I enjoyed myself this week, though. Really felt more as if I was back in the fold. This is in no small part because Tommy & Sharon were there, and they are fixtures of the church.
We had a guest priest today. I don't remember her name (which isn't meant as a dis; I barely remember my own most days)...Karen something-or-other, I think. She's retired. St. Mark's actually has a rotating contingent of retired priests who come through and help us out. We did not replace the Associate Rector when she left; this leaves us with two full-time priests (the Rector, Mike Chalk, & the Assistant Rector, Jonathan Wickham--it's generally Jonathan of whom I speak when I say "my priest") and saves us a little bit of money. It's also really neither here nor there.
At any rate, the lessons were something I needed to hear today. For some strange reason we drop the OT reading during the summer, so we read from James and from Mark.
This, from James, stuck with me:
But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act-they will be blessed in their doing.
I have always held my political beliefs up to my religious ones and done my best to ensure the two mesh. The theory for us Christians is that God's law informs all we do in life, and politics is not exempt from that. (Note, please, that I am not advocating theocracy.) So to see mention of "the perfect law, the law of liberty" in our lesson today stuck with me. I try to live in such a way as to preserve the most amount of liberty possible for others, in the expectation that I will then be free to live my life as I please as well. Not a hard idea to understand, is it?
The Gospel today was from the book of Mark, and one of Jesus's most important teachings as far as the way the Church should conduct itself:
Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."
Granted, I was sitting there listening to the first part of this, where the talk is of the Pharisees observing Jesus's followers eating with defiled hands, because they haven't washed themselves, or their food, or their utensils, and I was thinking "Screw disease control, we've got God on our side!" But the last paragraph, which I've quoted, is much more instructive. Evil comes from the human heart. All of the evil in the world has been wrought by human hands and most conceived of by human hearts. I'm continually bedeviled by self-serving relativists who pretend there is no such thing as evil (my favorite of the week was the chickie who tried to equate wearing flip-flops to church with adultery--I shit you not), generally in an attempt to rationalize their own shortcomings. Now, I'm not wholly innocent in this, but I do try.
I didn't catch the entire sermon, though I did my best. I make it a point to go to the CAYA service in no small part because a little rowdiness from children is tolerated; nevertheless I had to escort the smallest one to the back because she wanted to sit with Emmet, and referee the other two and a whole bunch of other stuff not conducive to actually paying the sermon my whole attention.
She managed--and I thanked her for this after the service--to remind me why I am generally quite glad to be an Episcopalian. She spoke of the three pillars of the Church--Scripture, Reason, and Tradition. She even managed to echo my line about not being expected to turn your brain off when you come inside the church. It was pretty nice.
Rev. Wickham popped up at the end of the service to hold a blessing for a couple of departing members. The girl, who was moving back to DC to be with her family, I am not best familiar with. Tony I've seen around a few times, but never really got to know him. He came in during the sermon and sat in the back row.
Tony, it seems, is about to deploy. He's there in sunglasses, an Army National Guard shirt, with his iPod around his neck. They call him up for the blessing and hand him a little wooden cross and one of the ubiquitous green prayer books. They call up our lone present vet, a civilian contractor, and the visiting priest, who's apparently a retired chaplain, lay on hands, pray over him, and then break out this sucker. Now, I must admit I've never been a particular fan of this "blessing."
Given the circumstances, however, I am unable to keep a straight face. It occurs to me that, where Tony's going, the road rising up to meet him would be a very bad thing, and probably indicative of an explosion. If we're going to be doing this on a regular basis--which, granted, we are not--we need to rewrite it to something more appropriate, perhaps involving the only explosions being ones we generate, reasonble ROE, and ah hell, let's throw in something about the blood of our enemies. Just for fun.
One more song and the service broke up. I told Tony good luck--he was sitting right behind us--and then stepped the hell out of the way.
I hope he stays safe.