Thursday, June 3, 2010

Pentecost Letter: mapping our location

William Smith was born in Oxfordshire, England, in the early 19th century and from an early age he was interested in stones. In his diary he wrote that the small round rocks used for marbles looked like something that once lived.

Dairy maids in Oxfordshire used Chadworth Stones (this is where the word stones came into usage as a weight of measurement) to weigh their butter, moreover, the most popular stones looked vaguely like living creatures as well. Manufactured weights were not available at the time and unknown to Smith, the “marbles” and the “weights” were fossils.

Smith grew “curiouser” and “curiouser” pondering the patterns he noticed in rocky formations while he worked as a surveyor of coal mines and canals. Concurrently, the industrial revolution was driving questions about harnessing energy for manufacturing and human energy for labor. The origins of species was being questioned. It was Smith though, who pulled the many thoughts and questions together and eventually drew the first geological map, accurately depicting the layers of earth's strata. This map is the physical birth of geology and quite literally, changed the world. Geology and the manner of study inaugurated in large measure by Smith literally provided both a wealth of raw resources that industry needed to industrialize the world. I learned this all by reading a wonderful book by The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology by Simon Winchester.

We live in a world that clearly stands upon the answered questions of Smith's day, but we live in no less a chaotic time. Advances in technology, science, global culture and society challenge many of our preconceived ideas about the world and its origins. The speed of this change is momentous. In The Great Emergence, Phyllis Tickle writes that there are three questions being asked today: Where is authority? What is a human being? And what does it mean to be a religious person in a world of global religious complexity?

The top most sought after jobs this year 2010 did not exist in 2004. We are quite literally training children to answer questions and work in jobs that do not yet exist. China will soon be the largest English-speaking country in the world. The United States is the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. Twenty-five percent of India’s population with the highest IQ’s is grater than the total population of the United States.

Twenty-seven billion users on My Space make it the size of the fifth largest country in the world. There are five times as many words in the English language today than there were when Shakespeare wrote. One out of eight couples married last year met online.

Billions of searches are done on Google - people seeking answers.

You can watch more of these facts on a YouTube video entitled: Did You Know? at

Where do we go when Google can’t come up with the answer? Who do we talk to when we only get computerized voices on the phone?

It would be nice to find a solid place to stand in this scenario.

While I cannot be certain, I do believe that this the very same kind of question that the disciples asked themselves as Jesus explained to them that he was leaving. If I were a disciple I would have asked it as a follow up to Philip's question on the road to Philippi. I would have asked it at the Last Supper. I would have asked it in the Garden of Gethsemane. I would have asked it in the Upper Room and on the shore of the Galilean lake. I would have asked it every time Jesus said he was going away … and in John's Gospel they pretty much did!

Jesus' answer is the same throughout the Gospel, and it reminds us of God's faithful friendship with the patriarchs and matriarchs of our deuteronomistic family: "I will be with you."

Jesus desires an apostolic community where his disciples are forever unified to God - to the community of God - through the Holy Spirit. Jesus dreams that they will follow him, continue to love as he has loved, and continue his ministry of proclaiming the good news. All of this work intimately reflects the divine community of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), reflects the divine unity, the divine love and the divine outpouring of itself into the world.

We are the Episcopal Church. We are that apostolic community in the world. We are the community united in all of our diversity in and through the power of God's revealing Spirit. We glorify God and we make him known as creator, as unique revelation (Jesus Christ), as empowering Spirit.

Yes, the Holy Spirit, the wind, the pnuema, God's breath, the Paraclete, the wisdom, spirit and perfect love of the divine Godhead moves inside the very being of our church and our congregations, our orders and our mission.

The Episcopal Church is the Temple of the Holy Spirit. And it is in our apostolic family of God that we find our place on the map and where we will find our solid rock. It is from this vantage point that you and I together forge the reign of God - a reign of peace and justice, a reign where people find their dignity, a reign where others are treated as neighbor. Outside the church we are God's hands at work, we are God's revelation.

Our church may not always get it right. We may not have all the answers for how to live life in this chaotic and changing world. But we do know who we are, where we are and in whom our hearts rest.

Come Holy Spirit come, comfort your people and send us out transforming our congregations, our community and the world around us. Come Holy Spirit come!

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  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball