Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Category: Food (Page 2 of 4)

Uplifted Hands: Dashed Expectations in the Holy Land – From the Daily Office – July 4, 2014

From the Psalter:

Let my prayer be set forth in your sight as incense,
the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 141:2 (BCP Version) – July 4, 2014)

Today, we lifted up our hands for prayer in two important places: on Mt. Gerzim where the Hebrews confirmed their covenant with God by affirming the blessings and curses commanded by Moses, and at Jacob’s Well where Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman.

Today, is the Fourth of July! In this part of the world, it is remembered as the anniversary of the defeat of the Crusaders at the Horns of Hittim by Salah Eddin (“Saladin”) in 1187. There were fireworks last night and will be again tonight, but those are for Ramadan and will continue every night for the month. In any event, happy Fourth!

Our day began with an interesting drive to the top of Mt. Gerizim where most of the few remaining Samaritans (a community of 776 people at this time) now live. The drive was “interesting” in the sense of the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” We drove through narrow, winding, climbing city streets; our driver Ismain’s skill in piloting this large travel coach is phenomenal. He takes it places where I would simply say “No,” and not take my Honda Pilot!

Part way up the mountain we found the road blocked by a double line of large stones across the pavement. Ismain, Keith, and Mark got off and kicked the stones out of the way, then Ismain was confronted by a mute who demanded money — he gave him a dollar bill (US currency is widely used here) and then the mute grabbed several pieces of candy from a basked Ismain keeps on the dash. Further up the road, we encountered a third row of stones — Mark and Keith moved those aside without further trouble.

Through a gate (and past an Israeli “settlement” — they are literally everywhere and in the most inappropriate locations) we entered a village of modern stone buildings. Not what I had expected the Samaritan town to be. My expectations were even further dashed when we parked, got off the bus, and walked to the Samaritan Museum. The door was locked, but an elderly man in a long grey gown and a red Fez-like hat quickly came and unliked the door. This turned out to be Priest Husney Cohen, one of the Samaritan priests and general manager of the museum. Inviting us to take a seat in the several chairs set up lecture-hall style, he began turning on flat-screen TVs, satellite receivers, and other high tech equipment, waving a universal remote control about like a magic wand! So much for my expectations of an “ancient religion”!

He was, nonetheless, a gracious and ingratiating informant about the Samaritan people and their religion. His brother (who is 80) is the current High Priest; Husney (who is 70) is next in line, and his sister’s husband would come after him. The High Priest is always the oldest male in his family. He told us that when he succeeds his brother, he will be the 164th High Priest in direct line of descent from Adam!

He showed us the ancient Hebrew Torah scroll maintained by the Samaritans, explained how their worship and beliefs differ from those of the Judeans (the Jews), and showed us other implements of their worship, including a huge canopy of fruits made by their women for the Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles). He also explained how their understanding of the Hebrew language is slightly different from that of the Jews. “We,” he said, “are the real Israelites.” He made the claim (with some historical validity) that the Jews of the southern kingdom are the descendants of only two of the original twelve tribes of Israel, Judah and Benjamin, while the Samaritans are the descendants of the other ten tribes who broke from the kingship of the Davidic dynasty and created the northern kingdom (which called itself “Samaria”).

Following his presentation, I was able to chat with him about his life and family. I asked if he had children and it turns out he has two sons and three daughters. One of his daughters runs a nursery school, one is a pharmacist, and one works for Hewlitt-Packard. I asked if his sons would succeed him as priest and he said, “Oh, no! Because they are tall like me, they are professional basketball players.” That “ancient religious community” expectation was not only dashed, it was completely obliterated!

Bidding Priest Husney farewell, we made our way to almost the top of the mountain where there is an outlook over the valley toward Mount Ebol. This is the place on which Joshua and the Hebrews, following a commandment of Moses, performed the ritual of the Blessings and Curses. We read both the Deuteronomy passage (Moses’ words) and the Joshua passage (recording the actual event). As we were doing so, an Israeli soldier appeared seemingly out of nowhere fully armed and armored for battle! Mark told us he was there for our protection because Jewish groups often come to this place to recall their heritage and might be targets for a “crazy sniper” in the city below.

We returned to the Samaritan village and to a cafe next door to the museum where we had a lunch of the usual salads and some very tasty, very tender roast chicken.

After lunch we returned to Nablus to visit the Greek Orthodox Basilica of St. Photini. “Photini” (which means “enlightened”) is the name given by the Greek tradition to the Samaritan woman Jesus met at Jacob’s Well. The Basilica is built over Jacob’s Well which is accessible in a lower church chapel; we actually drank water from the Well! It is cold and sweet. The well is (as the woman told Jesus) very deep!

The Bailica is an amazing place. It has been restored by the current priest, Fr Justinus, who wrote most of the icons on its walls — he is a very talented iconographer. For me, the most moving — and the most troubling — is one of his immediate predecessor Fr Philomenas who was martyred by Israeli settlers. He was hacked to death with axes and cut into pieces! The icon depicting this is painted on a pillar in the church. I asked if there were reproductions among the several icons for sale, but the Arab caretaker (with a sad, ironic look) said, “We are not allowed to.” Such is life in Israeli occupied Palestine.

Fr. Justinus, deeply aware of the transitory nature of life, in his restoration of the church built into it (in the entrace courtyard) his own tomb. He walks past it everyday as it is between the priest’s residence and the door of the church.

Our visit to St. Photini was all-at-once spiritual, moving, and disconcerting. To lift our spirits, and to celebrate Independence Day, Iyad (who is still not back with us) treated us to a sweet — some kunafeh — at a local shop. I’m growing quite fond of this sweet, flowery, goat cheese dessert. I’m going to have to learn to make it.

After that — it was back to the hotel for a rest, then dinner, and then a night on the town … except that I begged off the late-night outing. I just wasn’t up for it.

So it was a day of humorously dashed expectations and of sadly bittersweet reality. I’m amused by the image of the Samaritan priest defending his ancient faith, his belief in his descent from Adam, his insistence that his small remnant people are the true Israel, while at the same time exhibiting astonishing proficiency with modern technology. Did I mention that he has a Facebook page and a Twitter feed? On the other hand, I’m deeply troubled by the martyrdom of Fr Philomenas, by the senselessness of Israeli settler violence against innocent people simply because they are Arabs, by the Arabs need for vengeance. My expectations of a peaceful, purely spiritual pilgrimage and retreat are equally, much less humorously, dashed.

I lift up my hands, O Lord. Let my cry come to you. Let there be peace in this land.


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Food & Fruit in God’s Vineyard: Another Holy Land Day – From the Daily Office – July 2, 2014

From Matthew’s Gospel:

Jesus told a parable: “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 21:33-41 (NRSV) – July 2, 2014)

Today we went to many places where Jesus taught, many places where he told parables. We drove all around and all over God’s vineyard – or so it seemed.

Today’s breakfast at the Sisters of Nazareth Guest House was rather different from our breakfasts on other days at St. George’s. This was more European: a soft sesame sprinkled baguette, salami, cheese, a variety of fruit spreads (and some chocolate spread), orange juice, hard-boiled eggs. When we checked in last night, I said to Evelyn, “This is a French order. We’ll have real coffee!” I was wrong. The ubiquitous packets of instant coffee (Nescafe seems most popular in this country) were on the table. The cheese was surprising, too: what I would call “American processed cheese food” in individually plastic-wrapped slices, not real cheese. Nonetheless, a filling breakfast.

After breakfast, we headed to the River Jordan, just up from where it enters the Sea of Galilee. This is not where tradition says Jesus was baptized by John, but is a more secluded spot where Iyad likes to bring pilgrims. Keith Owen presided as we renewed our baptismal vows, asperging the group with an olive branch dipped in the river, then Mary Carson and I anointed any who wished to receive it. I somehow got so caught up in everything that I forgot to take any photographs! I’ll rely on others to supply those.

Several of us waded into the river (it has a soft sandy bottom, not muddy thank heaven) and I can personally attest that the River Jordan is NOT chilly and cold despite what the song says. We filled several bottles with river water to be used in baptisms back home.

Back on the bus (with wet sandy feet) and off we went to the Sea of Galilee proper where our first stop was the traditionally identified Mount of the Beatitudes where there is a Barluzzi church – one of his earliest and not as impressive as the others we’ve seen. Lovely gardens filled with citrus trees as well as many kinds of flowers. Lots of people from all over the world. After our visit there, we drove a short distance to the top of another hill (one someone is using as a repository for old tractors) and got off the bus. Iyad told us we were going to take a walk down the hill to another site much more likely to have been the site of the Sermon on the Mount. This site, Mark tells us, was identified by a Benedictine monk named Bargil Pixner who set up a very rustic outdoor chapel.

We hiked down the hill seeing numerous orchards of a variety fruits all around us, although we were hiking through desert terrain; we stopped at Pixner’s chapel, where Liddy Hoster presided as we celebrated the Eucharist. (Several of us took pictures of her doing so — and I regretted not asking anyone to do so when I celebrated yesterday. O well…..) Then a short climb down to where the bus was waiting. Stopping short of the bus, Iyad explained to us how Jesus could have preached to 5,000 or more people in this place, and Mark — standing at the mouth of a cave in the hillside — demonstrated the acoustic properties of the cave, which amplified his reading of the Beatitudes so that we could hear it quite a ways a way, even with intervening motor traffic!

From there, we walked past the bus to Mensa Christi (Table of Christ), another Barluzzi church commemorating Jesus’ post-Resurrection breakfast of grilled fish with the disciples. This simple chapel is right on the beach of Lake Galilee. Several of us waded in and I collected three small stones to place in the font when we baptize back home. (I had planned to bring back stones from the Jordan River but the place where we renewed our baptismal vows was not stony, so I got them here.)

Then back on the bus! You kind of get the story of this pilgrimage so far — lots of stuff to do, many places to go and see, lots of riding on the bus. This time our ride ended at the Tanurin Restaurant where we enjoyed a lunch of (basically) fish and chips preceded by the usual assortment of salads: ginger marinated carrots, tabouleh, cabbage slaw (this time with sesame seeds added), a spicy tomato and onion relish, pickled corn kernel salad, hummus, cucumbers in a sour cream dressing, all served with lots of pita (including, this time, pita toasted with butter, basil, and garlic). Then the main course of fish with French fries. We had the option (which two of us took) of getting a whole roasted St. Peter’s fish – most opted for a simple filet.

After eating fish, we went for a boat ride! We went to the Man in the Galilee Museum where a First Century boat has been preserved and put on display, watched a video about the preservation of the boat, then went for a ride on an excursion boat. The wind kicked up while we were on the water, so we had some appreciation of the story of the storm that frightened the apostles (although our storm wasn’t really very scary).

Next we went to Capernaum, a short bus ride away, again past numerous fruit orchards. Here a very modern church built in the 1990s in the shape of an eight-sided flying saucer is literally suspended from black stone pillars over the excavated ruins of an octagonal Byzantine church believed to have been built on the traditional site of St. Peter’s home. A Roman era synogogue is nearby (like almost next door!) and has been partially restored. The “flying saucer” church has a glass floor through which the ruins of the Byzantine church can be seen!

Our final location of the day was at Tabgha (the name is an Arabic corruption of the original Greek name meaning “seven springs”) where a modern Benedictine monastery and church commemorates the feeding of the 5,000. In front of the altar is the mosaic of loaves and fishes which is famous to the area.

After that, it was back to the Guest House to take a quick shower before Iyad shared with us a “surprise.” The surprise was a trip into the caves under the Sisters’ convent where some ruins discovered in the middle of the 20th Century are believed to be the home in which Jesus was raised! There is also a cistern showing years and years of use and, further down, a burial tomb of exactly the sort that would have been used when Christ was crucified. The whole narrative of his removal from the cross, his placement in the tomb prepared by Joseph of Arimethea, and Mary Magdalene’s trip to the tomb on Sunday morning now makes so much more sense!

Then dinner (a sensible European meal of meat and potatoes), compline, and bed — but not before a walk through the market area of the town and a stop at the local sweets shop!

Mark Stanger, our priest guide (Iyad’s assistant on this tour), commented that a visit to a Middle Eastern sweets shop smells like a visit to Crabtree & Evelyn because they use so many floral flavorings (like rose and geranium). So it was! We went to one where the pastries are all laid out on large trays – you fill a plate and pay by weight. I had baklava (both the traditional and “bird’s nest” style), kanafeh (a goat cheese concoction), semolina-almond balls (a sort of donut hole that has been described as “deep fried honey”), qatayef (a small cinnamon-flavored pancake folded and stuffed with nuts and dried fruit), and freshly made halvah. The plate of sweets was at least 10,000 calories and a diabetic coma waiting to happen, but O, my! it was good! (Although, people keep assuring me that just like coffee hours at church, food consumed on pilgrimage has no caloric content.)

As we traveled throughout the day, one of the recurring images was of food and the production of fruit. There were vineyards to be sure, but also orange groves, mango orchards, banana plantations (yes! bananas!), olive orchards, and others; and then there were those meals! This can be a fruitful land and could be even more so if the tenants would stop fighting with one another, and cooperate with the landlord and with each other. Unfortunately, they seem little inclined to do so — God doesn’t need to put these “wretches to a miserable death;” they are doing that themselves. The news of the day, again, was filled with mentions of the kidnapping and killing of teenagers. We enjoyed a lovely day in a land filled with sadness. It’s all very confusing.


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Many Paths: Another Day in the Holy Land – From the Lectionary – July 1, 2014

From the Prophet Isaiah:

The way of the righteous is level;
O Just One, you make smooth the path of the righteous.
In the path of your judgments,
O Lord, we wait for you;
your name and your renown
are the soul’s desire.

(From the Sanctoral Lectionary [Harriet Beecher Stowe] – Isaiah 26:7-8 (NRSV) – July 1, 2014)

What a day this was! We began early, early in the morning, boarding the bus at 4:30 a.m. with no breakfast and a drive from Jerusalem to Jericho.

We got off the highway and trundled through small roads to a scenic overlook called Mizpe Yeriho (I believe it means “view of Jericho”) where we watched the sunrise over the Wadi Qelt, a tributary stream of the Jordan in the Jericho valley.

Each in the silence of his or her thoughts observed the sunrise and then it was my privilege to celebrate the Eucharist in this desolate desert place. Iyad had brought pita and wine, the necessary vessels, and a stole. I was surprised to see that the stole was a duplicate for the natural-colored, green-embroidered stole I had purchased on the Isle of Iona three years ago while on sabbatical. It was as if I were wearing my own stole!

While we celebrated, a Bedouin tribesman showed up and began laying out his wares — stone bead necklaces, bone and stone bracelets. I was facing away from him so could not see what others reported, that he was obviously elderly, obviously in some early morning pain, obviously unhappy to have to be there so early but there nonetheless to do what he does to support his family. It was both a distraction and a reminder that the Eucharist is never separated from context, and the Body of Christ (the church) is always surrounded by the people it is called to meet and serve.

After that we drove to Jericho and had breakfast in a lovely old resort garden accompanied by a little Pekingese-looking little mutt and a small orange tabby cat. Next after breakfast was a cable car trip (the hanging-gondola style cable car) up what is known as the mount of the Temptations. Tradition here teaches that Jesus spent the forty days in the desert in a cave outside of Jericho (now just on the outskirts of the modern city) and it was there that Satan offered him the Temptations. The cave has, for centuries, been incorporated into a Russian Orthodox monastery and church. Four aged monks now live in the monastery and support themselves by seeking pilgrim donations. (The similarity between the old Bedouin man at our sunrise Mass and the old Russian monk who offered us prayer candles for $1 each was striking!)

We were unable to stop at Tel Yeriho, the archaeological dig of ancient Jericho, but we could see if from the cable car gondolas. Our next stop was at the Sepphoris (modern Zippori) site; Sepphoris was the ancient capital of Galilee and it has been extensively excavated. It is a few miles from Nazareth and is probably where Joseph (and maybe Jesus) worked as a builder. We had a discussion here of the meaning of tekton, the Greek word often translated as “carpenter” but which more accurately means “craftsman” or “artisan” or “builder” (and sometimes “stonemason”). In this environment, “carpenter” seems a very inaccurate translation!

In Sepphoris, our guide Iyad, gave me the broken handle of a First Century vessel as a prize for answering a question accurately – my answer was a guess! The question was “How do we know there was a Jewish community at Sepphoris?” I guessed that it was the discovery of a mikvah (the community’s facility for ritual bathing) among the ruins. Turned out to be right.

From Sepphoris we came to Nazareth and first visited the Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation. Greek tradition teaches that Mary was greeted by the Archangel Gabriel at the town well and this church is built over the ancient well. There is some great iconography in this church, including one of the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt which depicts Joseph carrying Jesus on his shoulders.

We then walked to the Roman Catholic basilica. Western tradition holds that the Annunciation happened at Mary’s home and this church is built over what is believed to be her home. Originally, Antonio Barluzzi (many of whose churches we have seen) was to have built this church but, after he worked 20 years on the design, the project was awarded to a French architect in the 1960s. It is very massive and very typical French mid-century modern. In my opinion, it’s awful – it has all the spiritual wonder of a subway station.

In the church are depictions of Mary donated by the R.C. Episcopal Conferences of the several countries. The American piece is supposed to represent the “woman clothed with the sun” — an Old Testament image understood to refer to Mary — and it fits the church. It’s a disaster! Just my opinion . . . .

Our guest house was almost literally on the doorstep of the basilica, just half a block up a short street from the front door. And just beyond, the Anglican church in Nazareth, Christ Church. Unfortunately, it was not opened at any time during our stay in Nazareth.

This was a day of many paths, not many of them straight and not many of level, but all of them leading to spiritual enlightenment. I am physically, emotionally, and spiritually exhausted at this point and sorting it all out is an effort. So I’m putting it all in God’s hands, trusting that what I need to have learned, I will have learned.


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Thirsty: A Walking Tour of Jerusalem – From the Daily Office – June 26, 2014

From the Book of Numbers:

Now there was no water for the congregation; so they gathered together against Moses and against Aaron. The people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had died when our kindred died before the Lord! Why have you brought the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness for us and our livestock to die here? Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to bring us to this wretched place? It is no place for grain, or figs, or vines, or pomegranates; and there is no water to drink.”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Numbers 20:2-5 (NRSV) – June 27, 2014)

We have nearly come to the end of our second day in Israel, which has actually been our first full day. We began with what was described to us as a typical Palestinian breakfast — cheeses, pita, hummus, olives, pickled baby eggplant, fresh tomatoes and cucumbers, yogurt, hardboiled eggs, and a sautéed mixture of green olives, grape tomatoes, and mushrooms. There was also labneh, a salted yogurt cheese with herbs (in this case, I think it was a combination of basil and mint). It was all very different from our standard breakfast fare, and all very good.

Next on the agenda was a video of a 60-Minutes report from last year about Christians in the Holy Land. There a fewer of them than there used to be. Why that is so is an issue for debate. The Israeli government asserts that it is because of Muslim violence; the Christians we have met say that’s not true. That it is because of Israeli government policies. Perhaps the best analysis was the man who said that Christianity and the Christian community in this land are being lost through “collateral damage” in the conflict between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs (who are mostly Muslim).

After that we began a walking tour of Jerusalem. St. George’s Cathedral Close is outside the Old City about a mile at the intersection of two roads which both lead to gates of the Old City: Nablus Road and Salah Eddin Street. Nablus Road leads north from the Damascus Gate; Salad Eddin Street leads north-northwest from Herod’s Gate; they cross at St. George’s Cathedral.

We walked our the “back gate” of the close (which is the front gate of St. George’s College) south through a business district (mostly the businesses were closed because it is Friday – the Muslim weekly holy day – and because today is the start of Ramadan – the Muslim holy month). Before getting to Herod’s Gate, we turned on Sultan Sulayman Road and walked west, across the street from the Old City walls. We entered the Old City through Damascus Gate and down “the Cardo,” the main north-south artery through the city.

Nearly every “street” (they are all foot traffic paths) through the city is a suq (marketplace) with stores hawking a variety of products; they are noisy, crowded, exciting, vibrant, and very alive places. Everyone seems to be quite friendly, but one suspects everyone is trying to lure you in for a sale.

It was a very hot day – temperatures are in the 90s (Fahr.) – and this is arid, high desert. We were cautioned many times to drink water. And so this episode of the Hebrews complaining to Moses and Aaron about their lack of water, today’s Old Testament lesson for the Daily Office, seemed a fitting introductory scripture for my summary of our activities. Every place where we could find a bit of shade and every entry into a building was welcome; every time we made a stop, I pulled my water bottle from my backpack and took a drink. Returning to our rooms, Evie and I each bought a 1.5 liter bottle of water and we downed them pretty quickly. The metaphor of water as God’s grace makes so much sense in a desert environment like this, and our thirst for rehydration is a reminder of our thirst for God.

The most striking thing of the day for me was the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. As I mentioned to our pilgrimage group during our sharing at Compline this evening, there was one part of that visit that made a huge impression. The church which was once one large space built by the Emperor Constantine’s mother St. Helena has been torn apart and subdivided by centuries of sectarian difference. It is now divided up into spaces claimed by Armenian Christians, Ethiopian Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic (here called “the Latins”), Syrian Christians, and others. The only space jointly used is the actual Holy Tomb itself.

At set times during the day, each group holds prayers, and throughout the day deacons from each of the traditions come by to cense the Tomb. While I waited for others in our group, I watched the Roman, Armenian, and Greek deacons each come and do their ministry, each make the offering of incense, each swinging their thuribles in distinct ways. I was impressed with the way each went about this job with dedication, devotion, and singularity of purpose, unfazed by the crowds and the chaos of tourists and pilgrims. But I was also saddened by the fact that, because of the same sectarian division that had carved up the once magnificent space into smaller chapels, they could not do their ministry together. What could be a model for peace and reconciliation in this land which sorely needs it was yet another example of human division.

A fun thing for me today happened at the Western Wall. After I had gone to the wall and offered my prayers, impressed by the thousands and thousands of prayers written on slips of paper that pilgrims (perhaps of many faiths) had tucked into the joints and cracks in the stone, I was standing waiting to rejoin my wife. Two women came up to me and started asking me something in Hebrew! I could only shrug and say, “I’m sorry.” Then the younger, in what I believe to be an Israeli accent, said to me, “O, you’re not from here! You’re not a Jewish boy!” I admitted that I was not, but thanked her for calling me a boy!

A final impression of the day — Compline this evening with our group. As we began, a loudspeaker from a nearby mosque was broadcasting the sound of verses of the Holy Qur’an being chanted, and then more of the traditional Ramadan fireworks sounded. Our prayers were added to these manifestations of praise of God. Meanwhile, the sabbath of the Jews was underway. In this dry, arid land where water is life, three major world faiths come together in prayer, perhaps involuntarily, perhaps with tension, certainly with division, and clearly in this place with enmity . . . and yet at that moment, we were all united like different herds of thirsty animals coming together at a desert oasis or at a spring in time of drought. We ought to be able to learn from this!

And that is my prayer for the people of Israel and Palestine as Ramadan begins, that peace and reconciliation might come to this place and that, at long last, as the Psalmist once wrote, “Jerusalem . . . [will be] at unity with itself.” (Ps. 122:3, BCP Version)

Photos from our day can be found in this Facebook gallery:


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Taste & See – From the Daily Office – June 20, 2014

From the Book of Numbers:

And they came to the Wadi Eshcol, and cut down from there a branch with a single cluster of grapes, and they carried it on a pole between two of them. They also brought some pomegranates and figs. That place was called the Wadi Eshcol, because of the cluster that the Israelites cut down from there.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Numbers 13:23-24 (NRSV) – June 20, 2014)

Cluster of GrapesHave you ever noticed how one of the most common sorts of souvenirs to be brought back from a trip is food? Every time we travel, my wife and I, we bring back food. Sometimes the authorities thwart us, but we try.

For example, when we made our first trip to Ireland a few years ago, we fell in love with some Irish sausages and with Irish bacon. In the duty-free shop at Dublin’s airport, however, we found a big sign on the meat products refrigerator advising that they could not be brought into the United States. We contented ourselves with some chocolates and some Irish whiskey.

When I was a kid, as I may have mentioned before, I spent summers in Kansas with my paternal grandparents. At the end of the summer my grandparents would often drive me back to Las Vegas and then on to southern California to visit their relatives and my maternal grandparents in the Los Angeles metroplex. Leaving Kansas, my grandfather would pack up some vegetables (especially tomatoes) from his garden into an ice-filled galvanized Gott can (the original Gott cans were made in my grandparents’ town).

Along the road, the ice would be replenished and the produce would stay fresh all the way to Nevada and California. When we got to the California border, there was an agricultural check-point on the highway at (I think) Yermo (or maybe it was Barstow). An officer of the state ag service would ask, “Do you have any fresh fruits or vegetables?” and my strict, up-standing Methodist grandfather, with a straight face and his oh-so-honest-sounding voice would answer, “No, officer.” Off we would drive with our illegal booty of garden produce. A little thing like preventing crop blight was not going to prevent our food souvenirs getting to their final destination.

And at the end of their trip those tomatoes and other veggies produced such delight! It was almost religious the way my maternal grandmother would receive her friends’ gift of a vine-ripened tomato, tenderly caress it, wash it gently, slice and serve it with the lunch she had prepared to welcome us. The look of sheer joy on her face as she tasted her first bite of it, the taste of her home town.

The taste of food reminds us of the places we have been; like the sound of music or certain smells, a taste can incite a flood of memories. Food also anticipates. We, my wife and I, are headed to the Holy Land in a short while. A few weeks ago, our tour organizer hosted a dinner at a near-by Middle Eastern restaurant so that we could meet other group members, hear a bit about our itinerary, and in the meal we shared get a foretaste of what we can expect to enjoy when we are there.

Moses sent spies over into Canaan and they came back with grapes, pomegranates, and figs to prove the land the Hebrews were entering was a bountiful one; like them, we are looking forward to entering the Promised Land. They named the place Eshcol (“cluster”) because of those grapes. One presumes that Moses and the other leaders tasted those fruits and knew the goodness of the land and of God who was giving it to them; they anticipated the future.

We do the same sort of thing each time we gather in worship and share the Eucharist. In it is the taste both of memory and of expectation. Every celebration of Holy Communion is both a memorial of what God has accomplished and a preview of what God has promised. In the Eucharist the past and the future irrupt into the present; our fellowship in the Eucharist with God and with all Christians across time and space is both a remembrance of Christ and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

“Taste and see that the Lord is good;” says the Psalmist, “happy are they who trust in him!” (Ps 34:8) Taste and see.


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Jesus the Jedi – Sermon for the 3rd Sunday of Easter (Year A) – May 4, 2014


This sermon was preached on the Third Sunday of Easter, May 4, 2014, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day were: Acts 2:14a,36-41; Psalm 116:1-3,10-17; 1 Peter 1:17-23; and Luke 24:13-35. These lessons can be read at The Lectionary Page.)


Broken BreadSince the early 1970s this day, on the Episcopal Church calendar, this day on which we hear the story of Jesus’ appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus has been known as Star Wars Sunday. It’s because Jesus is very much like a Jedi in this story. I mean, think about it . . .

In the Star Wars movies, Luke Skywalker is mentored first by Obiwan Kenobi, who dies, then by Yoda, who also dies. But both Obiwan and Yoda come back! They appear to Luke and others after their deaths, continue to teach and give sage counsel, and disappear. That’s what happens with Jesus in the story Luke tells us this morning.

It’s still Easter Sunday. (For us, we’re three weeks down the road, but for them it’s the afternoon of the same day on which Mary Magdalene and the others found the empty tomb.) Two disciples, one named Cleopas and the other unnamed (let’s call him “Bob” — although some feminists scholars suggest that the reason this disciple is not named is because she is a woman, so it might be “Bobbie”) are on their way to a village called Emmaus. Luke tells us this village is seven miles from Jerusalem; that’s a long walk — two or three hours. Sometime during this long afternoon journey, they are joined by a stranger whom they do not recognize; the stranger, Luke reveals, is Jesus but Cleopas and Bob can’t recognize him. They have a long talk with him about all the thing that have happened in Jerusalem in recent days, and he gives them sage counsel about the meaning of scripture, particularly the messianic prophecies. They arrive in Emmaus early in the evening and encourage their traveling companion to join them at dinner.

They sit down at an inn for the evening meal and the stranger takes the lead. He takes the bread served by the innkeeper, offers a blessing, and breaks the bread. Now, Cleopas and Bob realize who this is. As he does the same thing he had done with his followers just a few days before, their memory is tweaked and their eyes are opened (which suggests that Cleopas and Bob were in the upper room in Jerusalem on Thursday evening). That’s when they recognize him; that’s when they think they’ve figure out who he is — he’s Jesus the Jedi. And that’s when Jesus vanishes.

Why do you suppose that is? Why does Jesus disappear?

Well . . . let me remind you of what happened earlier in the day as the story is told by John. Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early in the morning, found it empty, and told Simon Peter. Peter and the disciple whom Jesus loved (another unnamed follower!) also found it empty, and then returned to their home to tell the others. Mary, however, hung behind and encountered Jesus but, like Cleopas and Bob on the road to Emmaus, she did not recognize him; she thought he was the gardener. Only when he addressed her by name (perhaps because of the tone of his voice) was something in her memory triggered and she realized who he was. She called him “Rabbouni” (which means teacher) and apparently fell at his feet and grabbed hold of them, for Jesus says to her, “Don’t hold on to me.” I think he did so for the same reason he disappeared from the table at the Emmaus inn.

Similarly, remember what happened before they arrived in Jerusalem, when Jesus took Peter and James and John up the mount of the Transfiguration. While they were on the holy mountain, the three disciples witnessed Jesus in conversation with Elijah and Moses. Peter wanted to memorialize the event by building booths, monuments to concretize the moment. Jesus said, “No. We’re not going to do that.” Again, I think for the same reason he disappeared in Emmaus.

That reason is that we cannot pin Jesus down. Jesus cannot be contained; he will not fit neatly into our boxes. When we think we have him figured out, we find out we are wrong. Jesus . . . God is bigger than any notion of him we may have; God is bigger than our conceptions, bigger than our doctrines, bigger than our creeds. And every encounter with Jesus is singular and unique. We cannot hold onto him; we cannot concretize and cast the moment in stone.

We just sang as our sequence hymn the old chestnut In the Garden, and that hymn makes this very point. We, the singer, say that we would like to stay there in that garden, but Jesus will not allow that:

I’d stay in the garden with Him,
Though the night around me be falling,
But He bids me go; through the voice of woe
His voice to me is calling.

We cannot pin him down! We cannot cast the moment in stone. When we think we’ve got hold of him, we find we are wrong; he disappears and what we are left with are our own notions, our own ideas, our own doctrines, our boxes. Our boxes, however, are too small; God is too big for them.

And the chorus of the hymn reminds us of the singularity and uniqueness of every meeting with our Lord:

And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

Every time we encounter Jesus, the experience is unique; none other (not even our earlier selves) has ever had that experience before.

I think that is why it is significant that Cleopas and Bob recognized Jesus as he broke bread. Every loaf of bread is unique, similar perhaps to other loaves but never, ever identical. And every occasion on which bread is share is singular and unique. It may be a family meal or a celebration of the Eucharist; it may be a formal banquet or just friends having a bite. Whatever the circumstances, the situation is one unto itself, not like any other, never to be repeated.

A couple of Christmases ago, Evelyn gave me a set of books about the elements of the Eucharist. One volume is entitled The Spirituality of Wine; the other, which I have here, is The Spirituality of Bread by Donna Sinclair. The author is a Christian (in fact, I think she is an Anglican). I’d like to read you some of what she has to say about the symbolism of bread. About bread and community, she writes:

Jesus may have been lent significance by his association with other gods of bread. But that doesn’t acount for the power of his celebration, which persists daily around the world.

Everywhere, the words are similar: “He took a loaf of bread and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them and said, ‘Take, this is my body.'” And, everywhere, people line up, blue-jean clad or robed, young or old, to receive bits of bread; or they sit in pews and pass tiny chunks on a plate; or they stand in a circle and murmur a blessing as a broken loaf moves from hand to hand.

Sometimes they gather around a sickbed.

Once, I sat in a circle of friends, in a smoky cabin in the bush, after a weekend of tending a woodstove and talking about dreams. We passed the bread around as gently as if it were the heart of the other, which it was.

The ritual has power. I get uneasy if I think I might be left out. Once, reporting on an event, I slipped up to take a photo of Archbishop Desmond Tutu serving Communion, and then paused anxiously. He winked and held out the bread.

Perhaps inclusion is this ceremony’s strength. This bread offers an enormous community, a family that stretches around the world and through the centuries. We don’t want to be left out.

We don’t want to be left out because we don’t want to miss the opportunity for that unique and singular encounter with Christ. Every celebration of Eucharist, like every sharing of bread and every meeting with Jesus, is a moment unto itself never to be repeated, never to be duplicated. We realize that in some way, that this encounter with Christ in the breaking of the bread will never happen again, and we don’t want to be left out.

With regard to bread and sacrifice, Ms. Sinclair writes:

The celebration of Communion is also a powerful experience of metaphor. Bread as body. Wine as blood. Love as sacrifice.

In the Jesus story, it is clear that love has great requirements. There is a price to pay, in an oppressive era, for feeding the unwanted.

It may help to see another story, that of the Celtic Earth goddess Tailtiu, queen of the Fir Bolg, one of the ancient peoples of pre-Christian Ireland.

When Tailtiu saw that her people were starving after an insufficient grain harvest, she took up an axe and, for a solid year, cleared a forest: “the reclaiming of meadowland from even wood by Tailtiu, daughter of Magmor,” is the way it is reported by the anonymous bard of The Dindsenchas, poems about Irish place names.

After the trees had been cut down, “roots and all, out of the ground,” the land became “a plain blossoming with clove,” presumably suitable for planting grain. But the cost was appalling. Tailtiu’s heart “burst in her body from the strain beneath her royal vest,” the bard says. The Celts loved their sacred groves, and the destruction to the enchanted richness of her forest must have broken Tailtiu’s heart.

Aware that she is dying, her courtiers gather around, and Tailtiu whispers her last command. She wants funeral games to be held in her honour each year, just before the harvest. And they are to be peaceful, she says, “without sin, without fraud, without reproach, without insult, without contention, without seizure, without theft.”

Thanks to her faithful foster-child Lugh (later associated with a bountiful harvest), Tailtiu’s wish came to pass. There was always an “unbroken truce” at her fair, and “men went in and came out without any rude hostility. Corn and milk in every stead, peace and fair weather for its sake, were granted to the heathen tribes of the Greeks for maintaining of justice.”

Tailtiu had given up her beloved forest and her life for a vision not too different from that of Archbishop Oscar Romero or of Mondawmin, who brought corn to the Ojibway. “Unbroken truce” and “corn and milk in ever stead,” represent the commonwealth of peace, the kingdom Jesus told his friends was close by. New parents get a glimpse of this kingdom looking at their tiny baby. Their sudden understanding that they would do anything to keep this child safe is the closest we can come, perhaps, to understanding the sacrifice that is part of love’s potential.

Perhaps that’s the power of Communion bread. Some say that it commemorates Jesus offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins, but I don’t think so. I would be appalled by a god who asked for the death of his child, or any child. But like any parent, I believe I would die for my children’s lives, even as absurdly grown-up as they are now.

Perhaps this bread simply expresses our wish to live little closer to the ideal of Tailtiu, Jesus, or Mondawmin, who died to give their people enough to eat. None of us can stand up to greed or selfishness as strongly as we wish. But eating this ceremonial bread with others, who also want to be just and loving, makes us brave enough to try.

Maybe that’s why I am sometimes overwhelmed at these ceremonies. Maybe I am simply terrified by the high sacrifices love assumes. Certainly the part most touching to me in the story of my own bread-god, Jesus, is not his death, but his constant focus on compassion. “Love one another as I have loved you,” he commands. “Love your enemies.”

Every encounter with this God who commands us to love, every encounter with love is unique and singular. Every encounter with this God who commands us to love, every encounter with love is larger than we can describe. We cannot constrain love in our boxes. Whatever our notions, our doctrines, our creeds, our understandings . . . they are too small to contain love, to pin love down, to hold onto and control love. When we try, love disappears, and that is why Jesus disappeared from the dinner table in that inn in Emmaus.

Now . . . I have to confess that, on the church’s calendar, this really isn’t Star Wars Sunday. But as every Star Wars aficionado knows, today is Star Wars Day: “May the Fourth be with you.”

But may Jesus the Jedi . . . Jesus, known in the breaking of the bread . . . Jesus, whom we cannot hold onto and pin down . . . Jesus, unique and singular . . . may Jesus be with you. Amen.


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

The Choice Is Ours – From the Daily Office – April 26, 2014

From the Book of Exodus:

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was nearer; for God thought, “If the people face war, they may change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led the people by the roundabout way of the wilderness towards the Red Sea.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Exod. 13:17-18a (NRSV) – April 26, 2014.)

Fleshpot of Stew“Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know,” was something my grandmother often said. Apparently she took after the ancient Israelites . . . but then don’t most people. We would rather stay in (or return to) a bad situation than face a possibly worse predicament. God know these people well — not too much farther down the road they will complain about their hunger and long for the pots of stew they enjoyed as slaves:

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” (Exod 16:2-3)

Facing a bit of privation, they were ready to turn back; they would surely have done so if they faced war.

My problem with bible stories like this is . . . I don’t believe them. Oh, I believe the Hebrews left Egypt and took a long time to get where they were going. I just don’t believe that God micro-managed their trek like some cosmic travel agent, planning their route to avoid trouble (or, at least, warfare) along the way. I’m sure they believed God was doing so, but I don’t.

Stories like this, taken at face value, lead to a kind of God-has-a-plan-for-me personal spirituality that I find both incredible and off-putting. Not too long ago, I was watching an episode of Chopped on the Food Channel — I really like that show, by the way! — and one of the contestants was a “born-again Christian.” In each and every one of his short interview segments, his refrain was, “God did this for me” and “God planned for me to become a chef” and “God brought me here to win” and on and on and on.

As a witness for the Christian faith it was (at least to me) having an opposite effect. I had two thoughts. First, I wanted to get in his face and tell him to take personal responsibility (both positive and negative) for the events of his life and the decisions that had led him to where he was! God may have given him the talent, the skills, the strength, and the wisdom to get to that point in life, but God hadn’t made every little decision, God hadn’t road-mapped his existence for him.

And second . . . I started cheering for his opponents. I didn’t want the Christian guy to win! I dreaded seeing some sort of born-again Christian end-zone victory dance, a Tim Tiebow single-knee, fist-to-the-bowed-forehead genuflection in the middle of Chopped kitchen.

Sure enough, after the entree round, he was chopped. On the walk of shame down the back hallway of the studio, his comment was (predictably), “God brought me here . . . .” So now is God responsible for him losing? Is God to blame because he didn’t have enough onion in his fleshpot? Was it God who didn’t transform the basket ingredients sufficiently to impress the Chopped judges?

I don’t doubt for a minute that God was with the Hebrews in the desert. I don’t doubt for a minute that God was with the Chopped contestant. I don’t doubt for a minute that God is with me in the trials, tribulations, victories, and happy moments of my own life.

But I just don’t believe that God is a micro-managing travel agent planning every step any of us take. I just don’t. “God made me do it,” is no better a theology or personal spirituality than Flip Wilson’s “The devil made me do it.” Both are an abdication of personal responsibility.

If we choose to go the long way around, the choice is ours. If we choose the lean pickings of the desert over the full stewpots of Egypt, the choice is ours. If we choose to become chefs and compete in the Chopped kitchen, the choice is ours. If we choose the devil we know over the devil we don’t know, the choice is ours.

The choice is ours. Not God’s.


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Why Everyone’s Irish Today – From the Daily Office – March 17, 2014

From the Book of Genesis:

When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do.” And since the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Moreover, all the world came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine became severe throughout the world.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Genesis 41:55-57 (NRSV) – March 17, 2014.)

Orthodox Icon of St. PatrickIs it just coincidence that we read in Genesis of a famine on St. Patrick’s Day? This day of international Irish pride, when “everyone is Irish,” would just be the feast of another insignificant local saint but for the Irish diaspora, especially the Irish emigration to the United States in the mid-19th Century. And that would not have happened then and in such large numbers but for an Gorta Mór, the “Great Hunger,” the Irish potato famine.

The famine was the result of two things: a fungus-like organism called Phytophthora infestans, which killed off the potatoes throughout Ireland, and human indifference. It is estimated that at least a million people starved to death and two million more left the island. And it needn’t have happened. (My great-great-grandfather John Henry Funston came to America from Ireland during the Great Famine, so this is a personal story for me.)

At the time, the poor of Ireland had come to depend on the potato as a food staple. A single type, the “Irish lumper,” was grown throughout the country. It grew rapidly, produced large crops, and was loaded with nutrients. Humans could do quite nicely on a diet of potatoes and milk. But when the potato plants died off and the crop failed, there was nothing for the poor famers and their families to eat. Or so the story goes. In fact, the country was still producing and exporting more than enough grain crops and beef to feed the population; more than thirty shiploads of food grain (in addition to beef and several other food crops) where shipped daily out of Ireland bound for England during the famine years!

But the English governors would not make that food available to the lower class population. In deciding how to address the Famine, British administrators applied the popular economic theory of the day, laissez-faire capitalism (the French means “let it be”), which was based on a belief that the market would eventually solve all problems through “natural means.” It was not unlike the notions of today’s libertarians and those who insist that privatized public services will improve society. In fact, the language of “avoiding a culture of dependence” spoken by some modern critics of our social welfare “safety net” is a direct repetition of comments made by the British overseers of famine “relief” in Ireland at the time.

Those administrators made great efforts to avoid any interference with the perceived private property rights of British landlords. Throughout the entire Famine period, the British government would never provide the massive food aid Ireland needed because they believed that the business interests of English landowners and private businesses would be unfairly harmed by food price fluctuations.

What might have happened of they had considered the story of Joseph and Pharaoh, who opened their grain stores to the poor people of Egypt, and not just to them but to the Hebrews, as well?

For the most part, addressing the needs of famine ravaged Ireland was left to the church chairities and religious communities, as some now suggest relief of the poor should be done in our time and country; they were overwhelmed with the task. Some, to be quite frank, undertook it with grossly inappropriate attitudes and goals, requiring Irish Catholics to abandon their ancestral faith and “convert” to their particular Protestant dissenter sect. (Anglicans and Quakers decried the practice, but it was widespread.)

Some today suggest that our welfare and healthcare systems for the poor should be given over to churches and charities, that they are not the responsibility of the government. Plenty of economic and financial studies have shown that private and religious charities are inadequate to the task, that their resources are orders of magnitude below what would be needed. Furthermore, the story in today’s Genesis reading is one in which it is the government which comes to the aid of its people, not just its own citizens but “all the world.”

It may be just coincidence, but on this day when “everyone is Irish” I think we should stop and give thought to why that is; we need to understand that if the example of Pharaoh and Joseph in today’s Daily Office reading, the example of opening the grain stores to the hungry had been followed in 19th Century England and Ireland, we probably wouldn’t be celebrating St. Patrick as widely today.


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Positively Lenten – From the Daily Office – March 7, 2014

From the Letter to the Philippians:

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Philippians 4:8 (NRSV) – March 7, 2014.)

Orange and BananasIn thinking about yesterday’s readings, I suggested that the Lenten question we should be asking one another is not “What are you giving up?” but “What are you rejoicing about?” Along comes Paul today and tells the church in Caesarea Philippi, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice” (v. 4) following up with this list of things to consider, things about which we might rejoice.

As a contrast, today’s Old Testament lesson is from the prophet Ezekiel and focuses our attention on a variety of things one can do in violation of the Law of Moses, things not honorable or just or commendable, and decrees the Lord’s displeasure in such things. The point of the prophet’s words on God’s behalf is turn us away from such things. The reading concludes:

Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live. (Ezek. 18:31-32)

I don’t think the prophet succeeds in redirecting our attention, however. The priest under whom I served my curacy was fond of saying, “What gets your attention gets you.” So, although I know the point of Lent is to “put [us] in mind of . . . the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith” (BCP 1979, pg. 265), I think we might better focus our attention on the things Paul suggests rather than on our sinfulness.

As a Lenten discipline, I suggest focusing each day on one thing we find praiseworthy and honorable — today, for example, I have decided to rejoice in and give thanks for the good work of all the people who make it possible for me, on a cold, snow-covered morning in northeastern Ohio, to enjoy fresh fruit each morning. Yes, I know there are important environmental and social issues raised by our failure to “eat locally” and by our global food industry, but today I’m thankful for the orange and the banana and the kale that just went into my breakfast “smoothie” and for the people who made that possible.

Every dark cloud, it is said, has its silver lining. I choose to focus on the “silver lining” rather than on the “cloud;” perhaps if we do that more often we can do more about the “clouds.” After all that’s what we’re supposed to do in Lent, “turn from [our] wickedness and live.” (BCP 1979, pg. 269) As Johnnie Mercer wrote, “Accentuate the positive [and] eliminate the negative.” That’s positively Lenten!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Choosing Life – From the Daily Office – January 7, 2013

From the Book of Deuteronomy:

He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Deuteronomy 8:3 (NRSV) – January 7, 2014.)

Manna from Heaven CartoonJesus and a crowd who challenge his authority also make reference to the manna in today’s Daily Office gospel lesson in which Jesus says: “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:49-51)

So I know that I really ought to be thinking pious thoughts about the Eucharist, or something . . . .

But, truth be told, what I’m really led by these lessons to think about is dieting and weight loss. Damn it!

Back in late September, I was having trouble fastening my trousers and avoiding stepping onto the bathroom scale, but eventually I did so and was appalled at the number it gave me. So I decided to do something about it and, before going public, lost a few pounds. When I was down to 273 lbs. (273! For God’s sake!) I decided I needed the “moral support” of my congregation, so inspired by another priest who had done so, I created a “Reduce the Rector” campaign and asked people to pledge dollars against pounds lost.

By Thanksgiving I’d lost 20 pounds, and then . . . well, let’s just say there was a diet hiatus through New Year’s. Fortunately, only a pound and a half was regained. But, now . . . .

Now Moses and Jesus are talking about food and more than food and reminding me that I need to focus on the healthier stuff that God has in store for me. Moses’ line about being “humbled” by the food eaten (the manna) and Jesus’ comment that “they ate and they died” really put a zinger into it. Food, too much of it and not the right kinds of it, is a humbling thing for me and I know if I don’t change the way I deal with it, it will kill me. High cholesterol, hypertension, blood sugar issues, joint pain, tendonitis . . . in some way or another, they are all related to the excess weight I am embarrassed to carry.

So . . . end of diet hiatus. Back to healthy eating and (even in the frigid cold) taking walks and getting more exercise.

The annotations to Deuteronomy tell me the last verse of the passage has an alternative reading: “One does not live by bread alone, but by anything that the Lord decrees.” I’m going to start focusing on something else God decreed through Moses: “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live!” (Deut. 30:19) I choose healthy eating and healthy living; I choose life.


A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!


Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

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