If you are received this blog post in your e-mail inbox, please know that my blog has moved! Click here then enter your e-mail address in the space provided on the right side of the home page to re-subscribe (you’ll only ever have to do this once).
Then, voila! Never miss another post from the blog-formerly-known-as-Clergy-Family-Confidential now known simply as Clergy Confidential. If you’re wondering about the name change, click here to read all about my “extreme makeover.”
Thanks and I hope to see you over on the new site. There will be no more activity here so please join in the fun at http://clergyconfidential.blogspot.com
It’s moving day here at Clergy Family Confidential. I’ve been awash in bubble wrap and newsprint as I pack up the whole CFC operation and move it from WordPress over to Blogger. This is all part of a blog makeover as I not only change the look and feel of this blog, I also (slightly) change the name to…drumroll…Clergy Confidential.
You can read all about it on the first post over on the new site called Extreme Makeover (blog edition). You’ll learn the reason for the name change, who’s to blame for the redesign, and even why I started blogging in the first place.
I have some bugs to work out and I haven’t moved all the content over but all in good time.
One issue is that if you have an e-mail subscription you will need to update it. You can do so by going to the new homepage and entering your e-mail address on the right side. Please do! That way you’ll never, ever miss a post — which may or may not make your day.
Thanks to everyone who has supported this blog over the years (it debuted in November of 2007) by reading, commenting, and sharing my posts. We’ve had a lot of fun together and I anticipate many more years of blogalicious delights.
My latest “In Good Faith” column reminds us that it’s okay to keep downing Peeps — the advantage of living into the 50-days of Eastertide.
Extending the Joy
Fear not. For behold, I bring you tidings of great joy: Easter is not just a single day but a 50-day season of resurrection glory! Thus, you can keep the jelly bean sugar high going with reckless abandon. Grab those Peeps (which taste better when they’re slightly stale anyway). Finish the giant chocolate bunny you’ve already decapitated. Live into the joy without guilt.
You can always start the diet the day after Pentecost (June 8th this year), the last day of the Easter season. The wise reader, or the one studying for the SATs, will make the connection between 50 and the pente root of Pentecost (think pentagon — five sided). Pentecost literally means fiftieth day in Greek.
Etymology lesson aside, the Church has celebrated Easter as a 50-day season for generations. This tends to be forgotten in our Hallmark skip-ahead-to-the-next-holiday culture, but it’s important to take some time to bask in the warm glow of the resurrection. After all, it’s the seminal event in the Christian faith so what’s the rush?
Plus, living in the Boston area, we could use that extra dose of joy. I was particularly struck this year that the Boston Marathon took place the day after Easter. To varying degrees we were all affected by last year’s tragedy and Patriots Day 2014 turned into one long day of regional catharsis, which we all needed. I ran the race in 2008 and at one level I couldn’t even imagine what last week’s event was like. The crowds, the emotion, the global news coverage were all unprecedented.
But at another level, I knew exactly what it was like. Not because I once turned that corner onto Boylston Street and dragged myself the last four blocks to the finish line amid throngs of cheering spectators — I barely remember that. But because the 118th running of the Boston Marathon was a tangible sign of resurrection. Each footstep, each cheer allowed the finish line in Copley Square to be reclaimed as a place not of tragedy but of triumph.
And as Christians will tell you, we know something about transformation and new life. On Easter, the cross is transformed from an implement of torture and death into an instrument of resurrection glory. Hope and meaning emerge out of chaos and we are transported into a new, life-giving relationship with God.
But we also know something about death — faith doesn’t make us immune to the painful realities of life. We lose someone close to us and the pain can be searing; a relationship fractures and it leaves us reeling; we lose a job and we’re left seeking an identity; an institution we’ve always loved closes and it leaves a void; we feel betrayed by a friend and it stings.
When we talk about resurrection, we first must confront death since you can’t share in resurrection joy without first experiencing grief. Indeed, the road to Easter goes straight through Good Friday. And yet Easter reminds us that despite the tragedies and trials we all face in this life, death doesn’t get the last word. We don’t remain on Heartbreak Hill; death doesn’t win.
Life does. Because when Jesus emerges from that tomb life wins out over death and that false boundary between life and death is breached once and for all. That’s what the celebration is all about.
As people who have come through a dark period in our collective civic lives, we have earned the right to extend the celebration. So grab a handful of jelly beans. If you’re like me you’ll want to avoid that horrid buttered popcorn-flavored Jelly Belly. But enjoy the rest of them. It’s okay to let the joy sink in for awhile.
As we prepare to welcome a new bishop, I wrote a “poem” to welcome him to the Diocese of Massachusetts. I also shared with him that if things don’t work out as bishop, he can always have is old job back — as curate at St. John’s, Hingham.
I still have a job, so that’s a plus.
Welcome to DioMass
Welcome, Father Gates, to our humble diocese
if it wasn’t for Safe Church, we’d all give you a kiss.
We have our quirks when it comes to liturgy
Sometimes we even clash quite bitterly.
But overall we’re rather broad church
to spite the Unitarians we’re so quick to besmirch.
Many of our churches are built of white clapboard
It’s a New England thing but don’t be deterred.
It’s true that some of us wanted your job
but fear not an ecclesiastical lynch mob.
Clergy will love you if you simply change the location
of that holy mystery that is confirmation.
We don’t know yet where you’ll reside
beyond our altars, at which you’ll preside.
If your taste is similar to the rector of Trinity
Perhaps a $3.6 million tribute to your divinity.
If the pressures of the job prove too rough
and you begin to say ‘enough is enough,’
there’s a solution to all this regret:
Find Bishop Barbara and bum a cigarette.
As Bishop Shaw prepares to hand over his crozier
we should state in full disclosure.
it will be tough to follow our saintly monk
a man small in stature but full of much spunk.
But Bishop Gayle will support you and show you the ropes
with advice much more helpful than that of the Pope’s.
And then there’s Bud who claims he’s retired
Good luck with him — he obviously can’t be fired.
We wish you well during this time of transition
as you prepare to assume your brand new position.
I hope this poem that’s so full of schlock
will not make me the first priest that you defrock.
About six years ago, when I was rector of All Saints’ Church in Briarcliff Manor, New York, I wrote a Holy Week prayer titled Ode to a Copier. I like to share it this time of year in recognition of all the parish secretaries/administrators out there — the unsung heroes without whom mass liturgical hysteria would ensue. Thanks, especially, to my own parish administrator, Evelyn Czaja, who is as we speak knee deep in about twelve bulletins!
I’ve learned over the years that whatever we as clergy or office staff or musicians or volunteers do or fail to get done this week, the resurrection is not dependent on us. Sometimes we all need this reminder!
Blessings to all in the midst of your preparations.
Ode to a Copier
A Prayer for Holy Week
Holy Week, dear friends, will soon draw nigh;
From Trinity, Boston to All Saints’, Tenafly.
Parish secretaries and their rectors, too,
Thinking of the bulletins that will ensue,
Drop to their knees and begin to quake,
Praying their copiers will stay awake
Through Maundy Thursday and the rest;
Without behaving as if possessed.
Rectors wonder with uncertainty,
“Should I have purchased the extended warranty?”
Misfeeds, toner woes and a paper jam
Always seem to accompany the Paschal Lamb.
Why this happens is a great unknown,
A mystery worthy of the bishop’s throne.
So stoke the incense, say your prayers;
anything to stave off copier repairs.
As the dark shadows of Tenebrae now approach;
may your copier behave without reproach.
And as we begin the Good Friday fast,
May it wait ‘til Low Sunday to breathe its last.
The invitation has arrived, as it does every year. It’s an open invitation. One that gently beckons.
Over the coming week Christians throughout the world will gather to retell and relive the heart of our story: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are offered an invitation to walk with Jesus, not as passive observers but as full participants in the paschal mystery.
And when we accept this invitation we embark upon a journey that draws us closer to God; a journey that exposes our human weakness; a journey of discovery about ourselves and the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ; a journey that demonstrates, above all, the power of God’s love for each one of us. There will be highs and lows, opportunities and temptations, euphoria and despair, tears of joy and tears of sorrow. It’s not an easy journey nor is it without commitment, but we don’t travel it alone. We walk with Jesus and one another.
It begins with praise and jubilation, palms and the singing of sweet hosannas. Yet the hard wood of the cross looms behind the leafy green palms. Bittersweet hosannas ring as condemnation and accusation overpower love. We find ourselves in an Upper Room, a garden. We pray, we deny, we cry “crucify.”
Thanks be to God, death is not the final refrain; it’s not the end of our story. It is not finished. We pass through death to resurrection but Christ’s death is not the last word. We wait and watch and journey with Jesus this week before we can proclaim with authenticity and audacity that final refrain – the refrain that only comes with the triumph of the resurrection.
Whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, consider this invitation. For in the cross is our hope; in the cross is our salvation; in the cross is our life. Accept this invitation. Live fully into this invitation. Transformation awaits.
Today the Diocese of Massachusetts gathers to elect our next bishop. I trust the Holy Spirit will do its thing and we’ll call the right person to be our overlord, I mean chief pastor. Naturally, I have a small piece of advice for our newly-elected bishop, whoever that may be. One thing I’ve realized over the years is just how tired I am of hearing the exact same quotes from the “winning” bishop-elect. The two biggest buzzwords are “humbled” and “overwhelmed.” Usually these spill out one right after the other as in “I’m humbled and overwhelmed to be called to this new ministry.”
That’s not to say I think this immediate reaction is inauthentic — I’m sure anyone called to such a position of leadership and responsibility is truly both humbled and overwhelmed. But I’m also certain that the “thrill of victory” gets publicly tempered while they’re popping the champagne in the privacy of their own homes.
So I thought I’d help out all future bishops — not just our new one — by writing a more appropriate “victory” speech. You know, the words they really want to say but can’t since they have an entire diocese waiting to hear just how “humbled and overwhelmed” they are at having been elected.
A Bishop’s Victory Speech
After the election, race up to the dais like and begin with a Howard Dean-like yell. Then do a few fist pumps. If you’re feeling spry, do some push-ups to show that you’re an incredible physical specimen who will never have to relinquish power due to health concerns before the mandatory retirement age. [You may be wondering why you’re in the convention hall/cathedral after the election to deliver this speech. You were so confident you’d win, that you booked a room in a fancy nearby hotel. Then right after the election you “just happened to be passing by” in order to greet the diocese in person rather than via a bland statement].
To a standing ovation, you emerge from a giant cloud of incense to deliver your speech. There’s bound to be some praise band on hand (since it’s a diocesan convention and all liturgical and musical sensibility has therefore evaporated). Use this to your advantage and have them play what will henceforth become your theme song. Some suggestions are Purple Rain by Prince (change spelling to “Reign”); Living on a Prayer by Bon Jovi; anything by Deep Purple (though Smoke on the Water could be considered baptismal imagery); We Are the Champions by Queen (change “We are” to “I am”); or if there’s a horn section, a short but intricate fanfare will do.
Victory is mine! [Then stand for a full 30-seconds with arms raised in the classic Richard Nixon double V pose while soaking in all the applause.]
Thank you for finally getting me out of St. Thomas-by-the-Turnpike and away from all those annoying parishioners who kept showing up week after week to tell me all about their “problems” at coffee hour. It’s been a long-time coming. And my wife and I are psyched that my current salary will now be doubled. Show me the money! And by the way here are some plans we had drawn up to redo the kitchen in the bishop’s residence [hand them to the diocesan treasurer].
To my fellow candidates: in an election, there can only be one winner. Thus, God thinks you’re a loser. As does this entire diocese. But take it from me — there will be other elections and other chances to join ME in the House of Bishops. Until then please know that I won’t return your phone calls and, in fact, I’ve already forgotten all of your names. [Your cell phone rings; you answer it and tell Wippell’s to go ahead and ship the purple shirts you pre-ordered.]
I’m delighted you bought all that stuff I said at the pre-election walkabouts. Please don’t hold me to any of it since I can’t remember what I said to get elected. But the important thing is that I look fantastic in a purple cassock. Also, please forward pictures of the vestments from the cathedral sacristy as soon as possible so I can Photoshop myself in.
To my future staff, I like my coffee served at 163 degrees fahrenheit with 3/4 of a teaspoon of sugar and free range soy milk. And you can simply call me “Your Grace.” If you’d like to kiss my humongous bishop’s ring — that cost more than the down payment on your house — know that I do tend to keep it in my back pocket.
And, finally, to the good people of this diocese, I look forward to showing up at your churches, meeting you, and criticizing the liturgy. Sure, I’ll preach for 35 minutes and throw off your whole Sunday morning schedule while simultaneously giving your poor Church School teachers PTSD. And since I don’t plan to remember your name or what you look like in between visitations, kindly leave me alone when you see me dining in a fancy restaurant on the diocesan dime.
Oh, wait. I think I forgot to mention that I’m humbled and overwhelmed to be your new bishop.
In all seriousness, please do keep the Diocese of Massachusetts and all seven of our candidates in your prayers today. I’m thankful for their willingness to put themselves forward for service in the wider church.
Veni sancte spiritus.
PS. Please let the bishop-elect know that I would be more than willing to ghost write his/her first first sermon as bishop.
While I’ve served in three dioceses in my vocational life (Maryland, New York, and Massachusetts), I’ve never experienced a bishop election. Every time I leave a diocese, they elect a new bishop. I try not to take this personally but I’m finally getting my chance to exercise my right to vote as we prepare to elect the next Bishop of Massachusetts tomorrow.
Since I’m a novice, I do have a few questions. Perhaps some of you who have been through this process can enlighten me.
1. Is wearing purple to an episcopal election as big a social faux pas as wearing white to a wedding?
2. Do you need to sit on the east side of the cathedral since by the time voting gets to the west end the election will have already been decided?
3. Can we pretty please call it a “conclave?”
4. Is electioneering allowed within 50 feet of the altar?
5. Is it like Cinderella except instead of a slipper all the candidates try on a miter to see which one it fits?
6. If we all collectively decide not to cast any votes because we don’t actually want a bishop, will ecclesiastical anarchy ensue?
7. White smoke or purple?
8. Can we defrock the first cleric who friends the new bishop on Facebook?
9. If there is an election controversy, do we appeal to Saint (Hanging) Chad of Lichfield?
10. Does the winner get a free nautilus tattoo on a body part to be named later?
Well, those are my questions. Please keep the Diocese of Massachusetts and all the candidates in your prayers. Live updates will be posted here and if you want to follow along on Twitter tomorrow, check the hashtag #Diomass.
In this month’s In Good Faith column I sing, or at least write about, the blues. I’ve long been a blues fan and it’s what I’ve been studying ever since I started taking guitar lessons for the first time since high school a year and a half ago. So it was great to go hear some live blues in a local church last week, meet Bud Welch, hear his story, and most importantly listen to him get his “mojo workin’.”
The Devil’s Music
“The devil’s music.” That’s how the blues has long been characterized. So what was I doing siting in a church listening to the blues last Sunday afternoon? Well, I’ll get to that in a minute but first it’s interesting to reflect on why the blues acquired this reputation.
It may be because temptation is a recurring theme in many blues songs. It’s said that you can’t really sing the blues unless you’ve first “danced with the devil.” That doesn’t literally mean doing the fox trot with a guy in a red suit but it’s a recognition that evil is alive, well, and thriving in our midst. There are also classic blues standards with titles like “Hell Hound on my Trail,” “Devil’s Got the Blues,” and “Devil Sent the Rain.”
One of the main reasons, however, is the well-known myth surrounding blues great Robert Johnson who died in 1938 at the age of 27. One of the first blues artists to be recorded, he was a major influence on musicians such as Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, and Bob Dylan. It’s said that his extraordinary talent, with no formal training, was a result of a meeting with the devil at the crossroads of Highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi, where he sold his soul in exchange for guitar-playing prowess.
As a big fan of the blues and a Christian, I naturally don’t subscribe to the idea that it’s the “devil’s music.” This is why I was delighted that the Hingham Congregational Church recently held a concert featuring 82-year-old Mississippi bluesman Leo “Bud” Welch. His is a remarkable story: Born in Sabougla, Mississippi, in 1932 he first picked picked up a guitar in 1945 — his older cousin’s instrument that he was expressly forbidden to touch. Eventually he was caught but his cousin was impressed by his ability and let him continue to play.
By the age of 15 Bud was playing publicly but for most of his life he made his living as a logger, hauling a chain saw up and down the hills of North Mississippi. He remained an undiscovered talent for years until recording his first album, Sabougla Voices, this January, two month’s shy of his 82nd birthday.
As I sat enthralled listening to Bud Welch’s playing and singing, I started thinking about the season of Lent. We’re in the midst of the Church’s 40-day season of penitence and self-examination that serves as preparation for Easter. Lent is based on Jesus’ experience in the wilderness that followed his baptism in the Jordan River and preceded the start of his public ministry. During this time, we read in Scripture, he was tempted by the devil yet did not sin. So perhaps listening to the blues in a church is particularly poignant during Lent. Jesus can relate to us and understand our own struggles because he knew them first-hand. And even when we give in to temptation, as we inevitably do, Jesus still loves us despite our weakness.
Bud Welch doesn’t think of the blues as the devil’s music but rather as “a way of expressing the highs and lows of one’s life through song.” I couldn’t agree more and this is precisely why I’m so drawn to the music. I don’t think of the blues as depressing — indeed there are moments of joy and triumph in the genre along with heartache and pain. In a word, the blues is life. Our lives are full of hills and valleys leading to a rich topography of experience. If you aren’t familiar with the blues, I encourage you to give them a listen. Reflecting on the tough times and temptations of our own lives always makes the resurrection on Easter Day that much more powerful.
I am writing this letter to let you know that I can no longer continue my relationship with you during the season of Lent. I chose to write instead of talking face-to-face because there is so much that I have to say and I feel this will help you understand my decision.
I have truly enjoyed the good times we’ve had together since I first met you in November of 2007 and I regret having to make this decision. During our time together you have always been there for me, offering me a blank page to engage my creative impulses. Our 694 posts (including this one) have made for some beautiful moments. I could always count on you and thanks to the never, ever going away nature of the internet I will cherish those memories always.
Within the last few years you may have noticed that I have been very distant during the 40 days and 40 nights of Lent. These are periods when we rarely spoke to each other and it has, frankly, gotten quite awkward to even be on the same computer screen.
The truth is, during Lent, I have been increasingly unfaithful. I have forsaken you for another website, www.lentmadness.org. All my creative energy has gone into this new love and it has left me no emotional spark to share with you.
I want to be happy and I want you to be happy. Fortunately Lent, like life, is short. While it is now time for both of us to move on, I promise to return to you during Eastertide. It might be hard at first but I will do my best. If this doesn’t work, I know there is a guest blogger out there for you who can make you happy.
If you need to talk about this and make arrangements to change your password, feel free to call me or send me an e-mail.
I am truly sorry that Lent Madness has come between us. Best of luck in the future.
PS. It’s not you, it’s me.