The End is in Sight - "Don't Give Up the Ship"

Dear Friends, as we come into the "home stretch" of this Lenten season, I want to remind us of where we started this year.  Those who attended our Ash Wednesday Eucharist this year heard me tell the story of Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry and his battle flag.

On September 10, 1813 under the command of Commodore Perry, the fledgling United States Navy won a great victory repelling the attack of a small British flotilla in the Battle of Lake Erie.  It was a major turning point in the War of 1812 paving the way for other decisive land victories.  It was hard fought, the Americans lost many sailors and at least one of their ships was crippled in the action.  But through it all, Commodore Perry inspired his men to victory, having hoisted his personal battle flag:  A simple blue banner with the embroidered words, “Don’t Give Up The Ship.”  Even today these words remain as an informal motto of the Navy.  Don’t give up the ship.

But this great symbol of victory had in fact been forged out of a great tragedy.  "Don't Give Up the Ship" was the dying command of Perry's good friend, Captain James Lawrence.  In June of that same year Lawrence died in a battle of his own.  

Just out of Boston Harbor, Lawrence’s ship the Chesapeake was defeated and captured by the British frigate Shannon.  It was Captain Lawrence’ last order after being mortally wounded and carried below deck, “Don’t Give Up the Ship.”  Tragically, about 5 minutes later, they did give up the ship.  Three days later Lawrence died of his wounds.

But here is the most stunning and perhaps the most tragic thing, that particular battle never should have happened.  Lawrence was new in command. The Chesapeake was a brand new ship.  His crew was newly formed.  He had no business taking on a seasoned veteran with a seasoned crew in a war hardened ship like the Shannon.

In fact, the Department of the Navy knew this.  Captain Lawrence had been given express orders not to engage but to slip out of port under cover of night and sail for the Mediterranean.  But he ignored those orders, his pride led him into battle - and he lost his ship and his life.

At this point in our Lenten journey I think this story is an even more poignant reminder than it may have been when I first told it 4 weeks ago.  Because by now in our Lenten journey our own pride has probably revealed itself and possibly led us into some lost battles.  Either rearing its head at inopportune moments and causing us to speak words we wish we had not spoken.  Or perhaps led us to a moment of laxity where we were lulled into thinking, "at least I don't have to worry about struggling with X anymore."  Only to find ourselves falling to sin X, Y, and Z within that very week or even that very day.  Is any of this ringing true with anyone else?  Or perhaps your Pride has caused you to struggle and chafe at what my friend Fr. Kevin Miller calls, "The Spiritual Disciplines You Didn't Choose." - Those trials that the Lord has brought into your life this Lent because he loves you and he knows what will refine you even more effectively than the disciplines we may have set out intending for ourselves to follow. 

Pride rears it's head in many ways, shapes and forms.  And many a spiritual battle has been lost because, like Captain Lawrence, our pride has led us there - right to the very place we have no business being.  Led us right into a conflict we are not equipped to win even if we thought we were.  But here is the point where the glorious good news of the gospel enters in.  My wife often reminds me of the words that one author from the recovery movement has said, "we never run out of tries."  

Just as Lawrence's failure led to a mollifying rallying cry which led to an even greater victory, so too our failures and the shame that follows them leads us back to that place of utter reliance upon God's Grace.  The place where greater victories can be experienced.  Where we, by the Power of the Resurrection manifest by the Holy Spirit of God, are picked back up off of the bloodied and muddied ground of battle, our wounds are dressed and we are sent back out to keep up the fight.  A fight which we are ultimately assured that we will win.  Not necessarily because we go out as better spiritual warriors (although hopefully our failures do lead us to a place of greater wisdom).  But because we return to the front, humbler and more reliant on the spiritual weapons we have been given and ultimately reliant upon the One who has already won the War for us.  

So, as we approach Holy Week and prepare to celebrate the victory of our Champion and the winning of the War, be encouraged in your own skirmishes with the World, the Flesh and the Devil.  Don't Give Up the Ship.  Even (or perhaps especially) if you have experienced defeat, return to the front and Don't Give Up the Ship

Gesima what time it is.

This Sunday is Septuagesima Sunday!  In the Great Tradition of the Western Church, the three Sundays which precede Ash Wednesday have been anciently known as Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima Sunday respectively.  The names come from the fact that these Sundays fall at roughly 70, 60 and 50 days before the celebration of Easter (thus the funky names which are simply Latin for 70, 60 and 50 days).  These three Sundays have traditionally served as the gateway and vestibule to the season of Lent.  In the medieval Church they almost took on a flavor of "Lent lite" as some of the restrictions of the Lenten fast were slowly imposed (such as the omission of the Alleluias and the Gloria in the liturgy).  It also served a similar purpose to practices still observed in the Eastern Church where believers gradually begin eliminating meat and dairy from the diet over the weeks which precede the Fast proper to prevent the faithful from experiencing the shock of "going cold turkey."

For our purposes as contemporary Anglicans, I would urge us to consider taking this nudge from the Church calendar and begin now to think, pray and prepare for the Lenten season which is just ahead of us.  If you are at all like me, it is likely you have experienced those years wherein you feel as though you missed out on the first 5 days or so of Lent because it takes  that long to decide what you need to be doing.  This is why, in Her Wisdom, Mother Church gives us this "heads up" to do that discerning and preparing now.

Take the time now to ask the Lord what He would have your fast look like this year.  In addition to dietary fasts, are there other areas of your life: media, entertainment or "creature comforts" that He would have you lay aside for this season?  Are there particular disciplines He would have you take up?  Here at Christ our Hope we will have materials available in the next 3 weeks to help you in this endeavor. 

No time like the present

Despite my musings on the way time is accounted differently within the Church, it is natural for us as human beings to become a bit more reflective at the turnover of a new year on the secular calendar.  Toward that end, I want to invite you to embrace this New Year introspection, but perhaps not in the way you ordinarily would.  Rather than urge us to make "New Years Resolutions" that we will likely only keep a week or so anyway, allow me to remind you of what those of us in the COH community talked about throughout the Fall as we read, taught and discussed the Emotionally Healthy Church materials.  

In the Emotionally Healthy Church, Peter Scazzero used the analogy of an iceberg to describe our emotional lives.  He talks about how most of us spend our lives only acknowledging the top 10% of our emotional selves, while below the surface lurk the bulk of the patterns and experiences that actually drive our behavior.  If we do not embrace the gospel of Grace and God's unconditional love and look courageously at those sub-surface driving forces, we are likely to shipwreck eventually.

So, as a New Year discipline, I want to invite you once again to consider:

What are the patterns of unhealthy relating (or thinking) that still manifest themselves from time to time?  Often around the holidays as we spend more time relating to our families (especially our families of origin) it gives opportunity for some of these patterns to be uncovered.  Think about your recent holiday experience, does anything come to light?

The next time you have a hard interaction, slow down even if its "after the fact," and ask yourself, "what am I really thinking and feeling right now?  Why did I react that way?"

Redeeming the Time

In a recent sermon I mentioned that Christ's redemption of ALL THINGS includes the redemption of time itself.  I stated that the Church expresses this through what we have come to call the Christian or Church Calendar.  I want to unpack how this expresses the redemption of time itself in a future post.  But for now I highly recommend this video for understanding more about the Christian Year.  It visually and dynamically explains the Church's year in less than 4 minutes!  Enjoy!

Living Eucharist

Collect for Thanksgiving Day (ACNA)

Most merciful Father, we humbly thank you for all your gifts so freely bestowed upon us; for life and health and safety; for strength to work and leisure to rest; for all that is beautiful in creation and in human life; but above all we thank you for our spiritual mercies in Christ Jesus our Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Though we do not traditionally celebrate Thanksgiving Day as a parish, it is nevertheless an important holiday filled with spiritual significance in the life and history of our nation.  Every school child knows the story of the Pilgrims giving thanks to God after surviving their first year in the New World.  But sadly, even as Americans who receive this as a part of cultural heritage, we too often loose sight of our need and opportunity to give thanks, and not just once a year but once a week, or even daily.  The truth is, the Pilgrims weren't terribly inventive.  The Church around the world has observed a day of Thanksgiving every week for 2000 years.  

Each and every Sunday the Church gathers around the Eucharist (which in Greek means, thanksgiving).  Every time we come together as a Body we give thanks to God for His work of creation and the sustaining of our lives, but above all we thank him for the redemption of the world by the work of our Lord Jesus Christ.  That is no mistake.  This eucharistic focus in worship is meant to teach us and sustain us.

It is meant to teach us that giving thanks is the default posture of the Christian.  Everything we have we have received as a gift.  And the right thing to do when you receive a gift is say thank you for it.  So, weekly we pause to give thanks to God for all His gifts, so that we can remember to keep looking for those gifts as we go forward into the rest of our week.  Gathering around Eucharist trains our eyes to look for new mercies each day, and respond to them with thanks.

And, weekly gathering for the Great Thanksgiving (as it was traditionally called) fuels and sustains us in this journey of grateful responsiveness.  In this meal Christ feeds us.  Just as physical food gives our bodies energy to go about our daily work, so too the spiritual food of Eucharist fuels our spirit to hunger and thirst for the gifts of God in our daily life.

So, this year as you gather with family, take time to thank God for his gifts, large and small.  This Sunday, as you gather with the Family of God, take time to thank him for the same, and for his "inestimable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ."  And may both of these Eucharistic pauses in our daily routine fuel us to search out the daily mercies and blessings of God and inspire our response of daily gratitude to Him.

Orlando - A Letter From the Bishop

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

"So, why church?  The short answer is because the Holy Spirit formed it to be a colony of heaven in the country of death . . .” — Eugene PetersonPractice Resurrection

These are days where it is so obvious that we live in the country of death.  It is such a contrast to our home country, in which the currency is grace — extravagant grace is the foundation for every transaction. We must seek that grace for our own hearts and pray for it for those whose lives are shattered.

The politics of our home country is love — sacrificial love shapes all that we do.  We must let ourselves be transformed by that love and carry it into every corner of this world.

This grace and love also means that we find our hearts broken by such darkness. It is a time to mourn. As Paul writes in Romans 12:15, "Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”   Like the lament Psalms, we recognize and grieve over evil and loss — and turn to God with trust in that grieving.   

Shane Copeland sent this article by Russell Moore — which challenges us where we might have grown accustomed to the country of death:  After Orlando, Can We Still Weep Together?

I am so thankful for you, and for how you live and love in these times for which there are very few words.




The Rt. Rev. Ken Ross

Bishop, Diocese of the Rocky Mountains

Ancient Faith, Global Relationships, Local Mission

Maundy Thursday Explained

Maundy Thursday is a day full of new riches for the Church. Its central theme is the Institution of the Eucharist with the commemoration of the Last Supper. Several other actions occur: the washing of feet, the blessing of oil for the mission of the Church, and a brief commemoration of His agony and abandonment.

The day takes its name from the Latin word for commandment (“mandatum”), and it refers to the New Commandment of Christ to His disciples: to love one another. The washing of the feet and the Communion we share by His generosity each express this new way of love, which He both gives and then calls forth from us. Similarly, the blessing of the oil provides the Church with a Sacramental that enables it to love those in need of physical and spiritual healing. 

Also, in keeping with the new mission given to the Church the priests will renew their ordination vows. Whether this is done publicly or not, the renewal of these vows provides a stark contrast to the commemoration later portrayed by the priests at the end of the service: as it draws to a close, the priests strip the altar of its hangings (a symbol of the stripping and dividing of Christ’s garments), they “Scour” its surface (a symbol of Christ’s scourging), and then they scatter (a symbol in action of the disciples’ abandonment of Christ). This is done in silence or while Psalm 22 is recited or sung. Following this, all silently retire from the sanctuary.

Sleepers Awake! An Essay on the Heart of Lent

Lent is nearly upon us and for those who have not come from a liturgical background (or conversely for those who have been so steeped in the Traditions of the Church that they have become cold and their meanings long forgotten) the question may well arise: why or perhaps even how, do we celebrate Lent?  In many minds the idea of Lent conjures images of meaningless abstinences, dreary reminders of our sinful nature and whipped up feelings of, “I am a worm and no man.”  But it must be quickly pointed out that, while this is a season of fasting and of penitence, to reduce it to a dull burdensome yoke of ‘do this’ and ‘avoid this’ misses the spirit and the heart of the season altogether.  So what is the heart of Lent?

At its core Lent is about awakening.  It is about shaking off the slumber of the ‘Old Man’ as St. Paul calls it in order to prepare the person: body, soul and spirit to greet with Joy the celebration of Resurrection Life at Easter.  Of course the student of Scripture will be quick to point out that the joy of Resurrection Sunday is meant for the Christian every day of the year and of course this is true.  The breaking in of Christ’s new and glorious Kingdom, the defeat of death once and for all and the enlivening of our souls could never be isolated to a yearly commemoration.  And yet, how often do we find that while these are truths that come readily to mind and flow readily off our lips, they are truths that we in our busy and harried post-modern lives seldom seem to live in light of.  And so we become dulled to these truths.  We are like leaden-limbed men and women struggling to shake off a deep and seemingly satisfying slumber.  Instead of heeding the call of Christ to seek His Kingdom above all else, we are driven by our own desires and impulses or those of somebody else.  We need something to awaken us from this deluded dream walk.  

What Lent offers us in remedy to this spiritual malaise is a saturating dose of reality.  To awaken we must first become aware of the true state of things.  To escape from a burning building we must first become aware of the whiff of smoke in the room.  And so Lent is often spoken of as a season of “bright sadness.”  As a season of repentance we are continually reminded in the Scriptures and in the Liturgy that all is not well.  We fall constantly short of the call to be, “perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.”  And so, while on the surface our constant remembering of that reality during Lent may seem harsh, grating and even dismal, we must remember that these wake-up calls, these heavy doses of reality are only the first step.  Our sadness over these our misdoings is made ‘bright’ as we engage them remembering that repentance is the first step toward forgiveness.  If we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive.  So while the tone of the season is one of apparent grief and sadness; this sadness, we begin to perceive, is indeed ‘bright’ as we sense the healing and transformative work that it is bringing about within our souls.

So often we talk of God needing to, “take a 2x4 and whack us to get our attention.”  Or, “give us a swift kick to get us going.”  This is a rather sad commentary on our warped perception of God and His tender dealings with those whom He loves.  Perhaps it feels that way to us at times because it is not until our backs are broken by our own sin or circumstance that we understand that God has been there all along wishing to have our attention and wishing to pour His healing balm out on our sin-sick hearts.  A more accurate image of God’s work is that of the leather worker who has to take a rough and bloodied hide and clean it, brush it and work softening oils into it gently shaping it into something supple, useful and beautiful.  That is the image of Lent and its usefulness in our lives.  It is 40 days because this is a long slow process.  It is at times monotonous because we need the same treatments repeated again and again until they begin to soften us and break down our roughness and hardness.  As Fr. Alexander Schmemann writes, “Let us stress once more that the purpose of Lent is not to force on us a few formal obligations, but to “soften” our heart so that it may open itself to the realities of the spirit, to experience the hidden “thirst and hunger” for communion with God.”

In the Ash Wednesday liturgy the priest invites the community to observe a Holy Lent through, “self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”  These comprise the main disciplines of the season.  As has been mentioned, many opportunities are made available for a heightened self-awareness and necessary repentance.  The liturgies of the season draw repentance into brighter contrast and in many places the formal rite of Reconciliation (or sacramental confession) is offered.  Prayer and disciplined reading are also recommended.  These seem somewhat self-evident and resources abound in the Church for pursuing these disciplines.  But what may require slightly more explanation is the character of fasting and self-denial that are the apparent hallmark of the season.   

The question may well arise; what is the purpose of fasting.  The answer to this corresponds directly to the nature of the two forms of fasting which have arisen in the life of the Church.  The first form of fasting is the stational or total fast.  This is the form that is familiar to most. It consists in abstaining from food altogether.  It can be done for an entire day or for a particular meal.  The term stational comes from a Roman military term, statio which was used to describe a military garrison on high alert.  It therefore connotes a ready watchfulness.   The purpose of this kind of fast then is to sharpen our anticipation; to awaken in us a hunger that begins in our stomach but which can be harnessed to a heightened spiritual hunger and desire for the Living God; a “state of spiritual concentration on that which is about to come.”  For this reason it has long been a tradition in the Church to abstain from food before the celebration of Holy Eucharist so that as we come to the Table we come hungry to commune with the Living God.  This sense of concentration and anticipation is also the presupposed meaning behind Scripture’s linking of prayer to fasting (as in the example cited by Jesus of certain demonic spirits whose hold can only be loosed by “prayer and fasting”).

There is a second form of fast – the ascetical fast.  This form, again in the well chosen words of Fr. Schmemann, is to “liberate man from the unlawful tyranny of the flesh, of that surrender of the spirit to the body and its appetites which is the tragic result of sin and the original fall of man.”  The desire behind this sort of fast is to soften the heart and weaken the grip that self-love holds on our hearts until we can come to truly understand on a deep level the truth our Lord spoke during his own fast, “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that come from the mouth of God.”  The Fathers of the Church counseled that this type of fasting of necessity takes time.  Here again we see the gentle softening work that unfolds drawing the soul into deeper awareness and communion with the triune God.  

So each year the Church in her wisdom bids us come, make ready our souls for the Paschal celebration and for that Heavenly Country which is our true Home.  In the words of the ancient Christian hymn, "Awake, O sleeper and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." (Ephesians 5:14)

Pray and Act

AS we have seen post after post about the burgeoning refugee crisis coming out of Syria, it should leave Christ followers asking, "What can I do?"  Here is blogger Ann Voskamp's page where she suggests 5 things Christians can do to address the situation and Love like Christ.  Here is a direct link to with some really helpful information and tangible ways to donate and help.