Not Invisible

We spent last week considering things we do not see.

Blind spots.

People and problems that are invisible to us.

This week we are going to work on seeing something: the opioid crisis.

Just after class last week, I read this take from Andrew Sullivan, which grabbed me, in part, because he framed the crisis with the same “invisibility” frame we discussed:

Those of us who lived through the AIDS epidemic retain one singular memory: The plague that ravaged our lives was largely invisible to others. The epidemic was so concentrated for a while in a gay male subculture often itself veiled by various closet doors  that straight people without gay family members or friends couldn’t see it. There was blanket media coverage, of course. But in your everyday life, if you were straight, you could live quite easily in the 1990s without coming across someone with AIDS. While gay men were living in a medieval landscape of constant disease and death, many others carried on in safe, medical modernity, that elysian period in human history when most diseases can at least be treated, if not cured.

It occurred to me reading this reported essay by Christopher Caldwell that the opioid epidemic is the new AIDS in this respect. Its toll in one demographic  mostly white, working-class, and rural  vastly outweighs its impact among urbanites. For many of us in the elite, it’s quite possible to live our daily lives and have no connection to this devastation. And yet its ever-increasing scope, as you travel a few hours into rural America, is jaw-dropping: 52,000 people died of drug overdoses in 2015. That’s more deaths than the peak year for AIDS, which was 51,000 in 1995, before it fell in the next two years. The bulk of today’s human toll is related to opioid, heroin, and fentanyl abuse. And unlike AIDS in 1995, there’s no reason to think the worst is now over.

He references this article entitled American Carnage that you should take some time to read before class.  

In the article, the author discusses the anesthesiologist Russell Portenoy.  We’ll have Curtis Markham as our special guest this week, and he shared with me this article about that anesthesiologist’s change of tune regarding opioid use.  Curtis told me that this anesthesiologist’s work had been a precipitator that would become the “perfect storm” of the opioid crisis.

We’ll work together to understand the different precipitators and the state of the crisis now. In other words, we’ll do the work of opening our eyes to what has been in front of us for some time now. Curtis will help us, and I look forward to seeing you all in the library at 9:15 on Sunday.


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Hi all-

Let me rewind a bit and share with you the prayer that I read in class a few weeks ago.

In the name from Peter Rollins on Vimeo.

It is by Pàdraig Ó Tuama and the following link is the recent On Being that I mentioned.

Ok, now to the present.

Is anyone else struggling with the quiet, intentional space of Lent and the firehose of national news? Let’s check in a bit. What practices are supporting you? What insights can you share?

Our gospel reading this week is John 9–that’s the one about the man who tells of his experience that though he was blind, now he sees.

It has me thinking about blind spots and new ways of seeing life.

How does the way we look at our world influence our ability to see?

What do we demand to see? What are we willing to not see?

What is the difference between being blind and just not noticing?

When have you been blind and later could see?

When has our community been blind and later could see?

How does a community notice blind spots? How do we talk about those blind spots with each other? Like for real. Right now. How do we do this?

How do new ways of seeing come to be? What do those new ways of seeing make possible? Like for real. This week. What becomes possible?

Of course, everything makes me think of U2.  Here is Invisible from the Paris concert that followed the terrorist attacks. The way this song is staged is something else.


See you in the morning.


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ReFocus today…

Hi all,

I had a cold at the end of the week and now find that I have more or less lost my voice completely.  I had hoped it would be better this morning, but it is not – So, with Kit also gone this week, I’m afraid I will not be able to lead class this morning, and will need to cancel.

I hope you all get this in time to adjust – I think you could join the Lectio Divina group (in Katie Barr room) or the Loiterers in the Great Hall.

I hope you all enjoy this lovely day!



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What’s your Role?

Hi all,

We recently had a parish leadership retreat, and followed that with our first Lenten soup supper program, both exploring what St Andrews looks like now, and what we’d want it to look like, say five, or eight years from now.

This has led to some rich discussion and creative ideas for how we continue to achieve our mission while recognizing some financial and demographic trends which don’t work to our advantage.  These include an aging population, declining pledges…and these trends extend beyond our parish to the national church.

So, in that vein, I’d like us to contemplate our roles in the community of St Andrews.  What part(s) do WE as individuals play?  Why?

This week, we’re going to try a creative exercise aimed at helping us understand our role and maybe give some new insights.

Come ready to share, learn, and have some fun.  You’ve earned it!


PS  watch the St Andrews facebook page  for news of how this weekend’s weather might affect services and Sunday School.  Stay safe!

PPS Episcopal news service had this article on Episcopalians and political action.



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We’re only Human…

Hi all-

It’s the last Sunday before Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. We enter this period of examination of our lives before the great celebration of Easter.  This time of year we often survey various religious and spiritual practices we might try during lent to help us to grow closer to God and our true self.  So here is a follow up to last week’s class with a challenge for us.

Last week’s Gospel reading from Matthew (5:38-48) has some of the most provocative and singular calls for us as Christians.  We often will say to ourselves that all of the major religions say similar things in terms of how we are to behave, e.g. be good to your neighbors, welcome the stranger, take care of those less fortunate.

But, here Christianity seems to go a step of two further.  Love your enemy?  Pray for those who persecute you?  Be perfect as your father is perfect?

I think we get to that last phrase and say, aha – we know we can’t be perfect like God, so this part must all be sort of tongue-in-cheek, or something to aspire to, but no one really expects us to really do.  After all, we’re only humans, and God is, well, God.

And then there’s Jesus.  Jesus’s coming to live and die among us seems to say something different.  Humanity is special and yes, we have a fantastic arsenal of god-like powers at our disposal.  Forgiveness, humor, sacrifice, thought, love, prayer, and of course, God’s grace.

Humanity, as Fr Steve said, can’t be seen as a barrier to us, but rather a means to reaching towards God.  It is not an obstacle to be human, it’s a ladder.  But we have to extend the darn thing, and take a step or two up.

So this week we are aiming high.  Love our enemies?  We’ll try.

Come and see how – 9:15 am in the library!



PS – here’s a link to some of the information about opioid abuse in TN that has come up in the past few weeks. Is there anything we can do?


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Conversation Hearts

Hi all,

Here is part of the 5th chapter of Matthew from The Message:

21-22 “You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.

23-24 “This is how I want you to conduct yourself in these matters. If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.

25-26 “Or say you’re out on the street and an old enemy accosts you. Don’t lose a minute. Make the first move; make things right with him. After all, if you leave the first move to him, knowing his track record, you’re likely to end up in court, maybe even jail. If that happens, you won’t get out without a stiff fine.

It has me thinking about our discussion last week of the languages and messages we can hear. It sounds so easy to “make things right,” but we all know how very hard that is.

The 5 Languages of Love were mentioned in class last week. Those languages are words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, and physical touch.

I’m wondering how those languages relate to the lesson we are hearing in Matthew. How do love languages connect with “making things right?” I’m wondering how the lesson in Matthew applies to us on this week of division and distrust in our national conversations and actions. I’m wondering how this lesson takes us forward into our next week.

Last week I shared with you that Trinity Episcopal Church in Gatlinburg needs our help. It is so great when someone tells you exactly how you can show love to them–in this case, they have asked for money for the Rector’s Discretionary Fund so that they can pay bills and buy food for our neighbors in Gatlinburg who are struggling after the wildfire.

Please send your donation c/0 the Rector’s Discretionary Fund to the following address:

Trinity Episcopal Church
P. O. Box 55
Gatlinburg, TN 37738

Come to class tomorrow. We miss you when you’re not around.



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Do you speak-a my language?

I just returned from Phil’s beautiful memorial service and reception.

These are moments when we come together in communion and laugh, and cry, and get down to the serious business of being human that we try to hard to avoid most of the rest of the time.   Things like life, death, love, sadness, loss, redemption, love (did I say that already?).

So, after telling Kit that I would post something, she says, “Make sure it is something profound and meaningful (paraphrase)”.

So I come home and flipped in my ReFocus notebook to see that it was a year ago that we were working our way through Brother Lawrence, who worked in the kitchen at a monastery.  Phil strongly recommended that we take a look at his collection of letters and writings, and even went so far as to buy a copy of Br. Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God  for us to read together.  He wrote of his everyday life and observations, but how this simple life was infused with the presence of God…so much so, that others came to him to help them cultivate such a connection.  Well, on that same page in my notebook I wrote the following:

Br Lawrence prayer.  What did YOU observe this week?  fox, tree, language, potholes, memorial for teen escapee.

Sermon – insight.  Moses had to turn aside to observe the burning bush.  The Lord saw that he had turned aside…  Seek the Lord and he will be found… The wise men learned about Jesus from their study of astronomy, and their observation of a star.  That happened to be their specialty.

What if God is actively trying to speak to us in languages that only we can understand?   what does that make our role?  To listen carefully, but also to listen for God’s message, no matter what or who the medium?

Where do insights come from?  What about wisdom?

So here’s a question for us all. What are the ‘languages’ we know?  What are messages we get from the world around us that others might not?   Examples I can think of: novels, history, math, nature, photographs, bird songs, moods, flower arrangements, tone, facial expressions, poetry, music, and a thousand other ways we receive messages besides verbally.

If you are struggling to think of what ‘languages’ you know, think about a time when you just knew something – nobody told you, yet you knew it?

Come on to the Library tomorrow – and remember, there’s a parish breakfast at around 8:50 am.   John

Another resource for connecting to current issues and how the Episcopal church is responding.

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