, two things struck me very forcibly. One was that for the foreseeable future (next year) our budget will continue to support the institution we know and love. This provides a basis for thinking about ‘church’ as we always have. The other was contained in the excellent report on Parish Vitality which displayed statistics about our Diocese which were hopeful and encouraging along with others that showed the wider church in a much less positive light. There was a view into the future of ‘church’ that, while granting temporary respite for some of us, showed a coming state of institutional insecurity on a grand scale. The factors that seem to contribute to our own brighter future appear to reflect a willingness to change institutionally and, more importantly, a readiness to ‘turn outward’ toward the world and environment around us. Could this be a sign that under our present constraints we are rediscovering the truth behind Jesus’s words in Matthew 25? I hope so.

For those of us who are ordained the future seems to call for a re-examination of the meaning of ‘presence’ – of ‘parson’ and ‘vicar.’ And this re-examination in the context of a less institutional form of church as present conditions are already showing us.

Much prayer, reflection, and reaching deeper into our understanding of vocation and ministry are clearly called for.

I join you in this endeavor.

Blessings for Advent – a season of renewed preparation for both the living Presence of Jesus and His second coming in ‘power and great glory’ – the culmination of all things according to God’s purpose.
JOHN

September 29, 2020
Timor Mortis Conturbat Me – The fear of death disturbs me.
From a Mediaeval Office of the Dead used by William Dunbar ‘Lament for the Makars’ late 15th Century.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

On September 12th we learned of the tragic death of our beloved sister Melissa. We have also lost this month three of our retired colleagues who had achieved great age – Woody Bartlett, Buck Belmore and Scott May. I count all of these people as friends as well as colleagues whom I have known personally. The three retirees were close to being contemporaries of mine. Earlier this year I passed the 6th anniversary of my son Iain’s death by his own hand and only this morning my sister reminded me of what would have been my father’s 108th birthday – he died in 2000; my mother in 1995. The first funeral I conducted as a newly ordained Deacon in 1965 was of a close high school and college friend, Kenneth, who had taken his own life at the age of 26. I share this with you because we are presently experiencing a ‘close up’ of our mortality – not least in the face of dread disease all around us. At this point in my own life it is no longer appropriate to say ‘ if something happens to me’ – it is now a matter of ‘when something happens to me.’ For good reason I quote William Dunbar – ‘Timor Mortis Conturbat Me.’ But I am a member of the Body of Christ. I am a beloved child of God. There are other words I can say – ‘All that the Father has given me shall come to me…’ ; ‘In the midst of life we are in death;; of whom may we seek for help but of you O Lord…’ ‘You know, Lord, the secrets of our hearts…’ And that wonderful collect: ‘O heavenly Father,whose blessed Son Jesus Christ wept at the grave of his friend Lazarus: Look we beseech you with compassion on those who are now in sorrow and affliction….’

If ever there were a time to return to the words and the promises of Jesus it is now when we are face to face with matters of life and death.

Someone repeated recently that the ‘whole thing is about life and death.’ What else is our Christian Faith about if it is not ultimately about life and death.

My friend Richard Holloway in his latest book ‘ Stories we tell Ourselves ‘ plunges into the history and traditions of religious movements asking the question; ‘Are these merely stories we tell ourselves to explain the great mysteries of creation – of life and death and of the ultimate meaning of our existence? He raises very deep and important questions and is brutally honest about much of our mythology and religion’s tendency to ‘historicize’ what was never meant to be other than myth. But at the end he says; ‘ I am a Christan because this is the story I try to live by. I am not suggesting that this way of following Jesus should convince you or anyone else….it is just that this is the story I now try feebly to live by. And that makes me a Christian….. I follow Jesus etsi deus non daretur.’ (cf Bonhoeffer).

In my encounter with N.T. Wright, four years ago I asked him directly what he believed about the credal statement: ‘ …the resurrection of the body, And the life everlasting’ or ‘ I look for the Resurrection of the dead, And the life of the world to come.’ His response was that he believes and teaches that death consists of ‘falling asleep’ to await the general resurrection and that Jesus and his apostles taught the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

Like Richard and so many others of us who ‘want to know,’ I try (feebly) to live by this story. Because it is more than a story. This is the ‘myth’
that C.S. Lewis describes as the ‘true myth.’ This is nothing less than a promise of the Lord of Life – and I have come to know and trust the Lord of Life.

Blessings and my prayers,
JOHN

September 1, 2020
‘Let a man do right, not trouble himself with worthless opinion; the less he heeds tongues, the less difficult will he find it to love men’
George MacDonald

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

‘Let a man do right, not trouble himself with worthless opinion; the less he heeds tongues, the less difficult will he find it to love men.’ I realize it has been some time since I last wrote one of these letters. Please forgive me. I have been somewhat preoccupied with trying to maintain regular contact with individual people and use my communication systems to do this. I also had the ‘joy’ of a lap-top breakdown that took some time and a lot of ingenuity to restore. The ‘joy’ of this was to discover that I am not as technologically inept as I thought I was!

The quotation with which I introduced this letter is from a collection of extracts from the writings of George MacDonald (a 19th Century Scottish divine) which appears in an anthology published by C.S. Lewis in 1946. My access to this is the latest in my ongoing study of C.S. Lewis, the ‘Inklings’, and other related subjects. If you remember, this whole process began with my reading Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan, back in March, and my subsequent study of Joy Davidman’s life and writing and her relationship with Lewis, whom she eventually married in 1956.

It is in my nature to be a talker – one who does not hesitate to express opinions and one who enjoys the platform afforded a preacher and a writer. I have been, I think kindly, described as a ‘man of the word’ – perhaps even ‘Word.’ Of this I am proud and I am grateful for the opportunities afforded me to ‘speak my mind.’ I try hard to honor this and to avoid
incautious remarks and statements. Undoubtedly I often fail to live up to this standard, for which I have many regrets.

In light of a lifetime’s experience of offering and receiving opinions, I find this period of enforced silence fortuitous – if only because it provides time to step back and think more deeply and carefully about what one is hearing and how one might respond. The occasion for immediate and rapid response is less available and the value of ‘second thoughts’ and considered reflection is more clearly seen.

Our access to ‘media’ talk is limitless – but we can be justifiably reticent about what we hear and how we want to respond or react.

Perhaps George MacDonald’s words are worth taking time to absorb in our present ‘chattering’ environment. Perhaps there is a renewed wisdom in seeing love in this context.

Blessings and Peace – my prayer is always for your well-being and safety and that of those you love.
JOHN

P.S. George MacDonald wrote Phantastes and other supernatural and magical stories that were powerfully influential in the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and many others of that ilk.
W.H.Auden described him as ‘one of the most remarkable writers of the 19th century.’

July 23, 2020
‘ I linger for as long as I can. I pray and allow nature to bring me to silence – the beauty that brings us to peace and whispers that there is something more.’
C.S. Lewis on Addisons Walk Oxford

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

In a previous letter I talked of how ‘refreshment’ can often come through our being in close touch with nature and with our natural environment. This time I would like to develop that theme further.

I recently read a book entitled The Living Mountain by a Scottish author – Nan Shepherd (written in 1945 and first published in 1977). Nan Shepherd lived in the small village of West Cults – near Aberdeen on the banks of the River Dee.

She spent years climbing and exploring the Cairngorm Mountains in the Grampian region of Scotland. This book is a meditation in poetic prose of her experiences in and on the mountains. Far from being a travelogue or a climbers handbook it is a deeply spiritual journey in which the author reflects of the relationship between herself and the mountains she devotes her energies to climbing, exploring and ‘dwelling in.’

Reflecting on the work of the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty ( The Phenomenology of Perception – 1945) “Nan Shepherd’s belief in bodily thinking gives The Living Mountain a contemporary relevance. More and more of us live more and more separately from contact with nature. We have come increasingly to forget that our minds are shaped by the bodily experience of being in the world – its spaces, textures, sounds, smells and habits – as well as by genetic traits we inherit and ideologies we absorb. We are literally losing touch, becoming disembodied, more than in any previous historical period. Shepherd saw this process starting over sixty years ago, and her book is both a mourning and a warning. ‘One should use the whole of one’s body to instruct the spirit.’ ….. Her book is a hymn to ‘living all the way through’ : to touching, tasting, smelling and hearing the world. ” (Robert Macfarlane – Introduction to The Living Mountain).

Thinking of refreshment when we are deprived of the immediate companionship and close proximity of human relationships – people with whom we can share our hopes and fears with intimacy and physical connection – we still have the presence of the natural world : the beauty of God’s love shown in creation all around us. Nan Shepherd’s experience of this, alone on a mountainside and the renewal of her innermost being through this ‘connection’ with nature is evidence of what we too have available to us beyond simply the aesthetic enjoyment of our environment – going deeper into the language of our senses as they can enrich and renew our spirit.

Blessings – Keep well and safe,
JOHN

July 7, 2020
‘I have dreamed a dreary dream beyond the Isle of Skye…’
Medieval Scots Ballad – The Battle of Otterbourne.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I quoted these words because they express for me a feeling of utter exhaustion and helplessness and create an image of far away places where perhaps I would rather be. ‘Beyond the Isle of Skye’ represents the Celtic vision of Tir nan Og – the place of departed warriors. The ballad is sung by a Scots soldier who foresees his own death in the forthcoming battle – ‘I saw a dead man in a fight and I dreamt that man was I.’

Please forgive my somewhat morbid thoughts. I share them because recently I have heard many of you share feelings of profound tiredness and emotional exhaustion which in some sense might be similar, if not as extreme, to those in the poem.

There are, I believe, things that we all want to talk about in the present reality of distance and separation, but I think many of us have reached a point where there simply isn’t the energy to do that very much. Although the grief and loss of these times, along with the fear and anger about our deeply troubled community, are ever present and undeniable, my own response is increasingly one of: ‘leave me alone – wake me up when it’s over.’

Clearly, as a Priest – as one who is commissioned and charged with the message of hope against despair – of love against fear – I can’t just ‘pull out.’ There are so many people who look to me and to all of us for the reassurance, the support and encouragement that is ours to give. But I am tired. I feel drained. I am beginning to lack imagination and creativity where it is needed.

There are, I believe, two faithful responses to this dilemma, which I now dare to propose.

We need refreshment. That comes from engaging in a kind of ‘selfishness’ which involves looking into what I most want to do for myself – eat, sleep, read, sing, shout, watch movies, call friends, write poetry. paint and draw, ‘travel’ online (VikingTV),
visit historic places ( e.g.English Castles and Cathedrals – British Heritage online), miss church on Sunday! Whatever is gratifying.

We need renewal. That comes from contemplating the transcendence and beauty of God. This is something that I find relatively easily in my connection with nature, landscape, rivers, and oceans and in the biographies of interesting people.

We need to resist the fear that such contemplation is a form of primitive pantheism and not part of our Christian story. It is part of our Christian story because it is incarnational. It is the presence of a living and loving God in what we see and experience and in what we IMAGine. Thank God for the Incarnation – The Word became flesh and DWELT amongst us.

Go for it my friends and relax.
JOHN

June 23, 2020
Truth to tell….

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I first started to study the psychological phenomenon of DENIAL when I entered more fully into the dynamics of addiction and related human behavior.

Confronting the fears related to painful realities and their consequences creates for many people a powerful state of denial and a highly developed capacity for rationalization. This provides us with a form of self-deception that allows a means of escape from the truth of many situations that are too painful or complex to address or deal with. The underlying force here is that of fear which militates against love, compassion and understanding.

Currently, in our society we see large numbers of people who have entered into a state of denial over COVID-19 in spite of overwhelming scientific evidence as to its danger and its prevalence. We are seeing this phenomenon occur in reaction to the rising tide of protest over race and social justice, political and governmental failure and numerous other realities that are for many too painful or fearful to face and address – in spite of compelling historical and cultural evidence.

One of the most alarming aspects of this type of societal denial is the increasing tendency to think of truth and reality as relative terms or concepts. We retreat into denial and rationalization often using ideology as an excuse for inaction – we substitute interpretation and opinion for truth and reality.

‘Who will deliver us from the body of this death… ?’

Blessings and peace,
JOHN

June 2, 2020
“Answer me when I call, O God, defender of my cause; you set me free when I am hard-pressed;have mercy on me and hear my prayer.” (Psalm 4)

It would be redundant for me to say ‘in these times ….’ We are all experiencing varying levels of pain,grief, anger and outrage. We are all talking with God about these things in our prayers.
We may, as I do, often have a sense of frustration that there is no obvious answer to these prayers.
C.S.Lewis once addressed this problem when he said : ‘as we look for answers to our prayers we may come to realise that God doesn’t give us an answer because God IS the answer.’
Upon reflection I find this a very helpful response because it takes the specific concerns of my heart and mind and places them within the context of God’s faithfulness, abiding love and compassion in all matters affecting my being, my life and my deepest feelings of pain and grief and fearfulness. My anger and outrage about injustice and inhumanity are given back to me to become action as the ‘voice, the hands and feet that God has in this world.’
Thinking through the ‘voice, hands and feet’ brings me into communion with others who share this deep understanding of God’s purpose – ‘your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.’
I feel blessed to be surrounded by people within our own church family who are passionate, articulate and filled with the Spirit and who use every means available to ‘speak out’ and ‘act out’ in God’s name and in His service.
I urge all of us to walk with these people and listen to them and wherever possible (perhaps with risk to ourselves) to act with them.
I believe that ‘in these times…’ God is giving us an opening and an occasion for his ‘will be done.’ What other way
is there to face the hopelessness and helplessness that surrounds us – as people of faith and servants of the Lord of all time and eternity.
How does all this look ‘sub specie aeternitatis.’

Blessings and Peace,
JOHN

May 19, 2020
‘A Grief Observed’

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

During this time of enforced distancing I want to increase my communication with you on matters that are of pastoral concern to all of us – either in our own lives or in the lives of those we serve.

I am aware that a large part of our present experience is dominated by varying levels and types of grief.
Firstly, and most importantly, there are bereavements which have occurred either as a result of COVID-19 or during its course. In either case we have often been prevented from being with those who have died because of restrictions on visitation and personal contact. Several of our clergy colleagues have experienced this in their own families and our prayers are joined with theirs as they live through this additional burden of grief and separation.

There are other losses resulting from this epidemic that we and others have gone through. These include for hundreds of people their jobs and their financial security, separation from lonely and aged relatives, and the normal forms of social contact which we count on for support and encouragement. For church people there is the loss of regular church gatherings and opportunities to worship and pray in one another’s company.

For young people there is the loss of normal school and college attendance and the fear and anxiety of how this will affect their future lives. The list of losses goes on and on in every area of our lives and our relationships. Of course we have been able to make up for much this through online,media, telephone and written contact – but there is still a profound sense of isolation and separation to deal with.

Our typical human response to all of this is grief. Remembering Dr. Kubler-Ross’s work on the stages of grief, we encounter, and live through, anger, bargaining, depression, resignation and, hopefully, eventual acceptance. In my experience there isn’t a quick way through this process. It calls for a very necessary but difficult type of patience and endurance. We Christians pray a lot.

I recently re-read C.S. Lewis’s beautiful book A Grief Observed and want to pass on these passages from it:
“We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program……
“We were even told ‘Blessed are they that mourn’ and I accept it – I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for……
“Grief gives life a permanently provisional feeling……..
“This is one of the miracles of love: It gives a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted..
“We cannot understand. The best is perhaps what we understand least…….
“Grief is like a long valley, a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape…”

Kind thoughts and many blessings,
JOHN

May 5, 2020
“Since you were precious in My sight, You have been honored, And I have loved you…” (Isaiah 43 : 4)

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

I believe that over the weeks we have been distanced from one another and from the people of God we have undergone changes in how we view this separation and how we experience it. For myself, I know that at first it was a matter of ‘how long ? ‘ Then it became ‘So this is it for the present.’ Now it looks like ‘ for the forseeable future it’s going to remain different.’ In all of this my emotions and sense of personal well-being have moved through a variety of shapes, colors and moods – as I feel sure yours have too.

It has been interesting to read and hear (through Zoom) many people asking questions about the meaning of priesthood in these times. In this connection I want to recommend Stuart Higginbotham’s recent essay on ‘Priesthood in Pandemic.’ Our concerns seem to range from how to ‘manage’ church, through struggling to provide effective pastoral care to maintaining a focused spiritual life for ourselves.
As I said in a previous Letter, this is potentially a time of ‘rediscovery.’

The time that this enforced ‘sabbatical’ affords can be for us a time to discover afresh ways of ‘going deeper with God.’ Those ways that have always been there but which because of busy-ness and preoccupation have often been shelved. This is also a time in which to rediscover our collegiality. Surprisingly. although separated physically, we now have renewed opportunities to draw together in conversation, prayer and study.

Recently I e-mailed the Deans in our diocese asking if I might invite myself to ‘zoomed’ clericus meetings. It was delightful to receive prompt replies and very open invitations to clericus groups and other ‘gatherings’ within convocations, along with shared interest groups. This is something that I was not so readily able to do when it involved scheduling and traveling in the ‘old’ days. It occurs to me now that we have discovered a new means of mutual and self-care that is readily available and, although somewhat ‘vicarious.’ extremely valuable.
In the spirit of -‘for the foreseeable future it’s going to remain different’- how about making ever-better use of our convocations and clerics groups – not least our Deans – to grow in fellowship in these new ways. Rather than using these connections for discussing ‘management’ (important as that is) how about sharing the journey of going deeper with God.

I am fortunate in belonging to a Clergy Support Group (over 10 years now !). We are meeting twice a month via zoom and enjoying a rich time of sharing experiences which don’t often have to do with ‘management.’

Given the likelihood of remaining in some form of lockdown for a time yet, let’s use it for growing anew in relationship with God, with one another and most importantly with ourselves. Even when no longer locked down perhaps we will have discovered and will continue to live into ever better self-care and collegial relationships which, out of dire necessity, we are now beginning to discover.

Many blessings and kind thoughts,
JOHN

April 7, 2020
‘ A season of rediscovery….. “O God of Peace, you have taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength…… lift us we pray you to your presence where we may be still and know that you are God…..” BCP 832’

Dear Friends and Colleagues,
I am becoming aware in this time of ‘distancing’ that I have never as fully understood the meaning of ‘self direction’ as I can now.
When I reflect on my normal daily activity I realize that almost all of it is directed by external circumstances, demands, responsibilities and even relationships. In the present situation I am rediscovering (perhaps discovering for the first time) the way in which ‘self direction ‘ can and should work.
The word ‘rediscovering’ is key in all this. Rediscovering how to be alone without being lonely. Rediscovering the significance of time that is not always about going somewhere or doing something. Rediscovering how conversation with myself can be creative and productive. Rediscovering how rest and sleep can truly refresh and not merely provide ‘recovery.’
Perhaps one of the greatest rediscoveries is the meaning of ‘catholic’ (universal) when describing the Church.
Last Sunday I ‘attended’ church in numerous places both within our diocese and in Scotland. I shared liturgy with parishes in which I have served and where I have grown up. I had a profound sense of belonging to this world-wide and colorful community we call the Anglican Communion – but more significantly – the Body of Christ.
I have rediscovered the broader meaning of ‘sacrament’ as an ‘outward and VISIBLE sign of an inward and spiritual grace.’ VISIBLE made possible by the technological marvel of our online and media connections.
Perhaps one of the richest rediscoveries is the Book of Common Prayer which is so much more than a manual for public worship containing, as it does, prayer, liturgy and scripture for all the times and days of our lives.
I am immensely grateful to so many of you for providing such a rich treasury of online resources for worship, reflection and intercession. I have shared mid-day prayer with Amanda, Compline with Liz, meditation with Stuart, a Vestry meeting with Edwin, the Bishop’s PODcast ‘For People’ – to name only a few.
Thank you and God’s blessings.
My number is 404 402 7599 – revjbolton@webtv.net
I am open,
JOHN

March 3, 2020
“Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high” (Isaiah 58 : 1 – 12)

Dear Friends and Colleagues:

This passage from Isaiah hit me like a hammer on Ash Wednesday. I said to one of my colleagues afterwards that we should have stopped the service right there – called for a period of silence and sent everyone home with those words ringing in our ears.

What need do we have of ashes to confront us with the uncompromising will of God and our feeble human response ?

A few days later I spent time listening to Bishop Jennifer of Indianapolis sharing her thoughts and reflections with us about compassionate leadership and the challenge of speaking the truth in love and truth to power.

These two events were so aptly juxtaposed – as so often these things are in the church ” thank God !

I come away from this with the focus in Lent for me on how to be faithful and loving in my behavior, in preaching and teaching -in counseling and spiritual guidance – in the light of God’s uncompromising demand for “the fast I choose : to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke … to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house: when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing spring up quickly….”

If I am to approach this manner of life and service – this faithfulness – even gradually – what do I have to give up? That’s the basic question of Lent. That for me is what ‘going deeper with God’ means.

Blessings and prayers for us all,
JOHN

February 1, 2020
Going Towards the Light

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

In early January, I traveled to Charlotte where my grandchildren wanted to celebrate my 80th birthday with me. We had a wonderful time together including very creative birthday cards and an enormous chocolate cake with a gigantic 80 on it and a mass of candles. We bridged the generation gap beautifully and I left with joy and gratitude to make the 270 mile return trip to Atlanta.

I felt energized and ‘youthful.’ Four miles from my home my car was sideswiped on its passenger side by a truck which made an inexplicable left swerve into me.

Fortunately I was unhurt- except for a bruised left hand, which began to swell over the next few days, quite painfully. My car was seriously damaged and is still, almost a month later, in the shop. I am experiencing the frustration of dealing with unresponsive insurance companies and the unexpected cost of car rental (which I am assured will be reimbursed- someday). I have to appear in court as a witness and I have spent a great deal of time on the telephone and sending out e-mails and documents. In other words my life has been significantly disrupted and my routines upset. It occurred to me that having just celebrated the joy of grandchildren and reaching my ninth decade, I was suddenly and dramatically reminded of my mortality and the fragility and transience of my daily routines. If I had been on the other side of my car when this happened I might by now be dead!

We are in the season of Epiphany- the ‘showing forth’ of God’s love and of God’s Way. It is the season of renewed light- of enlightenment. While I reject the notion of magical thinking, I cannot help but reflect with some gravity on the significance in my immediate experience of these three simultaneous and coincidental events- my birthday and grandchildren, my accident and its attendant reminders of mortality and transience, and the season of light, illuminating the promises and faithfulness of God. Thank God for the gift of life and light and for these occasions, albeit dramatic and challenging, to look inwardly at ourselves and at where and who we are in our lives and in our world.

‘In Thy Light shall we see light.’
Blessings,
JOHN

January 1, 2020
Looking into 2020

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

As we enter a new year I want to outline afresh my responsibilities and ministry within the Diocese as Canon Chaplain/Pastor.

Overall I continue to assist the Bishop with the pastoral care of ACTIVE clergy and their families. While I have capitalized ACTIVE (which means that I do not have primary responsibility for retired clergy) I do include those retired clergy who are currently active in parish ministry.
The Rev Dr Dwight Ogier is the designated Chaplain for retired clergy. He is assisted in this by a team of clergy who reside in different parts of the Diocese. These are: The Rev. Sandra McCann (South)The Rev.

Spenser Simrill (Atlanta & SW) The Rev. Joe Herring (North Atlanta),The Rev. Robt Dentler (East). Dwight resides in North Ga. and covers that area. All of these people are on call to provide pastoral care for retired clergy where a local parish is unable to do so. Local parish clergy have primary responsibility for retired clergy residing in their area.

My work is specifically directed to individual members of the clergy (Deacons and Priests)
who either request my ministry or who are referred to me by the Bishop. I pay particular attention to new clergy or newly ordained clergy and those who work in isolated situations – geographically or otherwise.

I try to attend clergy who are hospitalized or who have suffered bereavement, when I am made aware of those circumstances.
The Bishop has asked me to be available to clergy who are in transition or who are contemplating change or transition in their ministries. In these instances I rely often on direct requests or referrals.

Since I have been in the Diocese since 1983 I have developed a fairly good ‘ear to the ground’ capability and I do rely on my instincts a good deal. I do not want to be intrusive but I will sometimes contact people whom I haven’t seen in a while or who have indicated to colleagues a need for support.
In all of my encounters and contacts with clergy I maintain absolute confidentiality. This is agreed between me and the Bishop as well as the Diocesan Staff. I am not expected or required to ‘report back.’ And I don’t. I am willing to act as a liaison with the Bishop or other Diocesan Staff if asked to do so by the person with whom I meet – never otherwise.

Over the past several years my ministry has extended to those in the process of discernment for ordination. I attend the ‘Here I am’ Day each year and the Discernment Retreat in the Fall. In this connection I maintain contact with those people and do follow-up on the process with them. The Commission on Ministry have invited me to attend and have input to their sessions.

This monthly letter is my principal way of maintaining contact with my colleagues – aside from Clergy Conferences and Study Days. I invite you to respond to me and will this year be inviting members of the clergy to ‘occupy this space’ to provide an opportunity for shared concerns around our work and ministry.

Finally, a word about SUPPLY. I am not a member of the Diocesan Supply Clergy group and deliberately don’t want to be. However, where there is a pastoral need for someone to be absent from their parish other than regular leave, I am very willing and ready to be available for liturgical and homiletic cover. I am also ready to work with anyone who needs extra time away as part of their ‘self-care’ and spiritual renewal. Please contact me to discuss this if you are considering it. I may in some cases suggest that to you !

I would enjoy invitations to come and preach and/or share the liturgy with you.

My best wishes and prayers for you in the coming year,
JOHN

December 1, 2019
Authority and Accountability

Dear Colleagues,

When I was instituted as Priest in Charge of St. Barnabas Church in Gilmerton, Edinburgh in 1967 the Bishop, using the form prescribed in the Scottish Prayer of the time, said: “Receive this cure of souls which is both mine and thine.” It occurs to me still that this simple statement by a bishop to a priest fully expresses the meaning of authority and accountability in ministry. Regardless of our title – Rector, Priest in Charge, Vicar, Curate or whatever else (I have actually only been a Rector twice in 55 years of ordained ministry – Good Shepherd, Richmond, and Resurrection, Sautee) we work within a framework of mutuality as to our ‘authority ‘ and, therefore, our accountability.

Our priesthood gives us a particular and often unique role within the family of God’s people. We are ‘authorised’ and therefore have authority to proclaim and interpret the Word of God, to preside at and administer the Sacraments of God’s grace, to pronounce in the name of Christ’s Church absolution, blessings, and words of consecration. We have a ‘canonical’ (legal) position of leadership and management within the community of faith which carries with it a certain kind of authority in church governance.

But with all of this said we do not hold our various kinds of authority in isolation. In all cases, we have been entrusted with a role and responsibility which derives from the larger community of the church. We have been ‘ordered’ – commissioned – by a bishop who represents the apostolic ministry of the whole church and who him/herself remains within a larger community of shared ministry. I believe it is no accident that bishops are ordained by numerous other bishops and not by a single presider or ‘ arch..’ Bishops hold their authority within a larger fellowship and are ordained by the authority of both clergy and laity – just as are both priests and deacons.What this all means, within the day to day life and work of those of us who are ordained, is that we are mutually accountable for that work and our behaviour in it not just to our bishop but to our colleagues and the people we serve. This is not merely a theological or liturgical principle – far less some theoretical form of church order. It is an ever-present reality as we go about our lives and work, sometimes visibly, sometimes invisibly.

My sense of how to live this way is to make maximum use of the support systems we have available to us – clericus groups, clergy support groups, mentors, chaplains, counselors, trusted peers and perhaps therapists. The bishop’s pastoral responsibility to us is both direct and indirect – but the means are there if we will use them.

I believe deeply that the work we do as priests and deacons is often incredibly complex and relationally challenging. It is often hard to maintain a healthy balance between authority and accountability. We need support and reassurance along with sound spiritual and moral guidance if we are to be faithful to the injunction -‘Receive the cure of souls which is both mine and thine.’ Remembering that the ultimate THINE is Christ Himself.

Prayers and Blessings
JOHN

October 1, 2019
Dear Friends and Colleagues,

During the month of October and until November 6th I shall be in Scotland serving as a Locum Tenens in the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney where Bishop Anne Dyer has asked me to provide services at St Congan’s Church in Turriff, Aberdeenshire.

While I am away The Rev. Jeffrey Cave will be on call for Canon Chaplain services. Jeffrey’s number is 404 775 6621. He will not be making parish/clergy visitations as I do but will be available for pastoral support and help during this period. While I was in Edinburgh last year Jeffrey provided the same coverage and it worked very well for those involved.

I look forward to bringing you a full account of my time in Scotland when I return. Most of you will know that TEC has a special relationship with the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney because of the consecration there of Bishop Seabury in 1784. St Andrew’s Cathedral in Aberdeen has a chapel dedicated to the American Church and shares honorary canons with the Diocese of Connecticut where Seabury was elected first bishop of the new Episcopal Church in the United States. It might be said that the Anglican Communion came into being at that time and place, involving two Episcopal churches in Scotland and America that were not part of the Church of England.

Best wishes and blessings,
JOHN

September 3, 2019
“We do not continue long in one stay….”

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I have been very aware, especially during the past year, that the word ‘transition’ has been used a great deal.
We seem to be in the midst of a lot of coming and going for many different reasons.

During the 54 years of my ordained ministry I have held 21 different ‘jobs’ – some permanent,some temporary, some within the church, some in institutions (hospitals and schools),some occurring simultaneously with other jobs,some part-time,some full-time – but all ‘transitional’ to a greater or lesser degree.

When I was first ordained I remember my rector saying to me: ‘we all live in the dynamic of the provisional’
He was quoting from Brother Roger Schutz the Prior of Taize.

Somewhere between my experience in priesthood and the teaching of Roger Schutz I have come to understand the truly transitional nature of everything we do. We move from parish to parish,from chaplaincy to chaplaincy,from one kind of ministry to another – and in all of these we meet and depart from numerous people and relationships. We can seldom count on ‘settling down’ – whatever that means.

The one constant in all of this is the presence and reliability of God. It reminds me of driving at night by moon-light. Somehow as we cover miles of road the moon seems to ‘follow’ us and travel through our sky-view with us – keeping pace.

While my relationship with the God I know in Jesus Christ is continually maturing and changing as I age and experience more and more the gift of life, there is a constancy and unvarying sense of God’s presence that lives with me through the ‘changes and chances.’

God is not transitional – the dynamics of my life are. The difference is fundamental to my ultimate security.

Blessings amidst the changes,
JOHN

August 6, 2019
My boundaries enclose a pleasant land…

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The word ‘boundaries’ is used quite frequently in defining professional relationships. In my case, it occurs in the various codes of ethics to which, as a professional counselor, I have subscribed. This month, I would like to use it as a basis for discussing pastoral care both among colleagues and in the context of church and parish ministry.

A boundary is established to protect what is ‘inside’ and to exclude certain influences and forces that come from ‘outside.’ In the life of any community – be it relationship, family, business, church, country or any other collection of people – various kinds of boundaries are deliberately established or come into being as a result of necessity as that community begins to more clearly define itself. Sometimes these boundaries are exclusive for the wrong reasons – out of fear, protectionism, xenophobia or selfishness. Hopefully, when boundaries are established, it is for good reasons – to preserve integrity, trust, communal well-being and safety. In any case, where boundaries exist or should exist, one hopes that these are well considered and based upon sound relational principles.

Within the Christian community, each of us tries to live within an embrace of God’s love that empowers and frees us to develop a deep love for one another. This love calls for openness, unconditional acceptance, mutual regard, trust and a type of intimacy which reflects God’s presence in the relationship and the deep commitment that extends, ultimately, from sacrifice.

In light of such a powerful expression of love, it is difficult sometimes to discern where and why boundaries are important and necessary. Quite simply, the need for boundaries exists in order to preserve the distinction between love and many of its distortions – power, control, manipulation, advantage, impulse, desire and selfishness.

Boundaries exist to help us discern the differences between agape, phileo, storge and eros and to preserve the sanctity of whatever kind of relationship we are in and under what circumstances.

Perhaps one of the most complex relationships in the church community is that between priest and people. We are to be friends without exclusiveness or favoritism, we are to love without the distortions of power or advantage, we are to model God’s unconditional love without bias or preference, and we are to live with constant misunderstanding of motive and intent.

I believe that a thorough and deep understanding of where ‘I end and they begin’ is essential in preserving the sacred trust we have in our relationship with God’s people.

Within those boundaries, we have ‘a pleasant land.’

Blessings,
JOHN

June 4, 2019
Is this my church?

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

The past month for me has been one of considerable variety and contrasts. As a member of the Licensed Professional Counselor Association of Georgia, I attended their annual conference in Savannah recently. This was an exhilarating experience in which, for four days, I was around fellow professionals who were not talking about the church from within. What a refreshing change!

One of the courses was entitled ‘Is going to church damaging to your mental health?’ This was presented by a Baptist Pastor who was brutally honest about the destructiveness of his and other denominations’ negative teaching about sin and salvation. He was quite clear that he regards a great deal of the churches’ teaching about these issues as a distortion of the scriptural messages of both Old and New Testaments. Most impressively, he talked about church exclusiveness as a denial of personhood and what we call ‘the dignity of every human being.’

The reason for including a presentation like this in the conference was that mental health workers have large numbers of clients who suffer from what a colleague of mine once called ‘the baneful effects of bad religion.’ I was glad to be a part of this discussion with fellow counselors – and without a need to be in any way defensive about the church.

I also attended a Clergy Study day with Dr. Robert Franklin, which addressed social and racial issues from the point of view of clergy in the public forum – engaging in discourse as ‘public theologians.’ Significantly, Dr Franklin used a classical quotation – ‘Democracy depends on a virtuous people – a vicious society seeks a master’ – as the basis for much of the discussion about the Clergy’s role, and how we represent and can proclaim the virtues society needs to be truly democratic.

This was followed a day later by a symposium sponsored by the Church of the Common Ground on ‘Poverty, Racism and Homelessness.’ There were representatives of Ecclesia and the Cathedral of the Common Ground, along with a large number of local participants. The symposium was called ‘Beyond Sandwiches’ – which I think speaks for itself.

Within days of all this, I was involved in the Province IV Clergy Pilgrimage out of Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing. This was perhaps the most challenging experience of all. During three days (not including journeys to Charleston and Savannah undertaking by the pilgrims), I found myself forced to reflect more deeply than ever on the fundamental and systemic problems of race in our society and in the church.

My friends, this is not something we should be concerned about alongside other issues facing the people of God – this is THE issue affecting the whole character of what we are daring to call the Beloved Community. When I read Bryan Stevenson’s book ‘Just Mercy’ a year ago I was enraged – this pilgrimage with its deep interpersonal work leaves me grieving and praying for wisdom and guidance.

Pray with me as we again celebrate the birthday of the Church and seek the presence and infusion of Holy Spirit.
JOHN

May 7, 2019
Theodicy: What are we to say, or can we say about evil ?

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

There is hardly a week between Sundays, when we preach the Gospel of God, that does not present yet more evidence of the presence of evil of every kind.

The questions of ‘ where is God in relation to evil ?’ or ‘where are we in response to evil within God’s creation ?’ or ‘ where are we in relation to God in the presence of evil ?’ – are raised, if not overtly then by implication in many of the conversations we have with one another and with fellow members of the Body of Christ.

I thought I had a kind of answer by introducing to the discussion the awesome reality of human free-will.It sounds almost convincing to say that God’s desire for our freely given response of love has to provide the option of refusal and rejection – which might somehow account for evil. But in the end that will not do. There are too many obvious exceptions to a simple denial of love becoming the source of evil.

Then there is the ‘accidental’ argument – that nature,including human nature, is prone to accidents. It can go wrong – with resulting evil and destruction. Not quite good enough if we are to continue to say ‘Almighty God.’

At one stage in my theological development I embraced a kind of progressive approach to the notion of creation, believing that because it was incomplete it might also be imperfect. But I have to remember that ‘God looked at what He had made and saw that it was VERY good.’

In the end we always have the ‘war in Heaven’ approach with its fallen angels and Michael defending the righteousness of God. Actually the Book of Revelation has the answer to this problem if we are brave enough to go there. But living in our present age, surrounded by manifestations of hatred and violence on a vast scale and human indecency and malignancy on a more local level these theological and somewhat mythical answers often will not do.

In the end, the ‘Why does God let……’ questions have to remain unanswered with a starkly direct honesty about it all – ‘I don’t know.’ On the other hand – and it’s a very big hand – we are people of the resurrection,people who trust this often incomprehensible God and people who live in the context of new and redeemed life.

I guess we need to look deeply into the meaning of ascetic theology !

Easter Blessings,
JOHN

April 2, 2019
Only God loves me more than my dog

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am unashamedly going to use this Lenten opportunity to depart from issues and topics – given the contemplative and potentially peaceful character of the season – in order to talk about Ruby.

Ruby is my little dog – a beautiful and ‘diverse’ combination of Yorkie, Chihuahua and a touch of Poodle. The poodle component contributes to a high level of canine intelligence. She is of uncertain origin and age, having been a rescue dog.

While obviously I am engaging in a fair amount of anthropomorphic projection (what’s wrong with that ?) I find my relationship with Ruby to be profoundly spiritual and, for me, comforting and reassuring as to the ultimate meaning of life, love and relatedness.

In fact, in the simplicity and directness of this mutual affection, I experience wordlessly the presence and love of God in creation. The key ingredient of this connection is its being totally unconditional. Granted this has to do with food, walks outside, safety and a lot of sleep – but it is so eloquent in its simplicity and immediacy. It is also ultimately forgiving – absent of any hint of resentment when mistakes and unintentional hurts occur.

Some time ago, until his death, I spent twelve years of my life with a horse. His name was ‘Upstate’ (sire Secretary of State, grandsire Secretariat).

Our relationship was one that brought home to me the deepest meaning of trust. This half ton of powerful animal could easily have killed me with a single swipe of his hoof.

Despite my sitting astride him, signalling to him with leg pressure, rein pulling and tapping with a whip, State never objected – and when I had occasional ‘involuntary dismounts’ he simply waited patiently for me to get back in the saddle.

Horses don’t merely endure our riding and training them because, as some say, they are too dumb to know better, they partner with us in a joyful expression of energy and shared movement. As Eric Liddell said: ‘ When I run I can feel God’s pleasure.’

On one very memorable occasion, after we had ridden together and I was watering State at the pond we caught each other’s gaze for a moment. In that eye contact there was a clear communication – ‘we are both,although of completely different species, creatures of the same God. ‘

My friends, in this season of quiet reflection and deeper inner contemplation, let us thank God that the living creatures with whom we share this earth and this existence, can give us such awareness of the beauty and love of our creation and of our Creator.

Blessings,
JOHN