Sabbatical Diary – Special Edition (July 31)

What are you doing here …

This is a “Special Edition” of the Dean in The D Sabbatical Diary. Today is the feast day commemorating St. Ignatius of Loyola (d. 1556). The “men for others” of U of D Jesuit High School in Detroit should know him well.

He is one of the people whose work is a part of my fellowship readings. I am particularly interested in the end of the day elements of his Spiritual Exercises.

So for the end of your day, on his day, I share with you a version of his end of the day Examen. May it serve you well, that you, too, may serve others.


Lord, I realize that all, even myself, is a gift from you.
Today, for what things am I must grateful?

Lord, open my eyes and ears to be more honest with myself.
Today, what do I really want for myself?

Lord, show me what has been happening to me and in me this day.
Today, in what ways have I experienced your love?

Lord, I am still learning to grow in your love.
Today, what choices have been inadequate responses to your love?

Lord, let me look with longing toward the future.
Today, how will I let you lead me to a brighter tomorrow?

********  The Sabbatical Diary is published with gratitude and appreciation to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan for granting me sabbatical time and funding, and to the Graduate Theological Foundation, Oxford Foundation Fellowship, which made access to Oxford University for reading and research possible.

Sabbatical Diary – July 31

What are you doing here …

Time for “nothing” certainly seems to me to escape us. Seriously, when was the last time you planned to do nothing? Really: nothing. Not listen to music, not do some chores (no matter how simple), not watch or listen to a ballgame, not read a book or magazine. Not a game of solitaire on your smartphone or tablet, and no writing in a journal either. Really now, when was the last time you were not “doing” something? Be honest.

I’m not asking, “When was the last time you were unproductive?” I’m asking, when was the last time you set aside time for “nothing.” Possibly, you cannot remember. It is hard for me. You, too? Most of us, I propose, never think about time for nothing.

You will recall that part of the focus of this series comes from the encounter Elijah has with God at the cave on Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19ff). In the encounter the voice of God tells Elijah to go to the mouth of the cave. I wonder how long he sat there. I wonder what he did with his time. I’m sure there was no iPad or Gameboy or app for him to retrieve from his bag or pack. How long before “nothing” – nothing … and God.

Nothing and God: it was not the first time. Our English translations make a more comfortable story of Genesis 1 and following than the Hebrew text really gives us. We say, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth ….” The Hebrew is more sparce: Beginning. God. Then, from nothing: heavens … and earth … and more. It all begins with God … and nothing.

“Nothing,” it appears is very powerful, liberating, creative, and, it seems inspiring “stuff.” It is the starting point of novel or poem, every melody and canvas. There was nothing; then from nothing, something.

Time for nothing can happen anywhere you want: a chair in a corner, a bench in a garden or on a sidewalk, a boat, a porch swing or jostling board. The possibilities are limitless. What are our excuses for not doing “nothing?” Limitless.

What comes from nothing? Something. God, who created us in the Divine Image, is our witness.

Nothing. Limitless. Something.

What are you doing here …

********  The Sabbatical Diary is published with gratitude and appreciation to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan for granting me sabbatical time and funding, and to the Graduate Theological Foundation, Oxford Foundation Fellowship, which made access to Oxford University for reading and research possible.

Sabbatical Diary – July 30

What are you doing here …

At dinner the first night in Chichester, I wandered from table group to table group welcoming folk. One of the things I said to everyone is that journeys like this change you. I could not tell them when, or where, or how, but I remain convinced of this, through my own experience and years in conversations with other sojourners.

I was hustling a bit to get to evensong today. I was not participating, but going to sit in the nave to hear how our choirs sounded. I should mention that the choir sang a non-liturgical midday concert at the cathedral today. It will be important in what follows.

Back to the hustle to evensong. As I approached the west end of the cathedral, a gentleman riding a bicycle down from the street, and looking a bit like he might not be in complete control, headed toward me. He pulled up and said, “You’re part of the choir that sang the concert today, aren’t you?” (I had on a red St. Paul’s polo like the choir was wearing, so it made sense.) I told him I was with the choir, but not in the choir.

He began to tell me that it had not been a good morning. He had come to the cathedral for the concert directly from the crematorium, where there had been a service for his best friend. He went on to say he was devastated. Then he looked at me, quite directly, and said, but your choir healed me. They were exactly what I needed. They healed me. I don’t know the name of the song, it had a train in it. It talked about my brother. He (his friend), he said, would have liked it.” Again, he said, “It healed me.”

The choir did not know he would be at the concert. He did not know our choir would be singing there. Change happens; so does grace.

What are you doing here …

********  The Sabbatical Diary is published with gratitude and appreciation to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan for granting me sabbatical time and funding, and to the Graduate Theological Foundation, Oxford Foundation Fellowship, which made access to Oxford University for reading and research possible.

Sabbatical Diary – July 29

What are you doing here …

Something old, something new…. No, I am not really talking about the old wedding line. The words come to me as I spend time in Chichester Cathedral, whose formal name is the Cathedral Church of the Holy Trinity. People have been praying in this magnificent medieval English Cathedral for 900 years. It is visible for miles, and is the only English Cathedral of that time visible from the sea. The village of Chichester is not large, even today, and it has been said that the whole of the population of the town could be seated within the cathedral.

Her plight has not always been an easy one. There was a fire in 1187, towers have twice fallen (in 1210 and 1635), and the great spire collapsed in on itself in 1861, causing substantial damage, but thankfully no loss of life. In a commitment that may seem odd to many, the cathedral has been committed to rebuilding using the best materials and methods of the current day. From the outside, weather, moss, and so much more, give one the idea they will step back in time. They have … and they have not.

Upon entry, you step into a place both ancient and modern, in pretty much all aspects. There are ancient effigies, a rank of prebend stalls dating back better than five hundred years. There is also a reredos that dates from the late 1960’s, prompting some clergy at the time if its dedication to don sunglasses in a moment of protest. Clergy antics aside, the details intricately tie ancient to modern. In the cross of the new reredos, the bloody wounds of Jesus are depicted in the same swirling pattern as the ironwork proximal to both sides. A sizable font, made of one piece of dark marble with a hammered red copper bowl fused into the stone, reflects the color of the basalt of certain smaller cathedral columns. Even the main doors, all glass with pewter looking pulls, fit with great elegance and profound openness. Lighting and sound are beautifully done, unobtrusive, and very hightech.

I venture to say that there are elements within the cathedral from at least every century; each making an effort to reflect upon their current time, and each connecting with elements of the past, while being fresh, relevant, and even future looking.

What strikes me most by all of this, is that this cathedral, dedicated to the Holy Spirit, honors its past, but does not worship it. Every hour, on the hour, the chaplain of the day speaks (via a very modern sound system) over the tours, the pilgrims, and the curious. A moment of welcome is offered, then are prayed the Prayer of St. Richard of Chichester and the Lord’s Prayer, and the time concludes with a blessing. They know, deep down, that they are a place of prayer and worship above all. Chichester Cathedral is a dynamic place, that expects, and bears witness to, the active and transforming presence of the Holy Spirit to whom it is dedicated. I love that about it.

Its witness to every cathedral, church, diocese, congregation, and person is a living, palpable presence that asks and responds to the ever-present question …

What are you doing here ….

********  The Sabbatical Diary is published with gratitude and appreciation to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan for granting me sabbatical time and funding, and to the Graduate Theological Foundation, Oxford Foundation Fellowship, which made access to Oxford University for reading and research possible.

Sabbatical Diary – July 26

What are you doing here …

That was a great question as I approached the door of the Radcliffe Camera, home to over 600,000 volumes in the Bodleian collection, to see that there was a sign on the door: CLOSED – the power is out.

The power is out!  Really?  Are you kidding me? You are not kidding me! Is it out at the Old Bodleian as well? Yes.  (My unspoken thougth bubble is something like: Don’t they know this is my last day to be able to use “The Bod!”  Can’t you manage to have the power out some other time?)

So I bumble off to find some lunch.  Oxford is especially crowded today.  It is Saturday, so there are loads of tours that clog the lanes and sidewalk, and visitors flowing in ever-shifting tides without predictability.  Is also a Degree Day.  Here that is not an official notice of high temperatures (though they are again today).  Degree Days are days, there are about twenty of them a year, when the University formally awards degrees to those who have completed their requirements.  At Oxford one is not required to “graduate” immediately upon completion of their work.  Some come back months, even years, later for a degree day.  This can result in highly disproportionate numbers of people getting their degrees at certain times.  Most of the days I have been here have been degree days.

So, no power in an undefined area and lots of people.  The pubs and restaurants that do have power will, no doubt, be jammed.  So, off to see if the Covered Market has power.  It does, so at a small sandwich stand I get a “toastie” and drink.  There is no place to sit anywhere around so I go out the back, find a ledge for the drink and lean against a wall that is no doubt several centuries old.  It still seems sturdy.

Lunch done, I walk back to the Radcliffe Camera and see the sign still on the door.  A woman who has been at the door talking to a staff member is coming down the walk, so I inquire about any update.  There is none, save that the staff is not leaving, and that the Old Bodleian does not have power, but may be open.  I can only presume that is because the Old Bodleian has very large windows on all sides, and even in the stairs so it is well lit.  Sometimes it good to have been built a very long time ago – before electric or gas lights.

I pull out my tablet to see, if by any chance the wireless system is on some other power source.  It appears not.  So I decide to just be for a bit in the Lower Level Reading Room where I have typically set up on the days I’ve been in the Old Bodleian.  As I do resign and settle in a bit, I realize that all around the room there are portraits that hang above the selves of books.  I had given them much notice before.  Possibly because I was looking down at the books.

My eye fell very quickly upon an image, registering the message, “Hey, I know that guy. I know that picture.”  The portrait was of Lancelot Andrewes, the 17th Century Anglican Divine whose life and work I have come to investigate. He’s been looking over at me the whole time.  I harbor no superstitions about this.  I do not consider it a matter of providence.  It just makes me happy.

Alak. (I just saw Shakespeare’s King Lear last night on the Old Quad right outside the window of the reading room I was using, and that his version of “alas.”) Perhaps I should tell you just a wee bit about this Anglican Doctor of the Church.  His life spanned 1555 to 1626.  Among other things he was a primary translator of the Authorized Bible (what we now commonly call the King James Bible).  He was the preferred court preacher of the English Kings, James I and Charles I.  It is said by scholars, that he is as responsible as Richard Hooker for the articulation of the archetype of Anglican theology – a take on Christianity that is apostolic (in the way that Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism are apostolic) and yet unique. It is a theology that the Holy Spirit planted and nurtured for more than 1000 years before any of the actions that Henry VIII contemplated.

Andrewes was a rare combination of priest, academic, and astute administrator, who was unshakably committed to a discipline life of prayer and devotion, while remaining accessible to those who sought to inquire and learn.  He was the chief respondent on behalf of Charles I to Cardinal Perron and, upon this cardinal’s death, to Cardinal Bellermine, in defending the Church of England as fully catholic.  Andrewes’ point-by-point responses to Cardinal Bellermine, who would later become St. Robert Bellermine, is a breath-taking tour de force of theological and academic depth and skill.  However Rome may have come down – which of course we know, was Rome, yes; Canterbury, no – I just want say that, if I were around back then, I’d be saying to Andrewes, “Oh, oh, me, me, over here, pick me, let me be on your team.”

Whereas Richard Hooker’s legacy rests in the several volumes of his Lawes of Ecclesiastical Polity (the Anglican summa theologica, if you will),  Andrewes’ rests in the sermons and letters that have been collected.  Often strongly encouraged to write books, or compile his sermons, Andrewes refused.  His humility was both genuine and very deep, and his mission was not about his works, but about a life of service to God in response to God’s gift of deliverance.  No matter what office he held, he never lost sight of that.

His influcence on the themes of English Romanticism likely run deeper than many have taken the time to investigation. A. M. Allchin writes in the Afterward to N. Lossky’s book, Lancelot Andrewes, The Preacher, “Considerting the depth of his understanding of the sacramental nature of creation as a whole, we may find a new light on some of the underlying thems of English Romanticism, as we find them in Wordsworth or S. T. Coleridge.”  He continues, “Above all we may come to understand better the nature of T. S. Elliot’s decision to embrace the Catholic faith in its Anglican form….”  It was in a small volume of Elliot’s work, For Lancelot Andrewes: Essays on Style and Order, that Elliot claimed himself “anglo-catholic in religion.”

I shall be leaving Oxford tomorrow.  It will be a bittersweet parting.  I will miss the time to study, read, write, and reflect, though some of that will not end as the train pulls out from the platform (not 9 3/4).  The architecture is transportive, but also isolating; something I will write about later, no doubt.  I have appreciated the time given me by the Rev’d Canon Dr. Edmund Newey, Sub Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, and the Rev’d Canon Dr. Brian Mountford, Vicar of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin.  The Rev’d Canon Dr. Robin Gibbons, my Graduate Theological Foundation liason, was generous with his time and skillful in making a credentialing path smooth that could have otherwise been bumpy.  I am grateful, too, to the Graduate Theological Foundation.  The Oxford Foundation Fellowship has made possible my access to the Bodleian Libraries.  Most of all, I am grateful to the people and vestry of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, whom it is my honor and humble privledge to serve as priest and dean, for making this sabbatical time possible.

(There will be more writing to come, and more thanks given.  And, no doubt, I should thank you for bearing up under the length of this writing, and so I do.  Thank you.)

Though I have shared with you some of it, it will never be possible to share with you all of it.  “It” being the response to God’s question – the one asked of Elijah, and, I believe, untimately asked of me, and of each of us.  As I began, therefore, so with it I shall I remain:

What are you doing here …

********  The Sabbatical Diary is published with gratitude and appreciation to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan for granting me sabbatical time and funding, and to the Graduate Theological Foundation, Oxford Foundation Fellowship, which made access to Oxford University for reading and research possible.

Sabbatical Diary – July 25

What are you doing here …

So, here’s a thing about Oxford which I have observed, and probably could not have known before arriving. You can find performances of Bach, Chopin, Vivaldi, Motzart, and Shakespeare all over the place.

I could have seen Twelfth Night or A Midsummer Night’s Dream, if I were so inclined. As it turns out, the one performance I did know about in advance was the Globe Theater Company’s production of King Lear. It was being performed on the Old Quadrangle in conjunction with the Oxford Playhouse. Okay, so it’s The Globe’s troupe! This means no comedy for Scott, though King Lear is not without its moments of humor.

One of the benefits of this production was access, if one reserved in advance, to a pre-show talk given by one of the Oxford University English department faculty. Well, you got to figure they know their stuff about Ole Will, and I was not disappointed, even though the originally scheduled professor couldn’t make it. The editor the Oxford University Press edition of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare seemed an adequate substitute.  He was great, in fact, covering more about the play, it’s history, variances, themes and elements in thirty minutes than most people could have in a semester.

The story of King Lear existed in several forms before Shakespeare wrote his. The ones prior all resolved their complexities in ways that could be described as “ending well.”  Not so with Will’s. (Although for many decades an alternate ending, by Nathum Tate,  replaced Shakespeare’s work and was used, wherein, all did resolve nicely.)

So as to not assume: The story hangs on King Lear’s desire to divide his kingdom between his three daughters with the choicest part going to the daughter who could convince she loved him most. The two elder daughters, both married and used to speaking at court, curried favor with sycophantic orations. Cordelia, the youngest and one the king adored was more set on bring honest.  Her answer is, “Love and be silent.” Courtiers from Burgundy and France were vying for her hand at that very time, and she said if she were about to marry then she ought about love her father, who was dear to her indeed, about 50% because she should think it only right to love her husband no less.  Lear was incensed.  He banishes her, stripped of all dowry and lands, and because France loved her not because of possessions, she departes with him.

Now Shakespeare writes his version as James VI of Scotland becomes James I of England. He is king of both, but they are two separate crowns. It is not lost that Shakespeare makes a case that divided is not good. (You’ll have to see or read the play for more on how the point is made.)

In addition to an exploration of love, elemental to this work are explorations forgiveness and of what it means to grow old. Scholars now can show that what is called Lear’s “madness” has the imprint of age-related dementia/Alzheimer’s.

There is more, so very much more. I am reminded that at times when one loses one’s sight, only then to see things as they truly are. And, also, that true loyalty is a gift that can only be freely given; it is highly to be prized.

I have no intention of spoiling the play for you if you do not know it. I will give you a hint if you pick it up to read it – read it, even to yourself, out loud. My professor of Church History taught me that as we read Richard Hooker, and Shakespeare is contemporary to that time, as is Lancelot Andrewes. One more thing. Pay attention to knaves and fools.

I’ve been reminded that we “Boomers” are not getting younger, and if growing up is a challenge, so is growing old. Genuine love and genuine loyalty are far more important than we really make them, and worth everyday attention and investment.  They are a learned art, as is forgiveness.  Too, they are sources of truth about ourselves.  And it all brings us round to …

What are you doing here …

********  The Sabbatical Diary is published with gratitude and appreciation to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan for granting me sabbatical time and funding, and to the Graduate Theological Foundation, Oxford Foundation Fellowship, which made access to Oxford University for reading and research possible.

A Wandering Aramean Was My Ancestor

[Yes, I know I’m on sabbatical, but this seems to me to be at least time sensitive, if not time critical.]

Dear Members of the Cathedral Community and beyond,

Elected officials, government leaders, various politicos and pundits – people with serious power and influence – have been errant, mean, vapid, and many other things that I cannot put in a post like this on the subject of the child immigration crisis along parts of the US southern borders. But now that one of them has gone and said that child immigrants should be put in labor camps, and I cannot hold back.

Most of the rants on child immigrants are coming, in my observation, from individuals who are proud of the labels, “Tea Party” and “Conservative Christian.” Doubtless there are others. (Please understand, it is not my intention to label them. Rather, they claim such descriptors for themselves.)

Given the self-espoused characteristics of this collective group, I would figure they that consider the Bible to be held in very high regard. So here’s the thing, and there seems to me to be no getting around it:

If you call yourself a Christian you have to let them in and care for them! Why? Because Jesus was an undocumented child immigrant!

Just check out Matthew 2:13. Joseph had a dream and in it “the Lord” said, “Get up, take the child to Egypt and remain there until I tell you ….” Now since “the Lord” also included that Herod would be searching for the child to destroy him, no one could possibly argue that Joseph or Mary took time to get passports, visas, or any other kind of “official” document. Also, there is no place in Scripture that says God provided them with “Let them into Egypt because I (The Lord God) Says So” papers.

In the Letter of James, an official inclusion in every New Testament, we find this: Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world (James 1:27). Lots of us are looking pretty stained up right now.

You see, everyone one of us sits our basket down in the place where we make our lives with the words, “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor” (Deut 1:5), and we are even instructed to expect the alien in our lands and provide for them. Don’t remember? Check out Leviticus 19:9-10: When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not (that’s God form of non-negotiable clause, it seems to me) reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and alien: I am The Lord your God.

We are all wanderers. The land we claim to own is God’s. However delusional we may be, at best we borrow it. None of us takes it with us when we go. However much we may not like it, if we dare to claim ourselves Christian (or Jewish for that matter) we are blessed to be a blessing to others – particularly when it is inconvenient

For me this goes in the “Book of Not Hard Things to Figure Out.” If you keep them out, no matter the veil or rationale, then you have not done to the least of these. … And one day there will be a reckoning.

I invite you to write relevant elected and civil authorities, and use social media to send a clarion message: Let them in. Find a way. Do it with dignity, and hospitality.

God have mercy,

Sabbatical Diary – July 23

What are you doing here …

There are libraries and then there are libraries. The Radcliffe Camera (camera deriving from the Latin for “room”) lies just north of the University Church of St. Mary the Virgin (where Thomas Cranmer was tried) and just south of the Old Bodleian Library. To the west is Brasenose College and to the east is All Souls College. The building dates from the 1740s. There is a lower reading room with clear arched windows and iron tracery, with a domed ceiling. To get to the upper galleries one climbs a very large spiral staircase. Interior to that one finds the upper gallery, with smaller windows, due in part to an upper level of books and reading spaces accessed by spiral staircases, very steep and very narrow ones. It is a compelling location, and atmosphere which drips with the wisdom of the past, the curiosity of present, and the imagination of the future.

Though they looked nothing alike, being in the Radcliffe Camera harkened me back to the library of my childhood. It was the public library in Greenville, SC. It was located around the corner from McPherson Park, up the hill and past the old armory, on the left across of Calhoun Towers and Trinity Lutheran Church. The public library had creaking stairs and wooden floors and smelled like books. Some of the Radcliffe Camera’s floors are wood; others floors have carpet, to muffle sound I would think. Both places smelled … like books. Not musty, not dusty, not sanitized, simply like books.

At the Greenville Public Library, in the Children’s Room, there was a set time (I don’t recall how often) after school that was story time. A person, always a lady as I recall, read various books and took care to show those of us spread out at here feet the illustrations, if there were any. When the books she had chosen did not have illustrations, she took great care to encourage us to use our imaginations to create the rooms, people, forests, jungles, rivers, oceans, and other components.

I know there are still children’s sections in public libraries. The venerable old main Detroit Public Library has one. I wonder if there are still ladies (and gentlemen, I hope) reading stories? I wonder because I see so many game consoles and video devices. Of course they have their place, but it seems to me that strip away the invitation to imagine – to create something out of nothing, or to fill in the spaces if there are static illustrations. As good as The Lord of the Rings trilogy movies were in capturing Tolkien’s Middle Earth and its inhabitants, it is an amazing thing with a person of any age creates them in his or her own mind, own imagination, just from the words the author gifts to us. The same is true of Narnia, or Hogwarts, or the trenches of Verdun, or the 100 Aker Wood, or not always in books, Lake Woebegone.

I’ll be honest, though we took our daughter to the library, she much preferred the book store, and our bank accounts show it. But we read, pretty much every day. Sometimes we read the same things over and over. Only she can tell you if she added more detail to the imagined worlds each time. I can tell you that I did – even down to the location of the dust-bunnies in Good Night Moon. My point is: wonder and imagination are limitless, and as nice as video games are, I am not at all convinced that they cultivate that part of the self.

I am convinced of the parallels between this and the spiritual life – worship and worship spaces, as we understanding them, and including the words and notes spoken or sung, are rich in all the things necessary to get beyond the finite and into the limitless wonder of God. Our minds, or imaginations, are set free creating the images for Jonah being tossed overboard, swallowed by a big fish, and subsequently “yorked-up” on a shore (was it rocky or sandy?); or imagining what a prophet, a seraphim, an ark (either of them) or the creche and heavenly hosts are like. For what else are the set-apart, the sacred, spaces we have built intended, other than to inspire us and set us loose into the wonder and mystery of The Divine.

It is why, in the deepest part of my being I am sure that worship the time for all ages, all generations, all the people who are wondering about, questioning the existence of, seeking the presence of, convinced of the presence or absence of, or convicted by love of the verity of God, to be together.

Perhaps it is why down through ages and generations the words, “Rabbi (or mommy, or daddy, or grandpa, or auntie, or sissy, or padre, or Ms…. ), tell us a story” has been so important. It gives us a limitless chance to co-create , which is to say engage, along with God. Don’t believe me? Just start with the words below and see where you go. (Say them out loud to yourself and keep on going …)

And one day I was minding my own business and I heard a voice. The voice said, “What are you doing here …”

********  The Sabbatical Diary is published with gratitude and appreciation to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan for granting me sabbatical time and funding, and to the Graduate Theological Foundation, Oxford Foundation Fellowship, which made access to Oxford University for reading and research possible.

Sabbatical Diary – July 22

What are you doing here …

God said to Elijah, “Go and stand on the mount.”  In my imagination I’ve always thought that to be at the mouth of the cave, and reading further on confirms that. It makes sense. It is a wonderful vantage point. Elijah can see everything that passes by: up and down, side to side.

At the moment I’m sitting at the mouth of a different cave. I’m at the corner of High and Cornmarket Streets. I can left down St. Aldates. I can look further left up The High, and a bit right down The High. Further right, and I see down Cornmarket.

On the wind there is a tuba playing. Then the voice of an accordion passed by. An amplified guitar yields the familiar riffs of “Stairway to Heaven.”  Coincidence?  Maybe not.  A voice enters the odd symphony singing “Stand by Me.”

When Elijah went to the mouth of the cave, he turned his back on his place of safety and shelter. Perhaps, too, he turned his back on that which was dark and closed off. He moved closer to light, but also the risk of the edge. He moved closer, as well, to forces that were powerful (earthquake, fire, wind), but not God. Near the edge, in the light, in shear silence: God.

Turning our backs to caves of our lives is no less risky for us than for Elijah.  Moving from the depth our our accustomed space out to its edge makes us vulnerable to all sorts of powerful forces.  We like our safe places. That is, after all, why they are safe to us.  But it seems that God constantly invites us to the edge.  Could it be because at the edge one finds light, or an openning up to greater vistas, or the opportunity at the edge to recognize God’s presence in a way we are unable or unwilling to perceive in our respective caves?

Most of the people that are passing by are doing so in silence. I don’t know who they are.  Perhaps they are students, or academics, or clerks, or musician, or politically left or right.  Perhaps those passing by are straight or gay or still working those things out.  Perhaps they are in great health, or bearing up under challenges I cannot know.

They are passing by the mouth of my present cave.  Are they God?  The Scriptures say they are created in the image and likeness of God. Our theology invites us to see the face of Christ in each of them.

What if I, what if you, focused on nothing else but the Christ in them.  What if I, and you, engaged each person passing by the mouth of our caves by engaging the Christ in them?  I should think that it would be a transformative thing: personally, communally, politically, globally. “What if,” seems to yield to “Why aren’t,” but that implies a judgment I want to avoid.  So, back around we come to God’s question:

What are you doing here …

********  The Sabbatical Diary is published with gratitude and appreciation to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan for granting me sabbatical time and funding, and to the Graduate Theological Foundation, Oxford Foundation Fellowship, which made access to Oxford University for reading and research possible.

Sabbatical Diary – July 21

What are you doing here …

Oxford is, at the same time, a very old city and a very young one. The city dates from about 912, and there was teaching a Oxford documented as early as 1096, and expanded greatly in 1167 when King Henry II banned English students from attending university in Paris. The first overseas student came in 1190, and this marked the beginning of Oxford long heritage of, and commitment to, international scholarship.

The image of the Oxford dons “of old,” which could easily include the twentieth century, was generally of older anglo men. There was a time, I can’t find out when it may have ended, when it was believed that the time required in taking a doctoral degree ought be around nineteen years. The result was, you didn’t reach professorial status in your twenties.

It is a city of a bit over 150,000 people, and at least 22,000 of those are students at the university. Since the undergraduate population is just over 11,000 that means there are potentially spouses and partners of students in higher degree programs that bring the average age of this “old city” younger and younger.

Why all this attnetion? I’ll only be here one Sunday for worship, and while there were two delightful young boys, maybe 5 and 7 being shepherded by dad in the taking up of the offering, and a couple hands-full of what I’d consider to be university aged worshippers, the age demographic at worship did not reflect the age demographics of the community. There was a time when one could not receive a degree from Oxford without being a member of the church. Those times are gone now, but college chapels abound, and in many the grace before meals still happens; some in Latin. Note: The (at least visually identifiable) cultural diversity that I have experienced in the the town, and at worship, have been extraordiary.

My other observation is that there is a phenomenal amount of drama and music in this community – much of it classically grounded. Now, our tradition of Chrisitianity, that is Episcopal/Angliican, is heavily rooted and grounded, I believe, in both music and drama.

Tradition is not dead here by any means, only a couple of years ago there was a vote of the student body about its desire, or not, to continue to sit all examinations in dark suit, tie (with the appropriate cognate for women), academic gown and mortarboard. Greater than eighty percent of the vote was in favor of continuing the practice.

Connecting the dots: The juxtaposition of old and young is a beautiful. Detroit just celebrated 313 years. Not comparable, but you have to get to 313 before you can get to 500 or more, and it is still means we are in our fourth century. St. Paul’s is but ten years from its 200th anniversary. We sit in an area not unlike Oxford with a plenteous mix of youth, wisdom, education, and arts. Our Cathedral Community is deeply invested in music, visual art, and community art that is both musical and visual. Our worship is liturgical drama of a high quality, but with opportunities available. Not only are these characteristics similar, but so are the demographic outcomes visible on Sundays and many other times. It does not take a degree in rocket science to see that both of us need, it seems to me, to get far more serious and intentional about ways to make connections.

This reality puts another, very different, very important, spin on the question that I am being asked, and that I believe our Cathedral Community is being asked.

What are you doing here …

********  The Sabbatical Diary is published with gratitude and appreciation to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan for granting me sabbatical time and funding, and to the Graduate Theological Foundation, Oxford Foundation Fellowship, which made access to Oxford University for reading and research possible.