Showing items filed under “October 2017”

Closeness

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I was in Phoenix, giving a talk to a parish group about Losing Susan. In the course of things I mentioned that after seminary I was a curate at Zion Church in Wappingers Falls, New York, in the beautiful Hudson Valley. A man waited to speak to me afterwards. He said he had used to take care of the organ at Zion. He mentioned the organist, Noel Hart; I said Noel was there when I was.
    Now here we were, thirty years later, two thousand miles from Wappingers Falls, greeting each other.
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    Up in Lewisville, a couple told me they were going to the Hudson Valley this week. They used to live on the west side of the Hudson and went to St. Gregory’s in Woodstock. Their priest then was Tom Miller—I knew Tom, and would drive to Woodstock for some drama and music programs they had in the church. “There was a novelist in the congregation,” I said; they said, “Gail Godwin.” She wrote a novel that I read back in the day, The Good Husband. We went on to talk about the unusual architect we shared, who had designed both St. Gregory’s and my parish in Hopewell Junction. “Was yours also an A-frame?” they asked me. He had a genius for designing interesting but difficult church buildings.
    So here we were, some twenty-five years later, fifteen hundred miles from the Hudson Valley, meeting for the first time, talking about ordinary and quirky church life that we were both a part of a generation ago.
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    Am I becoming more like my father? He was always drawing out connections with people. A year before he died, I was with him in the ER. The nurse came back and the first thing my father said was, “Did you say you were from—?” and he named a town. “No, I didn’t,” said the nurse, which didn’t really faze my father; he went on to say something about that place anyway. I think it helped him feel at home to know something about the people around him, to find something that they had something in common.
    And my grandmother! She was a farmer, and some thirty years ago she was in a hospital in a big city. But instead of being lost in that large corporation of medical experts, she was surrounded by nurses and doctors that were connected to the place she had come from. It was as if she had re-created a small town around her in the midst of the impersonal city.
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    The church is, in this sense, a small town; and one of the blessings of my life today is that I get to see that frequently. I relish making these connections; they bring back memories. But more is going on. People are meant to live in connection: in families, often; in neighborhoods (parishes!); in cities. The worst effect of sin, humanly speaking, is that it corrupts these relationships.
    At our best, we are reaching out. And as with everything, it can happen through and with Christ. Overcoming sin, he extends his arms in a way that offers us connection with him and thus with one another. Perhaps the most beautiful line in the 1979 Prayer Book is this: He stretched out his arms upon the cross, and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.
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    Out & about. Sunday, October 22, I will be preaching at the traditional morning services (7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m.) at Church of the Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas.
    Also on October 22, at 6 p.m. I will give the Fall Theology Lecture: “What Good Is Authority?” (also at Incarnation, Dallas). The lecture will be given in the church itself, is free and open to the public, will include time for questions and be followed by a reception. As I’ve previously mentioned, to illustrate authority I intend to look at church and sport, two of our favorite things.

I am Also Under Authority

    Like many of you, I was raised in a time when the culture said “Question Authority.” (The culture was pleased to put that injunction on a bumper sticker.) It was and remains everywhere, the sense that authority is oppressive, and that to become a full human being we must throw off authority and assert our individuality.
    This view is just false. If you are forever questioning authority, you won’t become a full human being. The reason is that to flourish we must cooperate with other people in lots of things, and cooperation always involves a recognition that we live and move within environments that are marked by authority.
    Authority is not about one person forcing his will upon others. It is, rather, an essential part of our achieving common goods. If you are a musician, and you want to play in an orchestra, you must submit to the direction of the conductor. If all you do is question her, the conductor’s, authority, you will never get around to playing the music. I’ve written about this in my book, Up with Authority, for which my publisher found a perfect cover picture: a conductor in a polo shirt, baton in one hand, his other reaching out towards you in a commanding way. The conductor is saying, in effect, follow me and you will find your fulfilment as a musician.
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    Jesus says, in effect, follow me and you will find your fulfilment as a human being.
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    Saint Luke gives us a remarkable account of the recognition of Jesus’ authority. It comes from a centurion whose had a sick servant near death. The servant sent word to Jesus to ask him to cure his dear servant. Jesus sets off to visit him, whereupon the centurion sends further word. You don’t need to visit me, he says to Jesus; I know you can heal without coming to me. The centurion is not seeking to witness some miraculous display of power. But note his words: they are amazing! I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
    The centurion describes himself as “set under authority,” and it is because he is under authority that he is able to speak authoritatively, to issue commands that are effective. He doesn’t say he “has” authority or that he “has been given” authority; he says he is “under” it.
    Authority, in truth, is dynamic, multidimensional, flowing up and down. No one is simply an authority wielding power; everyone is potentially an authority because he is also under authority.
    This is what Jesus wants for all humanity: for us to flourish. When that happens, we recognize his authority above all else, and join the choir of heaven to offer him praise.
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    I will be speaking more particularly about the exercise of authority when I give the Fall Theology Lecture on Sunday, October 22. Specifically, because I think they make interesting examples, I will look at authority as exercised in the church by clergy, and also at authority in sport: the various sorts of authority exercised by referees, coaches, and players. I think you are likely to find this interesting also, and I would love to see you. The lecture will be at 6 p.m. at Church of the Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas, in the church itself. There will be time for questions, and a reception will follow.
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    Out & About. This Saturday, October 7, I will speak to the OMGs (“Outrageously Mature Group”) at Church of the Annunciation in Lewisville, Texas; the program runs from 9 a.m. to noon. The topic is: Your future is greater than your past.
    Sunday, October 8, I will be preaching at the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services at All Saints’ Church in Phoenix. At 10 a.m. I will be teaching on caregiving and suffering, with reflections drawn from Losing Susan.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."