Friday, March 8, 2013


This morning started off with a "Missional Summit." This is a day-long event that the Diocese of Toronto sponsors every few months to support people doing Fresh Expressions and other innovative ministries. It's an invite-only sort of thing, but the main criteria is having a Fresh Expression or Church Plant that is being funded by the Diocese. I think one of the reasons I get invited is because I'm on the "Project Enabling and Monitoring Group" (PEMG), which oversees and shepherds the funding proposals for these sorts of projects. In fact, I was just asked to help develop a new project which is just beginning to cross from the horizon of the unknown into a feasible reality.

The morning started with some structured networking designed to give us a chance to hear about as many little projects as possible, then we had a lecture, a case study, and some reflections by the Archbishop. Marion Taylor provided the lecture. She is a popular Old Testament Professor at Wyliffe Seminary and I can see why. Her subject was Josephine Butler, a 19th Century reformer/activist who championed women's rights. In particular, Marion wanted to highlight Butler's exegetical and rhetorical genius. She showed how Butler took one of the most problematic passages in all of Scripture--Judges 19--and found the Grace in it.

If you are interested at all in Feminist Theology or Biblical Exegesis or social advocacy on behalf of prostitutes, you should take a few minutes and treat yourself to this. Start by reading Judges 19. It's an ugly passage, and my first impression was that it arroused some righteous anger in me, but I didn't actually see myself in the story, much less Jesus in the story, until Butler gets a hold of it...

There are many tragical histories recorded in the Old Testament, that true mirror of the faith and the righteousness, but also of the depravity of man. Few are more tragical than that story, in the book of Judges, of the wayfaring Levite, who halted at Gibeah of Benjamin, and lodged there with the woman, his companion. We read with a shudder the ghastly details, — the clamoring of the sons of Belial round the door, the suspense, the parley, till, in the cowardice of self-defence, the man brings out that helpless woman, and casts her among the hellish terrors of that awful night. ' All night until them morning,' she endured, ' until the day began to spring; then came the woman in the dawning of the day, and fell down at the door of the man's house where her lord was, till it was light. And her lord rose up in the morning, and opened the doors of the house, and went out to go his way; and, behold, the woman was fallen down at the door of the house, and her hands were upon the threshold. And he said unto her, Up, and let us be going! But none answered.' She was dead.

Christian friends, there is a weak and prostrate figure lying at our door ; to this door she turns for help, though it be but in her dying fall. Her hands are upon the threshold — dead hands flung forward in mute and terrible appeal to the God above, who, looking down from heaven, sees not that prostrate form alone, but on the one side the powers of hell, on the other, in their safe dwelling- place, the selfish sleepers to whom the pale, cold hands appeal in vain. The night is far spent ; throughout the world's long night the fate of the Levite's concubine has been outcast woman's fate; cast forth in answer to the clamorous cries of insatiable human lusts, and then left to perish in the outer darkness; while 'her lord,' ordained her protector by nature and by the law of God, slumbers unheeding. Her voice is too weak to be heard, the door is too heavily barred for her to open, that she might cross the threshold again; her only appeal is her heavy corpse-like fall beside the door, her silence when invoked, and her cold, dead hands stretched forth. It might well make our morning slumbers uneasy, and cause us to murmur, in our dreams, of the coming judgment, to know that there lies a corpse at our door, crushed with the heaped and pitiless weight of the sins of others and her own.

But the day is at hand. Wc have slept long and soundly, while that woman bore the hell without. Shall we sleep still? What if the Judge should come and find us scarcely risen from our torpor, our door scarcely opened, our morning salutation scarcely uttered to the victim whose voice is stilled in death — should come, and should require of us an account of our protectorship, and show to us such mercy as we have shown to her?

There are, thank God, signs at last, and in certain parts of the earth, of a movement among the sleepers, a haunting consciousness of somewhat leaning heavily against our door, a gradual awakening to a sense of pain and fear and duty unfulfilled — nay, of partnership in guilt, with a present immunity from its penalties, which presses heavier than all else upon a conscience lit with the fires of coming wrath, or on a heart capable of a generous sorrow. Some, thank God, have started from their beds and gone forth in the morning twilight to find the prostrate body, wherein yet perchance is life, and have uttered, not ineffectually, the words, " Up, let us be going;" and have gathered in their arms, and have sustained and comforted, and when healing was not too late, have healed.

Yet those who, waking late, are working now, work ever with the sad and humbling memory of past centuries of injury and neglect in this matter. They who have themselves been guiltless of actual wrong towards the fallen, feel the most acutely in the tenderness of their souls the wrong done by their forefathers, who, since the foundation of the world till now, have dedicated by millions these weaker vessels to profanest service — sacrificing them with impious rites to a so-called necessity — a Moloch to whom all the kingdoms of the earth have caused armies of their daughters to pass through the fire, generation after generation. These vessels, once defiled, were, as our fathers judged, incapable of cleansing, never again to be restored to sweet and honourable household use, too vile for hand of just man or pure woman to touch; albeit One, the ever blessed, the only pure, had not disdained to raise such a vessel to His sacred lips, and with richest draughts from thence to alluy the thirst of His Divine soul for his creature's love. Nay, He complains of the strong uninjured vessels that they give not as the broken give: to the honoured of men, firmly holding his position in society, "Thou gavest me no kiss," He said; " but this woman hath not ceased to kiss my feet."

We cannot know how many of "this woman's" character and kin may not have kissed secretly those blessed feet, even in the darkness outside the door; more perhaps than we, who pity, dare to hope — more certainly than Simon thinks, while he sits eating and drinking there, and shuddering at the thought that any guest of his should suffer the approach of so vile a thing; for He who gives his feet to be kissed, have we not His voice to the end of the Dispensation — "Behold, I stand at the door and knock"? His head is filled with the dew and His locks with the drops of the night, and it may be that at that same closed door these two, the slain woman and the Saviour, have met many a time while we slept and knew it not; it may be that those cold faint hands, falling upon the threshold, groping hopelessly, have stolen in the darkness some virtue from His garment's hem; and though the fount of weeping, which despair has dried, may have given no more tears to "distil like amber on the royal feet of the Anointed," yet may they have been pressed instead with the cold death-dews of a forehead branded with shame and hiding itself in the dust.

Every act of our Lord's, emphatically recorded by the Evangelists, has a deep and an everlasting significance. A single act of His towards a single individual was designed to be the type, for all ages, of the acts required of every Christian in every similar case — a seed intended to bring forth fruit a thousandfold; on each is plainly written the command, "Go thou and do likewise." The Lord manifested a peculiar compassion for lepers, and from that time forth the Gentile Christians ceased to treat the leper as he had been treated among the Jews, and the saints of the early Church vied with each other in acts of charity towards the victims of this loathsome disease, that thus in the persons of his afflicted members they might do honour to their Lord. Jesus Christ blessed little children, and this has been recognised by Christendom as significant of the part to be acted by and towards the Christian child. The Lord especially honoured the poor; so likewise has the Church ever considered the poor her especial charge, and the care of the poor one of the first of social obligations. But how has it been in the matter of our Lord's treatment of fallen women ? Was ever act of His more marked, or more prominent, or more designedly typical, than His conduct towards these? As if to enforce the duty of society towards them with a special recommendation, He is seen, not once, but again and again, by His marked reception of these women, to give as it were to the world a key-note upon which to time its voice to the Magdalene to the end of time. " (From Josephine butler, "The Lovers of the Lost," Contemporary Review 13 (1870) 16-19)

Wow. Are we the sleepers? Is Christ outside with the dying prostitute? Chew on that for a while. Then consider that this was preached by a woman in the 19th century. She couldn't even vote, let alone get ordained, and yet she successfully campaigned to repeal the Contagious Diseases Acts. She might not be a household name, now, but this is a Christian whose prophetic witness changed the course of history and improved the lives of thousands and thousands of people (especially women).

After that we had a great lunch, more networking, and a case study of a skater church run out of St. James the Apostle Church in Perth, ON. Here's a video to show you what that's about:

This video is several years old, so it was interesting to have Christine Piper (the Priest) come and tell us how things have evolved over the last few years. Good stuff.

Then we heard from the Archbishop. Among other things he wanted to encourage us to be hopeful.

After that we had some prayer time in small groups and that was it. (I should mention that I spent virtually every second of every break talking to one person or another about a project I am working on. I am incredibly thankful for this opportunity, as it saves me a lot of coffee dates and e-mail exchanges in the next few weeks).

Shortly after the event wrapped up I got a call that one of my parishioners had died: Eleanor Farmer. Eleanor was a dear, sweet woman who came faithfully not just on Sundays but on Saturdays to my Healing Prayer Group. She was hard of hearing and had trouble walking, but she came to everything she could. Her friend and Power of Attorney found her this afternoon. I went straight there from the Summit and was glad that I still had a stole and BAS in my car from the Communion Service I had done at Hazelton Lanes earlier in the week. (Funny, BTW, how I hadn't bothered to remove those things even though I had taken my Alb back into my office.)

When I entered the house my Parish Doctor/Lay Anointer was there with the PoA and a friend of the PoA. Eleanor had apparently gotten up in the morning or night to go to the bathroom and was going back to her bed when she passed away. She was crumpled over her walker in a kneeling position in her nightgown--head bowed. It struck me immediately this this was a holy posture: the supplicant at prayer. Eleanor hasn't been able to kneel to pray in many, many years, and she had issues with her sense of unworthiness before God. So it struck me as appropriate that her humility is somehow made perfect in death, as she is finally able to submit to the joy and freedom of God's perfect love. We surrounded her and I led the small group in the BAS's version of prayers at the time of death. They are beautiful, ancient prayers. I made the sign of the cross on her head (as I have done probably hundreds of times before--she loved being anointed for healing). I also touched her shoulder as I often did when I greeted her on Sundays (her hearing was terrible).

I went from there straight to Henry's daycare to pick him up. He ran over to me and I touched him, too. On the car ride back I pondered the connection between touching poor Eleanor's body (still and cool and yielding) and touching Henry's (so full of life and warmth and squirminess). It made me feel blessed to do both today.

When I was in College I often went to the campus chapel to pray at night. Often I would end my prayers by solemnly putting my palms on the smooth, polished wood altar and pray that God would bless my hands to make them instruments of healing. It used to give me a real thrill to do this--hair raising mysticism in an old Southern Church. It was a child's prayer, in some ways, but perhaps prophetic when I consider what I do with these hands. I don't just mean the touching and anointing the living and the death, or holding Henry. I mean also typing into my computer, cooking, and building things out of wood. I love working with my hands in every way, so I think those childish prayers came true.

So.... That was my day. I skipped over the part where I did e-mail and did the leaflet layout, I wrote about that enough yesterday! Tomorrow I can sleep in a little bit, but then I have to go to church to print out the leaflet. While I'm at it I'll also send the post cards for promoting Holy Week to the printers. And sermon prep, I'm behind in sermon prep. It's the story of the Prodigal Son this week!


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