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The Prime Directive

Some brothers came to a holy hermit who lived in the desert and outside the hermitage they found a boy tending the sheep and using uncouth words. After they had told the hermit their thoughts and profited from his reply, they said, “Abba, why do you allow those boys to be here, and why don’t you order them to stop hurling abuse at each other?” He said, “Indeed, my brothers, there are days when I want to order them to stop it, but I hold myself back, saying, if I can’t put up with this little thing, how shall I put up with a serious temptation, if God ever lets me be so tempted? So I say nothing to them, and try to get into the habit of bearing whatever happens.”

I should start off by admitting to you that I watch Star Trek. You don’t have to watch Star Trek to understand this blog post, but why wouldn’t you? It’s a quarantine, y’all, and it’s a great show.
I do, however, have one problem with Star Trek. Set in a time centuries from now, it depicts the human race as having reached…
Recent posts

Microbes and Mustard Seeds

by the Rev. Paul McLain

“Syncletia said, ‘The same thing cannot at once be seed and a full-grown bush. So, men with a worldly reputation cannot bear heavenly fruit.’”

My hobby in years past was acting in community theatre productions. I played everyone from Inspector Hubbard in Dial M for Murder to King Claudius in Rosencranz and Guildenstern are Dead. There was something exhilarating about putting on a different persona for a season of rehearsal and performances. Over time, I discovered that my truest performances were when I tapped into something deep inside myself that resonated with the person I was portraying. The irony was that, in order to put on the mask of my character, I had to take off my own mask.

Thousands of lives have been lost, and our social and economic lives have been turned upside down by a tiny, hidden microbe. We have learned the destructive power of something we cannot see. And this microbe has torn off the masks of our lives so that we now see that, what appear…

On Annie & All Things

I awoke at 2 a.m. this morning with the sweet ache behind my eyes and corresponding hollowness in the breast bones that come from crying the night before. Sunday morning our dog Annie lay down on the braided rug in front of the dryer and stayed there until late afternoon when her old and anxious heart stopped, as my wife, whose fierce and tender heart sensed the day before what might be suddenly coming, stroked her red coat.

There are plenty of very good reasons not to write of the death of a dog, especially in a place like this, and especially on the morning right after. Personal emotional experiences can put the person and the emotion too much in the center for anything else to be seen. But the emotions are among the basic equipment we’re given to perceive the world we’re given to, as surely as our clunky rational hardware is.

As I lay awake in the dark, I did what I know I shouldn’t, and almost never do on sleepless nights. I tapped open my phone. But not in search of distraction. I…

Easter Monday: A note not from the Desert Fathers

by the Rev. Buddy Stallings
Since I am very part-time, non-stipendiary, and somewhat curmudgeonly, I am choosing not to write this morning about a piece of wisdom from the Desert Fathers. Today is Easter Monday, the second day of the Great Fifty Days of Easter; and not a single one of the “top ten hits of the Desert Fathers” seems very Eastery to me. This is the time when Episcopalians delight in saying “Happy Easter” much longer than our non-liturgical brothers and sisters do so. To be clear, God loves “them” just as God loves us, though I suspect God wonders why in the world “they” would choose to celebrate Easter just for one day when Easter is, in fact, a glorious season, lingering all the way to Pentecost.
Lord knows we are in particular need of a “Glorious Season” this year! My wondrous, brave, and talented colleagues at Calvary gave all of us with eyes to see, ears to hear, and fingers to click thoughtful and beautiful online services during Holy Week (indeed throughout this dr…

Making Space to Enter the Mind of Christ

by the Rev. Paul McLain“John the Short said, ‘I will invent a man composed of all the virtues. He would rise at dawn every morning, take up the beginning of each virtue, and keep God’s commandments. He would live in great patience, in fear, in long-suffering, in love of God; with a firm purpose of soul and body; in deep humility, in patience, in trouble of heart and earnestness of practice. He would pray often, with sorrow of heart, keeping his speech pure, his eyes controlled. He would suffer injury without anger, remaining peaceful and not rendering evil for evil, not looking for the faults of others, nor puffing himself up, meekly subject to every creature, renouncing material property and everything of the flesh. He would live as though crucified, in struggle, in lowliness of spirit, in goodwill and spiritual abstinence, in fasting, in penitence, in weeping. He would fight against evil, be wise and discreet in judgment and chaste in mind. He would receive good treatment with tranq…

The Other Side of Envy

"Do not dwell in a place where you see others are envious of you, for you will not grow there."
 - Abbot Pastor

I'd never considered envy from the other side until I came across Abbot Pastor's strange little saying. I could pound out a little blog post in no time about the evils of envy. There would be a special circle in my freshly imagined hell for Madison Avenue advertising executives. I’d have them tormented eternally by surrounding them with monks who have no envy at all for the beautiful people in their ads and for whatever it was they were selling. Seems unfair to the monks, though. Maybe I'd better rethink this."*

See where the familiar trajectories of thought so often lead? Especially those driven by judgment? I'll soon have everyone in hell if it's up to me to make things right.

It's startling to hear that the one who is being envied is in a place devoid of nourishment. Growth can't happen if our soul's food is the envy of other…

Painstaking speech

Technology, folks are saying, will help us overcome the isolation we’re feeling during this pandemic. And to some extent, that’s true. I can see my friends and co-workers in digital replication on Zoom, or glean some good ideas from my creative friends on how to spend the time, or track how communal response is unfolding in communities far from me.

But considering the well-established fact that social media hasn’t had an overall positive effect on our relationships, self-esteem, anxiety levels, loneliness, sleep patterns— not to mention our national conversation — I’m more than a little concerned. If social media and the digital existence are our lifelines now, what sort of life will we find answering on the other end of the line?

Rowan Williams writes in Where God Happens (p. 76), “However physically distant we may be from the more obvious temptations, there is always the damage that can be done by speech, by the giving and receiving of doubtfully truthful perspectives, the half-hi…