Bob Cornner

Bob Cornner
Visting St. Andrew's Torrance

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Christian Conscience: The Intelligence of the Victim

What is the difference between a Christian conscience and a non-Christian conscience? Our collect for this Sunday gives us a way of looking at this question.

We will pray:

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The human conscience is formed or informed as part of the socialization process in which we are all raised from birth to death. Our collect asks God to "purify our conscience" and then describes how that purification takes place. How does God's daily visitation purify our conscience and how do we know when God is knocking on our door? 

Since the season of Advent is both a preparation for the birth of Jesus and for his coming at some future moment in time, the collect compares our personal and corporate conscience to a mansion under construction in which God will live, but which seems not to be ready yet. 

Does it sound like God is coming to inspect his future home each day? Some may feel that way and may be anxious about such inspections. But perhaps the purification process that God's visitations create are of a much deeper sort? Perhaps God's visits don't look like God knocking on our doors with an inspector's clipboard containing the blueprints for the mansion he expects us to build at all? 

Suppose instead that God's daily visitations are seen in the news each day which report, like our Prayers of the People, the needs and joys of the world? Suppose it is our awareness of the suffering of others that is the purifying action of God's daily visitation in the garb of our daily lives and the daily lives of others? 

How might our conscience be cleansed of all of those things which blind us to the needs and joys of others by such daily epiphanies of God in the needs of others?

James Alison has described this purification process as developing the "intelligence of the victim." He is not speaking of our intellectual potential for knowing facts, concepts, and the like, but about knowing the pains and joys of others that you can humbly seek to offer help or rejoice with them.

Such a purification process is what building a mansion for God is all about. To know people's needs and their suffering in a way that allows us to feel moved to help is to know God in a way that welcomes God into our world and into our hearts without reservation. From the Christ Child to the Cosmic Christ, the creation is a work in progress. It is becoming a welcoming place for the least among us and for the greatest among us as the least become our daily visit from God.

A Christian conscience is different from a non-Christian conscience as a result of this process because we identify those who are suffering with Jesus. Our conscience as Christians sees God in the least among us and we often say that how we treat the least is how we are treating Jesus. 

A non-Christian conscience differs in how it experiences God's daily visitation, but if their response to God, as God is present in the least among us, results in compassionate response, they too have a conscience which is being purified and is informed by the intelligence of the victim.  It is then by the fruit of that knowledge that the world is changed. 

Can a non-Christian receive the intelligence of the victim? Of course! No matter who you are or what you believe God surrounds us and visits us each day to help us create a space of grace and hope and love that our collect calls a mansion.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Anxious about Earthly Things?

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This prayer has a different meaning for me as I get older. When I was younger I never considered myself to be one of those things “that are passing away.” Now I am given daily reminders of my own passing away. I say this not to be morbid, but to point out that my sense of future was much different when I was 21 and listening to this prayer being offered than it is today.

As a younger person, the future stretched out before me and my imagination allowed me to be among those things that were passing away, but not to be one of those things. Others shuffled off this mortal coil, but I remained. Buildings that seemed permanent were torn town and new ones constructed. Sometimes hills were leveled and whole new shopping centers and apartments were built. So, the prayer spoke to me as the observer of all else passing away, but not me.

From this lofty position of eternal living my ego enjoyed an almost, dare I say it, divine sense of self. Over the years I have witnessed the deaths of all of my parents and their whole generation. I have struggled with the grief of being placed among those loved ones whose love and nurture welcomed me into the world and nurtured me well beyond the time I was dependent upon them.

Today this prayer invites me to be less anxious amongst the changes and chances of this life. It identifies for me the One who is beyond my limited ego and whose embrace endures even as I move toward my own passing away.

While I do not plan to die anytime soon, this prayer offers a way of living that values the enduring love of God and the power of that love to connect us to one another now. This is not a fairy tale. This is panning for the gold of the divine generosity in our lives and in the relationships we share with each passing day and each passing life.

My classmates from Mira Costa (1965) will be gathering together next summer for what may be our last official reunion. We will have spent more time apart than together and we have certainly developed different ways of seeing the world. 

But despite all of our diverse ways of thinking and behaving and valuing, we will come together for one last celebration of a time when the future spread out before us in great hope and fear. Hope that we might change our world to make life better for everyone and fear that along the way we might be swallowed up by our own anxieties as a generation and as individuals and not see the enduring things of forgiveness, mercy, grace-space, and love.

Friday, September 12, 2014


Here are some notes from the week of September 7 through 14.

A CHOICE (Matthew's Gospel has Jesus address Peter's question about how many times we must forgive those who sin against us in the church. This is a follow up from last week's Gospel in which a way for dealing with sin in the church was offered. If you read the parable Jesus tells you get a sense of how Jesus used exaggeration to make a point. What I have written below reminds us of how our choices create a world of mercy or hell.

If we chose retaliation and revenge rather than forgiveness, we must be prepared to be handed over by our personal and corporate choices to a world of violence and death in an unending cycle of victimizing and victimization. Forgiveness is the God-given and creative process whose many outcomes include life, love, hope, joy, and a peace which passes human understanding that is still tied to violence and slave to death. 

But, forgiveness is not easy. It is graciously realistic and calls us to live with God in "cosmic humility" as Richard Rohr calls it.


When you come to church on Sunday you will notice a new set of doors at the main entrance of the church. You will also notice other changes in the flower beds that surround the church. These changes are part of the vestry's decision to have our 121church painted and to improve the look of our flower beds while reducing our use of water.

The painting will begin this Monday under the supervision of Sandy Pringle. We want to thank Sandy for all he does to keep our parish property beautiful and functional.

The doors will soon be painted. Perhaps you have noticed the color of the old doors. These new doors will also be painted red. Why red? Some say it represents the fact that the church mortgage is paid. Others say that it represents to those in need of sanctuary, a place of safety, protection, and peace. Since red is the color of blood and blood is what flows through our veins and gives us life, red doors may also represent that passing through these doors is a passage into life. We may also recall these words from our worship each week:

"After supper he took the cup of wine; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, 'Drink this, all of you: This is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. Whenever you drink it, do this for the remembrance of me.'"

Perhaps walking through the painted red doors is our way of entering into the life that forgiveness offers us. It is not a life separate from others, but one of mutuality. The life we celebrate is not just our own private, personal existence, but our shared and common life and it is by walking through these red doors that we experience the larger life of God as we join together in sharing our life together as a community. 

This week we will hear Jesus' teaching about forgiveness that is a response to Peter's question found in Matthew 18:21-35:

Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

What do you suppose Jesus is saying to Peter?

Now here is the rest of the passage for this Sunday. What do you make of this parable where mercy and absolute and horrific punishment seem to be the only possible outcomes?

"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.' And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, `Pay what you owe.' Then his fellow slave fell down and pleaded with him, `Have patience with me, and I will pay you.' But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he would pay the debt. When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, `You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, as I had mercy on you?' And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart."

I look forward to exploring this challenging passage with you on Sunday as we pass through the soon to be red doors.

The front doors of Christ Church open into a small space. My first time through the doors, I found the Jesus icon a silent greeter that seemed to welcome me and other sojourners into the community that bears the name Christ. And every time I come through those doors I am greeted and then embraced by the community. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014


Scripture Passage for 2014  

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."       
 Matthew 6:19-21(NRSV)

Laying Up Treasure In Heaven

This may sound like an odd opening to my Report for this past and coming year, but I hope by the time you have finished reading it, you will understand what I am trying to communicate.

This past year of 2013, we have seen a very long and successful ministry known as The Casa De Los Amigos come to an end after over 38 years (incorporated March 28, 1975) of service to the seniors of the greater South Bay area.  This parish and their priest at the time, The Reverend Phillip Schuyler, the second rector of Christ Church, saw a growing need for low income housing for senior citizens and with God’s grace and the support from the larger community and HUD, they built a beautiful 136 apartment home at 123 South Catalina that continues to serve our neighbors.

The Casa ministry is a clear example of what it looks like to “lay up treasure in heaven.” When the project of building this beautiful home started, it was not intended to be a money-making venture. In fact, it involved a heavy investment of time, talent, and treasure from this parish and the larger community.  Over the 38 years, this parish has continued to lay up treasure in heaven through the brilliant leadership of those members from Christ Church, Saint Cross and other community leaders who have been on the Casa board.

When I arrived at Christ Church the leadership of the parish and the Casa Board of Trustees expressed their belief that it was time for Christ Church to turn the management and ownership of the Casa over to another trusted entity. Bishop Jon Bruno responded to this call and through a very complex, expensive, and challenging period worked with our board and the Episcopal Housing Alliance (a non-profit corporation dedicated to providing low income housing and affiliated with the Diocese of Los Angeles) to buy the Casa and to honor our desire that the Casa De Los Amigos building be maintained as a low income housing project for an additional 50 plus years.

The Bishop laid up treasure in heaven so that the Casa gift to the community could be a continuing reality.

The Casa Board has served this parish with distinction, competence, and grace. Under the excellent leadership of Rob Robertson, The Casa De Los Amigos non-profit corporation has dissolved and has given Christ Church $3.1 million dollars. To be sure, this gift might be seen as a reason for us to just let the interest or even part of the principle be used to pay for keeping Christ Church going. We might be tempted to “lay up our treasure on earth.”

Laying up treasure on earth is contrary to Christ Church’s way of being a community of faith and contrary to God’s way of being and giving. Treasure that becomes an end in itself and not a way to create healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, and community can easily become a source of division, envy, resentment, strife, and spiritual death for us.

The coming years will be about finding ways to lay up treasure in heaven. We will need the prayers, engagement and commitment, gifts and human resources of time, talent, and treasure of this whole community of faith and our neighbors who wish to be part of this process. God is calling us into God’s future, not the future of Christ Church.

Our Gospel for the Sunday of our Annual Meeting contains the call of the earliest disciples.
From that time Jesus began to proclaim, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near."
As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea-- for they were fishermen. And he said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you fish for people." Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.
 Jesus is walking by the shores of the South Bay and inviting people to follow him in casting our nets to fish for the unmet needs and concerns of our neighbors. In following Jesus, we learn about the treasure laid up in heaven in the wise and gracious use of the gifts we have received.

In God’s grace, we will find that in another 38 to 40 years, a future gathering of Christians, will be able to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ in this neighborhood and community because we have laid up treasure in heaven and found new and exciting ways of bringing heaven to earth.

Pray for wisdom. Pray for grace. Pray for your vestry. Pray for all of those who are engaged in seeking to know, love, and serve God.

May our nets be thrown high and wide and may the needs of the community be revealed.