Showing items filed under “May 2018”

Applause

Yours truly frowns on clapping in church. I know of one place which had a practice of applauding after a sermon. This encourages a lot of the wrong things—preachers avoiding hard topics or subtle distinctions, playing to the crowd rather than seeking to parse the biblical message. So it was to the good when the priest in charge of this place suppressed the applause. Then some time passed, and one Sunday there was a visitor whose sermon, coming shortly before an election, had a stirring call to be sure to vote in a certain way. The priest broke with his new practice at the announcements and asked for applause for that sermon.
    I say, it encourages a lot of the wrong things. But let me tell you of a remarkable moment.
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    On the front pew to the side, a three-year-old was sitting alone (his parents were in the pew behind him). A priest was celebrating the Eucharist with seriousness and dignity at an altar some distance away. After the words of institution, to show to the people the bread now become the body of Christ, he lifted a large host high, as bells rang. He held it there for a bit, then lowered it solemnly and deeply bowed.
    Similarly with the chalice—a slow, dignified elevation, the ringing of the bells.
    And with the bells the three-year-old clapped his hands in delighted applause.
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    I thought of the story of someone clapping with delight at the awesome dawn of a new day. “Lord,” he said, “you’ve done it again!”
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    You never know what children are picking up. (Indeed, you never know what anyone is picking up.) Decades ago I was in the far back of the chapel of General Seminary for the weekly community Eucharist. I had a two-year-old beside me. In the silence following the Fraction, his voice shot through the chapel: “He broke the bread!”
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    Lord, we give thee most humble and hearty thanks, for all thy goodness and loving-kindness to us, and to all men. We bless thee for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life, but above all for . . . thyself!
    (Look, he’s done it again!)
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    Out & About. It’s not too late to come to Baltimore for “Hope Today,” a conference for clergy and laity sponsored by the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology (yours truly is the program director). Info here: http://www.e-ccet.org/conferences/conference-2018-hope-today/

Social Graces

 Some years ago I flew from New York, where I lived for several decades, back to Oklahoma, where I grew up. I stopped at a Starbucks in Oklahoma City, knowing I wouldn’t see another until my return trip. When it was my turn at the counter, I told her what I’d like, size of cup, kind of milk, sweetener (none for me), flavor (ditto)—as one does at a Starbucks. She looked at me and said, “How are you today?”
    I’d forgotten that step.
    We don’t ask people, back in New York, how they’re doing. We don’t have time; it’s part of the pulse of the city, it keeps going and if you can’t keep up you probably should move elsewhere. A hamburger joint (that was it’s name, hamburger joint) had a handwritten list of options for your burger, followed by the admonition that it you didn’t know what you wanted you should go to the back of the line. It was rude and wildly popular; one almost never found an open seat.
    But in Oklahoma and places like it (Texas, for example), you don’t start with what you want, you start with that social grace. It’s a courtesy that recognizes the humanity of the other person, and even if the courtesy is merely formal, it still does good. That is to say, the young Oklahoman at Starbucks who inquired how I was doing probably asked her question without it being, as it were, a serious question. Still it was a pointer to the reality that I was more than a mere consumer, and she more than a mere dispenser.
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    It’s an interesting term, “social graces.” Grace is a gift, unearned and undeserved. Social graces are the gifts that we give each other in society. When we are at our best, we give them to others for no other reason than that we are fellow human beings. Social graces are lubricants that carry us forward, even when we are distracted or bothered.
    What do we say? They “take us out of ourselves,” which is itself a peculiar conception. For where do I find my “self”? Is my self somewhere inside my skin, perhaps in my chest, or maybe in my head? It might be better to say they take us to where our self really is, which is not inside us, but in communion with others.
    Of course, the most fundamental grace of all is the gift when God calls our name and says, “How are you today?”
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    Out & About. My sermon on Pentecost—which, on baptism, is really on the strangeness of God who both speaks to us and “blows” us—is here: https://incarnation.org/worship/sermons-archive/. With thanks to Robert Jenson, the Trinity becomes interesting indeed.

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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."