The perfect imperfect moment

If you give me a flower there’s a good chance I might glance at it while I’m in the middle of cooking dinner and decide that I have to stop and take a picture of it, right that very moment. And then look at the picture later and see that something is not quite right, and wish I could take it over again. But the flower and the greens will never be as fresh, and the last sunlight of the day won’t fall on it again in quite the same way. Sometimes you just have to tell yourself that this was the best you could do in the moment that was, appreciate it for what it is, and let it go.

Compassion

Sidewalk art

He’s lost in a landscape they can’t see, a conversation they can’t hear. One notices, the other doesn’t. Both walk on.

As I wrote in my formal artist statement, lately in my photography I’ve also been exploring human character expressed as people interact with each other and with the world around them, each interaction consciously or unconsciously reflecting the nature of their connection to a greater whole.

I’m fascinated by the interactions in this photo: noticing and not noticing, becoming aware of another person however briefly as separate worlds intersect for a moment like a living Venn diagram. And I know I experience this in my own life, maybe not so dramatically, but constantly noticing and not noticing, and passing on. But I think compassion has to begin with noticing, and lingering.

Anything new under the sun

Not an original thought, but it resonated when someone else said it: Everything has already been photographed.

Which is to say, every good photo has already taken.

I fear sometimes that this is true. I also fear a corollary of this statement: Every good sermon has already been preached.

Can you make an original photograph? Can you preach an original sermon? Has someone somewhere fully exegeted every single passage in holy Scripture? Is there anything new to say?

In both cases, I think the challenge is more spiritual than creative. Or maybe that’s just saying the same thing …

Seeing and not noticing

I asked if I could take his picture, and I put a few dollars on his plate. After that he was very eager to please, and he peered intently at the camera, but it wasn’t his face I was interested in. And later I felt a little guilty about that. I think we all want to be seen. We want to be seen in the way that we see ourselves, and we want to be seen in a way that reveals something we didn’t already know about ourselves. And I was really interested in his hands and his instrument, and he thought I was looking at his face. There are so many ways we let each other down and don’t even realize it.

A sermon for the seventh Sunday of Easter

Earlier this spring, right after Easter, I went down South with my family to visit some of the sites that had been significant in the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ‘60s. So we were in Atlanta. We saw the house where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was born. And just a little ways away we saw where he’s buried. We went to Montgomery and we saw the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, which is where King was pastor while he was leading the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 and ‘56. And we saw the famous Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, where law enforcement officers with clubs fell on and beat peaceful demonstrators who were beginning a march to Montgomery on behalf of voting rights.

It was both a heartbreaking and inspiring trip. It’s good to remember our heroes. It’s good to have heroes. Men and women like King, and like Rosa Parks, who triggered bus boycott by refusing to move to the back of the bus. Men like John Lewis, who is a congressman now. He was young man who stood firm at the head of that march in Selma, when the police fell on them and beat them, then took them to prison.

It’s good to be inspired by their courage and their moral conviction, and to remember their example, and to remember that there is still work to be done to fully accomplish their ideals. It’s good to have heroes to remind us what a righteous life looks like.

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Fear

For a while my little granddaughter was afraid to come down a slide like this, even though she really wanted to. We told her we’d be there to catch her and she’d be fine, but she’d just sit there clinging to the rail at the top, caught between fear and desire, until someone went up and backed her down the steps. And then finally one day she let go, and down she came, and she was fine.

I wish I could tell her that was the last time she’d ever find herself stuck in that place. I know it well myself.

A sermon for the Fifth Sunday of Easter

Preached at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Doylestown, Pa.

Way back when I was in college there was a terrible tearjerker movie called Love Story,which was nominated—unbelievably, it seems now, for seven Academy Awards, and it won the award for best original music score.  But what people remember about that movie now, almost 50 years later, it’s not the music. What turned out to be the lasting legacy of the movie Love Storyis the line, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

That quote has entered into the popular culture. It’s got its own Wikipedia entry, but even if this is the first time you’ve ever heard it, I’m think you probably know that it isn’t true. It’s a perfect example to me—and this is the reason I mention it today—of the way our culture lifts up love. Our movies and music and novels lift up love as really important but gives us a really distorted view of what love is all about.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us to love one another, because love is the single most important thing that will tell the world that you’re my followers. “Love one another as I have loved you,” he tells his friends. 

Love is the core of our Christian identify, and we better know what it is, and what it’s not. It’s not affection. It’s not a sentiment. It’s not wishing someone well. It’s not something you fall into if you’re lucky. It’s not a feeling we have for our romantic partners, or for our families.

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Love one another

I’m guest preaching this Sunday, the Fifth Sunday of Easter, and the Gospel for the day includes Jesus’ new commandment of love: “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” (John 13:34)

This is the second time I’ve preached since my retirement. The first was Maundy Thursday, when the Gospel also includes this new commandment—mandatum nova—which is the root of our name for the day.

I seem to be developing a rather narrow preaching specialty.

But I was thinking about that and wondering if it would be fair to say that this one sentence—love one another as I have loved you—actually contains the entire Gospel.

What do you think?

I think our recent clergy conference speaker would disagree on a number of counts. I can see that “the greatest commandment” contained in the Shema is missing—You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27).

But I wonder if there is any other way we mortals are actually able to love God except by loving our neighbor.

Rain

And the rain fell like grace upon the earth, and flowers opened like human hearts to love