Of Papal Encyclicals and Charleston: Mutual Responsibility and the Body

This past two weeks I have spent much time with Chinese Christians. I have marveled at their faithful perseverance and creativity in the face of political and cultural pressure. So it was with incredible sadness that I read of the news of the murder of nine innocents in a South Carolina church. Just as I was pondering and imagining the powerful interconnectedness, indeed the interdependence, of gatherings of Christians upon one another I read of the rending and tearing at the heart of a Christian community by debased hatred.

Of course, on the same evening as I read this news I read another piece of news that was heartening and reiterated our connectedness. Pope Francis released his long anticipated encyclical on our stewardship of the environment, connection to God, and our mutual responsibility. Many are viewing this as simply a declaration on he environment – it is dramatically more than that. It is an emphatic sermon on our God-given identity and promise rooted in a sacramental truth – a grace-filled revelation – that explores our true and holy ideal.

In reading these two pieces of news I could not help but wonder what their common thread was. It is simply this – God gives and we take.

God gives us diversity and we debase the image of God.

God gives us creation and we grind, tear, and rip that gift to pieces.

God gives us sustenance – in creation and one another – and we take until we are distorted by gluttony as our own image is bloated beyond recognition and distorted with inhuman desire. That desire may be for status, belonging, or purity as we establish that others are clearly lower than us. That desire may be for wallets, bellies, and homes crammed beyond our needs or hopes and yet we know ourselves blessed because more is ours.

Others become the means to an end. With no end in sight we decide that the ends of the earth and the ends of others are simply he cost of a well-deserved life. So nations plunder nations. People stand by as rights and dreams are pillaged. Though it all we benefit from diffuse responsibility and slyly differentiated aspirations. Each of us says, “Well, that’s the way it is, I suppose.”

Environmental and Social responsibility are lost in the midst of varied and shifting daily pressures. Yet our aspirations cloud and obscure the fact that our aspirations are the burden of too many others. It’s no long bit of algebra to see in decaying neighborhoods and drained aquifers the same drying up of the pools of richness and diversity that God intends to feed, nurture, and nourish all of us. Yet a virtual kleptocracy has evolved which steals the very future of generations for the immediate social and political gratification of the few and of the moment. 

The sacramental generosity of God is not intended to draw us into a vampiric or parasitic relationship with our world or one another. We are called to offer our selves, our souls, and bodies in the very recognition that we are not worthy to gather up the crumbs and yet God pours upon his his very Body to mold, feed, and call us to holy being. We respond not by taking and taking without end but by laying before the throne of grace gifts to be changed by divine Interplay. As we are changed we go out to love and serve – to use the gifts of God for the people of God.

We are faced with the breaking of the Body and respond with the whole coming together of a Body blessed by Resurrection power.

As Christians we are not given dominion but utter servant hood. We are given not the mantle of nobility but the yoke of obedience. That obedience is a call to see in one another our end and hope – our brothers and sisters are not to be exploited, ignored, nor debased. Our natural world is shot-through with holy perfection. Neither is to be our tool but our guide. In them God’s longing and purpose is unveiled. We are called to holy interdependence and mutual care. Our care for one another and for the natural world are measures of our dependence upon the revelation of the Holy Spirit – can we care for and be guided by the easily dominated or quickly ignored?

Over and over again Jesus uses those denied and despised to demonstrate the generosity and love of God. Can we do the same? Can we let the holy healing of the many and the whole lead us? Can we depend on the vulnerability of a diverse creation to break open our fictitious belief that we are in control?

We depend on one another.  We depend on Creation.  We depend on God.  This is Christian liberty.  This is Christian privilege.


A Message Signed with Blood: A Sermon on the Martyrdom of 21 Christians in Libya

A Message Signed with Blood

A sermon delivered at 8:00, 9:00, and 11:15 masses at Saint John’s Cathedral in Denver on March 1, 2015.

“For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it.” Mark 8:35

They were seized from villages in Egypt.  Some of those captured were even fishermen like the first disciples to be martyred.  A video camera was set up.

The terrorist declared that this was “A message signed with blood to the Nation of the Cross” and thus fell the knives that sent 21 martyrs to their reward in Libya.  They were put on display for mockery and derision.

Their captors demanded that they recant their faith – that they deny Christ.

Their videotaped murder was designed to frighten Christians everywhere – to shock the sensibilities of the civilized world.  It was a message signed with blood.

Yet it is a message we have received before.  It is a mockery we have known.

When Pontius Pilate had Jesus crucified, he placed a sign above his head that sarcastically hailed him “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Christians have since placed the Latin acronym of this sign — INRI — on our crosses ever since but it was always a mockery.  It was a message signed with blood.

This latest message, sent by ISIS, was sent to the Nation of the Cross.  It was sent to those of us who worship at the foot of the cross, who are marked by its reality, and who wear them with pride.

I suppose though that my question is this.  Why should Christians even wear crosses?

Christians have worn the symbol on their chests and emblazoned it on their banners for two millennia. But the cross is nothing more than an instrument of torture used to kill criminals, cow a populace, and execute a Jewish leader named Jesus.

Why would a Christian display a cross with pride? The cross is an insult. The cross is the thing that humiliated and killed the Son of God.

Really, the cross does not belong on the Christian; the Christian belongs on the cross.

Christians hold fast to the truth that the cross was intended for us – the punishment for sin.  Yet, Christ allowed himself to be placed upon it and took with him the sins of the world.  It was for us and it was born by the Son of God out of divine love.

4-1-Glory-in-the-CrossThis is why the nation of the cross holds it up; and the cross is meaningless if it is no longer a reminder of this painful, mocking fact. In this season of Lent, as we make our way toward Good Friday, we are mocked.

It is when Christianity has forgotten this fact, forgotten this shame and mockery, that we have lost our bearings and committed our deepest sins. It is because Christians forgot what the cross meant that they were able to paint it on their shields and march to the war, seize empires, and hold Inquisitions.

Christianity is a strange and paradoxical faith, and the Cross is at the heart of it.

The glory of the cross and of our faith is precisely in its King’s shame. It is nonsensical and it is beautiful.  It is easy to mock.

If Christianity forgets this, it forgets its very self.

The barbarism of ISIS will find itself undone, as every terrorist and petty tyrant in our history has been, because we are a faith that is defined by mockery, that is marked by blood, and that is forged in derision.  We are the nation of the cross not because we are willing to wear it but because we are marked but it.

It is a message signed with blood to those marked by blood.

Jesus’s Blood has bound us together – all of us into that life and death – in him all things are held together.

When asked what his reaction would be if he saw an Islamic State militant, Beshir Kamel, the brother of two of the martyrs in Libya recalled his mother’s response.

“My mother, an uneducated woman in her sixties, said she would ask [him] to enter her house and ask God to open his eyes because he was the reason her son entered the kingdom of heaven,” Beshir said.

As the Church – the Body – we are called to strive for the world around us – for that Blood was shed for it. To bring all we know, love, and hold dear into the same family – to plead for God to open eyes everywhere.

As the Cross is lifted up for all to be drawn to Christ, we are now part of that labor of reconciliation and love.

Our Catechism says the mission of the Church is “to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”

Reconciliation is more than repairing wrongdoing. Though it is that. It is more than apology, reparation, or renewal – though it may be all of those.

Reconciliation is the restoration of all things in the Blood of Christ as we see and know that all of the human family is brought together in outpoured Love shed for all.

We, by that Blood, now may too call out “Father, thy will be done.” For Christ’s life was lived with this one purpose – that we might be drawn nearer to the Father in faith and hope – that we might know ourselves, by Blood, as a new family.

We know something of Calvary. We have walked the path of shame. We have shouted “crucify” as he pleads “Forgive them.”

From the coliseums and catacombs of Rome.

From the gulags of Soviet Russia to the slums of El Salvador.

From spears wielded at a Shogun’s command in medieval Japan to an assassin’s bullet carrying a Klan’s hate in Memphis.

From James killed with sword to Stephen stoned to death.

From Saint Peter to Saint Sebastian.  From Simon the Zealot to Charles the Martyr.

From Saints Lawrence, Lucy, and Thomas Becket to Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Oscar Romero.

From the very Cross of Christ to the desert sands of Libya last week there is indeed – there is indeed – a “message signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross” – and that message is this, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Father forgive.


A New Tabernacle: A Home for Homeless and the Host

This morning, we announced a new partnership to provide housing for those who are most vulnerable in our community.  At our parish conversation about the partnership I talked about the way we welcome the homeless in our midst as being directly tied to the way we worship.

The Cathedral is committing to the work of a new Tabernacle – we will create a place of safety for the Body of Christ.  It is imperative that we who seek Christ’s Presence see him revealed in those too easily ignored.

adoration of the Blessed Sacrament exposedEvery celebration of the mass is an act of faith in which our eyes see with the soul’s longing for God.  The way we encounter those in need is as much an act of faith.  Christ is revealed to faithful eyes.  It is easy to scoff at the Body of Christ veiled beneath the form of simple bread.  It is just as tempting to scoff at the Presence of Christ in someone who is too easy to dismiss because of poverty.

Yet, beneath the surface, waiting for faithful eyes to see, is new life – is the source of our salvation.  In the Eucharist we receive Grace upon Grace.  In serving those most in need we receive grace as well – we find that the space of relationship becomes hallowed ground where new life is born.  In those relationships we find ourselves broken open and reformed with the gold of sympathy and genuine love filling in the cracks.

Whether we see or not, that grace, that genuine Presence is there – God’s promise is alive.  Yet it is in receiving that Communion fires in us new hope.  It is in reaching out our hand in love to one whom others avoid that hope breaks us open for grace to find a home.  Beneath lowly forms God makes Himself known.

Each Sunday, as Communions are administered, I kneel in my stall.  This morning I was powerfully struck that I was kneeling before the Christ at the Altar and I was also kneeling before the Body of the Faithful who came by one by one.    The Christ before whom we kneel would, I think, welcome us kneeling before one another on occasion as we see within each other grace swelling and shining forth.

In our parish conversation, one of our most dedicated volunteers, related that hers is a ministry of small things.  She provides newspapers to the women who stay with us on Monday nights.  She hands out aspirin, makes coffee, folds pillowcases, and more.  She also mentioned one powerful act of love (which she would not claim as such).

She talked of rubbing lotion onto the feet of the women – many of whom are on their feet all day long.  I couldn’t help but be transported back to the moments when costly oil was being rubbed on the feet of Jesus.  I could not help but think of the complaints of the money about to be spent on “expensive” housing for the homeless – a waste surely?

So often, the eyes of faith see a chance for love where others only see a need to be met and in those moments, adoration begets adoration, and love begets love.

As Saint John’s embarks on this partnership, we are announcing to the congregation, the city, and the diocese that we place our ministry with those most in need at the very heart of our congregation’s life and witness.  It is at much at the center of our life as the Tabernacle.  This project will announce that something crucial and life-changing is happening here at Saint John’s.  Something glorious is happening in the heart of the city and in our hearts.

Saint John’s Cathedral is physically a large building.  By its presence, it symbolizes both the glory of God and of the Church. The money and talents expended on the building are a tangible manifestation of our longing to honor God and to meet God in the beauty of holiness.  By consecrating part of our property for ministry with the homeless we are meeting Christ in another way –in a way that is as beautiful as our worship.

Nothing will give me greater joy in ministry here than elevating the Host at Mass and looking just past it and seeing, through the Cathedral’s open doors, a project rise that will mirror the action at the Altar.  The Body will be held with love and will be Present among us in the way it always is – changing and challenging those who see with faithful eyes.


Must All Episcopal Bishops be Elected? A Modest Proposal

For one reason or another, bishop elections have been on my mind lately.  With the news out of Maryland, the coming election of a new Presiding Bishop, and the Dean of the Cathedral here in Denver being a finalist in Southeast Florida’s election I find myself wondering about the efficacy of all episcopal seats being elected ones.

As I look at the needs of the Church in the near future, it seems that a certain flexibility may be required in how we call bishops in the Episcopal Church.  I wonder if every bishop need be an elected one and if every bishop’s office need be full-time.

My thought is this.  If we were to retain elections for all diocesan bishops but allow the naming of suffragan and local bishops by diocesan bishops we could create a certain flexibility that does not now exist in our current process.  More than flexibility we could also allow for more direct engagement with bishops and have the kinds of bishops named who might not otherwise be elected.

As we prepare to enter an election cycle in our nation, the issue of primaries and general elections comes to mind.  There are candidates who would be excellent presidents who simply are not the kind of people we elect in our processes.  Take, for example, the excellent Indiana Senator Richard Lugar.  He is a brilliant diplomatic mind and good senator who represented a kind of politics that is lost in our electoral life (he was dislodged from office by a much lesser candidate in a primary).  Senator Lugar ran for president ever so briefly but never got the kind of necessary name-recognition or generated the steam to be elected.

A comparison to national politics is imperfect but illustrative.  Senator Lugar would, without a doubt, have had all of the skills and the temperament to be an excellent president – but he was ill-suited to be a candidate.

bishop-miterIf we were to retain elections at the diocesan level, those bishops could be free to name a less “flashy” or conventionally “attractive” candidate to a local area or to a suffragan position where they could prove their talent and skill and be a more complete candidate later for a diocesan position.  We could call pastors, theologians, organizers, and more who are doing innovative and spiritually rich work and give them a chance to grow and serve not because their work is the most “attractive” or because they lead “significant” parishes but because it is essential to sharing the Gospel in a changing world.

The kinds of candidates who could be named could be the kinds of candidates who do not, currently, represent the “norm” in our elections.  Whether because they are younger, minority candidates, women, are in relatively unknown ministries, or simply aren’t that “charming” – there are a number of reasons that they might not be “electable” but would still be excellent bishops.  In this way, we could take a chance on a different type of leadership and lay the foundation for those candidates to emerge later at the diocesan level.

This would have the benefit not only of raising up different kinds of candidates but do so in a much more cost-effective and responsive way.  In a diocese as large as ours, in Colorado, one could easily see the value of appointing a local bishop for areas simply too far away to be regularly seen by our bishop (who works mightily to do this work).  It would also allow for those local bishops to be not full-time bishops but perhaps be serving local rectors.  In this way we could recognize the local needs of an area and find those with specialized gifts to pastor those areas.

This could happen in a number of ways.  The simplest may be for the diocesan bishop to have the wherewithal to appoint a new bishop subject to the approval of the standing committee and, of course, consents from the House of Bishops.  There are other, perhaps more convoluted ways to do such a thing, but if part of the goal is flexibility then creating many more hoops to jump through would not be all that helpful.

With this plan, a diocesan bishop could also appoint missionary bishops to work in underserved areas to look for ways to creatively plant and grow churches.

Of course the flexibility that this would create in the episcopacy would transfer to the flexibility we could use at the local level.  As we look for ways to spur creative engagement with our communities it would be enormously helpful to have bishops who know their locales in a more intimate way and who can offer guidance and support that is informed by closer relationships and partnerships at the local level.  Moreover, they will be formed in, perhaps, a more recent church climate and may better understand the realities of the current day.

There are a host of questions that such a shift would certainly raise but it seems worth the conversation.

At the end of the day though, a bishop is called not because we want management but because our local parishes are extensions of a bishop’s ministry and each Altar is an extension of the bishop’s.  However we choose bishops in the future, my hope is that we can view the relationship as a Sacramental one first and a managerial one far below that primary unity.


Liturgy: It’s not the Work of the People

One of the more persistent phrases one hears in Episcopal Church circles is that the liturgy is “the work of the people” based on a translation of the Greek word Leitourgia.  This translation of the word often is then used as a way to say that the liturgy should be more “participatory” or involve more lay people in planning or more responsive to the desires of laity.  I would actually agree with all of these though I might quibble with what any of them actually means.

For example, if we say the liturgy should be more “participatory” this is often interpreted as meaning lay people say more or do more.  Yet in a culture in which we are constantly pressured to do and say the actually challenging act of participation may be to simply adore – to learn to be present with our hearts opened to God’s.

Liturgy+Sermon+Series+SlideYet, my real frustration lies with the fact that this way of understanding the Greek simply is faulty.  The word Leitourgia might much more accurately be described as “work for the people.” The word describes building projects critical to a community’s ongoing life.  It might refer to a temple or bridge or the like.  The work was done by members of the community but might be sponsored by a wealthy patron.

The work for the people was the work that was done in response to a critical need in the life of the community.  These works knit communities together and provided something crucial for them to grow and flourish.  It was not about shared ownership but about shared benefit.  All liturgy in the Church is a work of shared benefit – but it is not the benefit of grace for which we labor.  We labor because it glorifies God.  That glorification of God is a work of the people not in that it is a shared production but that it is a crucial piece of our shared infrastructure of faith.

Often we’ll see a parish decide that they will give lay people an “expanded” role in the liturgy.  Perhaps they’ll read the Gospel or perhaps they’ll say the Words of Institution with the priest.  Sadly, this does little to actually make it the work of the people – it simply confuses the roles of lay and ordained and blurs the very distinct ministries with which we are all charged.  The work of all Christians is the listen and obey God.

The work of the priest is to hear the voice of God and to be faithful in administering the Sacraments.  The work of the deacon is to hear the voice of God and to be a living bridge between Gospel proclamation in the liturgy and Gospel proclamation in the world.  The work of a lay person is to hear the voice of God and to offer their whole heart and mind and body in worship and adoration – within the liturgy and in their daily lives.  The liturgy is a place of consummate cooperation not because we all must grab our part but because we all are charged with reverent presence and adoration as its patterns of grace shape and mold us.

It is the infrastructure – the critical place of encounter with one another and with God – that allows us to claim to be a community of faith.

This is not, please be clear, an admonition that lay people should do less in liturgical worship.  I am a huge proponent of lay sub-deacons at the Altar, of full processions, and of rich liturgical expressions that require many hands.  It is, however, a reflection that we in the Church too often define “work” by how much it reflects busyness.  When we say “work of the people” it implies not only entitlement but also degrades, in its own way, the role of the person who simply needs to dwell in the beauty of holiness.

I read not long ago a piece decrying the traditional role of the Rector of a parish determining its worship life as “unjust” and “unfair.” Yet, our clergy are raised up by local congregations and called to serve by the lay people of their respective parishes.  They are trained so that they might know the mind of the Prayer Book and formed in the movement of the Spirit that has guided the evolution of the Church’s worship for millennia.  It is a “work of  the people” for them to plan and say the mass with dignity and a sense of holy purpose.

I hope and pray that those charged with being custodians of the Church’s worship will do so in a way that honors the gifts and talents of their congregations.  It is even more critical, however, that we do so in a way that leaves them formed in the ordered patterns of centuries rather than simply given one more place to be busy for the sake of not wanting to leave anyone out.


An Alcohol Free Lent: A Season of Repentance and Reflection

To this point I have refrained from public comment on the tragic death of a cyclist who died because of the brokenness of an Episcopal bishop in Maryland. There has been much comment on the culpability of the bishop, the diocese, and the discernment committee who put her name forward despite previous troubles with alcohol.

bible There has also been much written on the need for both justice and mercy in cases such as this. There has also been a good deal of emotion in debates about what it means for us to welcome into leadership those who continue to struggle with issues of addiction.

On Facebook today, a friend sent along an idea that I thought both sensible and spiritually valuable. He wrote the following:

“Like everyone in the Episcopal Church, I’ve been torn, dumbfounded, and mortified by the events of Maryland: what it says about the episcopacy and church structures, what it says about laxity where accountability among church leadership is crucial, and what it says (ugh!) about alcohol and the culture of the Episcopal Church.

Whatever Maryland says about all those things, I do not want the Episcopal Church I love to revert into a tee-totaling culture, on the one-hand. On the other hand, the stakes of this crisis could not be more serious or portentous. Here’s my idea: our of respect for the tragedy in Maryland and in penance for a church culture too careless and carefree with the responsibilities surrounding alcohol consumption, the House of Bishops enjoins or at least strongly encourages all bishops, priests, and deacons and earnestly invites all the people of God in ECUSA to observe this coming Lent with an absolute fast from alcohol save for the Sacrament.

This fast would, of course, be attended by encouraging serious reflections in parishes on health, lifestyle, and religious issues that arise from ‘stepping back’ for 40 days. Perhaps that seems ridiculous or unworkable on its face, but it might be a national wake-up call and at least a churchwide response.”

This seems an entirely appropriate and spiritually grounded thing to do. So I will take part in this 40 days of reflection and abstain from alcohol as part of my own Lenten discipline.

As in any tragedy, there are so many ways that we can respond that seem gratifying in their castigation of others’ missteps and tragic errors. My hope is that such a fast could be, for the Episcopal Church, a way for us to engage the deep question of our collective culpability in the wake of such an event. Each of us is part of this system and has a small part to play in our overall inability to face our collective issues regarding addiction and the consequences thereof.

I would encourage clergy, laity, and bishops to share in this fast and to use this time as a way to enter into the deep reflection we desperately need around our own part in this cycle of dependency. The answer is not “just say no.” However, we may just find that in saying no we will be saying yes to a deeper relationship with God and a deeper sense of our own responsibility to manage both our own brokenness and to walk with those for whom our collective culture of alcohol abuse is a painful thing in which to be caught.

Confession, as a search for truth, allows us to participate in small-scale transformations that lead to a fuller and more vibrant understanding of our participation in the Body of Christ and in all of our communities and relationships. The search for God must be deeply rooted in the search for Truth, a part of our core mystery, that is shared with Creation and God. Our Confession as the Church, our willingness to open ourselves fully in humility, enables us to receive wisdom, offer service, and form relationships in Truth. Confession encourages transformation by enabling the recognition of fundamental self and the inviolable other. Our evolution and life in community depends on that awareness of self-motivation, self-deception, and pardon.

Confession and the spirit of Confession is a process of conversion and a reflection of the ongoing transformation of the Incarnation and the cross. Rowan Williams writes, “The Christian is involved in seeking conversion – the bringing to judgment of contemporary struggles, and the appropriation of some new dimension of the transforming summons of Christ in his or her own life.”

It is the encounter with the ongoing Trinity that makes tragedy bearable and recovers our sense of humanity after inhuman capitulations to sin.

May we who struggle to make sense of capitulation to sin use this Lent as an occasion to engage more deeply the reality of our shared brokenness. May we find, through the power of the Cross, the courage to name the demons that dwell in open sight.


A Sermon for the Feast of All Saints 2014

A sermon preached at the 9:00am and 11:15am masses for the Feast of All Saints at Saint John’s Cathedral, Denver

According to Christian tradition, the apostle Thomas stopped by Baghdad on his way to India and gathered the first Christian congregation there. The ministry of the Revd Canon Andrew White at St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad recalls those apostolic foundations, when the first generations of believers were baptized.

The congregation sings praises to Jesus, calling him Yeshua. The Lord’s Prayer is recited in Aramaic, the language in which Jesus gave it to his disciples. Canon White is called abouna, related to the New Testament word abba, by his parishioners.

Canon White has faced circumstances as the Anglican leader in Iraq that stagger the mind and shock the soul.  With the rise of the ISIS terrorist militia in Syria and Iraq he is witnessing, firsthand, the elimination of worshiping Christian communities that have literally gathered from the earliest days of the Church’s ministry.

What does the Church do in the face of such pressure – surrounded by such menace?

What do we do? We baptize saints.

We baptize the poor and those who mourn.  We baptize the meek and those who hunger after righteousness.  We baptize the merciful and the pure.  We baptize the persecuted and those who will be reviled.  We baptize saints.

All-Saints-4Earlier in October, despite threats, a family of five was baptized.  Canon White said, “I have baptized five people today.  One of the Christian politicians came to me and pleaded with me to Baptize a mother and her four children, I listened to them and it was clear they all loved Jesus. I therefore baptized them all. Despite the tragedy all around us we are so aware of the presence a glory of God, What a joy it was when the 10-year-old came up to me after the Baptism and said ‘I feel all new now, I am all different’ and he was.”

‘I feel all new now I am all different’ and he was.” We baptize saints.

Hearing the Canon White’s story about these five Baptisms reminded me of Peter in Acts 10 when he says, “can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people..?” I think it is telling that the most essential element of human life – water – is that which is needed for Baptism.

The Holy Spirit moves over this most common substance to make of common people something new and holy – something which shines a light in the world that darkness cannot overcome.

It is easy to be either too supernatural about Baptism or to be a little blasé about it – to treat it as we think of any other rite of membership.  Let me be clear though – Christian Baptism is not like getting your membership card at Costco.  It is also though not a magic act that somehow, invisibly, grants perks for the next life alone – it changes this one.

Baptism is the anointing of Christians into Christ’s own ministry.  It is forgiveness, healing, death, and life given in an instant.  We rise from the water dripping with promise – soaked in the life of Christ.  We are changed in ways that defy explanation and escape mere words.

Sometimes, we all struggle with prayers – we wonder what really happens on the other side of them.

I certainly have.  I’ll use the Eucharistic Prayer as an example.  Have you ever wondered why Christ says that bread and wine become his Body and Blood?  I have.  What is happening here?

I remember watching intently as a 10 year old.  I held my breath as the words were said.  “This is my Body…” … and I waited … for something … to happen.  On the surface nothing seemed changed – yet we have Christ’s promise that everything is changed.  Everything is new.  Everything is different.

All of the Sacraments work like this.

When we say, “I baptize you in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”

When, in Confession, we say, “I absolve you from all your sins.”

When, in Healing, we say, “I lay my hands upon you that you may know the healing power of his love.”

When we say, in Ordination, “…give your Holy Spirit to your servant; fill him with grace and power, and make him a priest in your Church.”

When we, the Church, say these things we do it with pregnant expectation that something is different on the other side of those words – that change is there, beating around us, on the wings of a dove.

But we do not see it, so how can we be sure?  One proof is the lives of the Saints we commemorate today on All Saints Day.

One proof of the truth of the power of the Spirit is that some people live in such a way that all of the promise of those Sacramental moments, those moments of the Church’s deepest prayers, is revealed in holy living and faithful dying.

In the face of death we baptize into new life.  We baptize saints. In the face of shame and guilt we forgive sins.  In the face of a culture starving for God we consecrate Living Bread.  In the face of mortal illness we anoint with healing oil.

We do all of this because we know, as deeply as it can be known, that Christ is changing us – challenging us – holding us – and watching us.

He’s watching and holding his breath because he knows.  He knows.  A change is happening.  He knows that common people are becoming saints today.


How an Atheist Became a Priest: The Persuasiveness of Simple Things

I am a fan of Ricky Gervais.  I have loved the BBC version of The Office longer than I have been a practicing Christian.  I followed Ricky on Facebook a number of years ago and his posts generally amuse me.  Yet, occasionally, he posts some fairly vitriolic anti-Christian posts.  He is an avowed atheist who seems to consider religion with about the same level of charity as Hitchens and Dawkins.  Sometimes this frustrates me to no end.  Ricky also often posts about human rights and animal rights and part of me wants to shout to him that some of the most vocal and effective proponents of both are people of faith.

Yet, I can’t always shake my feeling that sometimes, somehow, he has it right.  I don’t mean that he has it right that somehow religion is an awful and fruitless thing.  Or maybe I do mean that, I suppose.

Not that long ago, I considered myself an atheist too.  I had a bumper sticker in Mississippi that read, “The problem with Baptists is that they don’t hold them under the water long enough.” I had another that read, “If you want to live in a religious country, move to Iran.” This was long after I had persuaded myself that I was a firm believer because my politics were so right.

Yet, somewhere, it all went off-track.

I had grown tired of bombastic, abusive forms of Christianity.  I was disgusted by the scandals of the Roman Catholic Church as abuse after abuse was uncovered – abuse by priests I had once defended because I thought, or wanted to think, they could do no wrong.  I was queasy because I had been active in the Christian right as leaders were being caught in financial, moral, and political malfeasance of all sorts.

I had decided that I was an atheist because so many of the followers of Christ seemed to have it so wrong.

Yet, there was still something speaking to me.  Not in doctrine but in decency.  Not through evangelism but evangelically.  Not with words but with patience.  You see, even though I had grown frustrated and disillusioned, my wife had not.  Not only had she not become disillusioned with Christianity – more importantly she had not become so with me.  She waited out my break with God because she saw it for what it was, the coming home of someone who had run away.

I could remember fits of anger as a younger man.  Once, when I was asked to find a shirt of a particular size when working at Brooks Brothers, I had gone to the shirt room to find it.  When I didn’t find it immediately, I began to throw the boxes off the shelves in a fury.  At what, I had no idea.  These kind of bouts, while not regular, were a pattern.

You see, when I was much younger, I had lost my mother and my sister – and I had never forgiven God.  God was still on trial in my heart.  And I felt that somehow I was still on trial in God’s.  So I decided I was an atheist.  Yet, I was not angry at nothing – I was furious with God.  I was hurt, bitter, resentful, and felt as powerless on any given day as an eight year old who can’t figure out what has happened to his mother.

So when I heard others singing the praises of God it only amplified the anger I felt.  When I heard people thank God, I could only say “For what?”

There was war, poverty, and famine.  There were abusive priests and thieving televangelists.  There was murderous homophobia. There was silence in the face of torture. There was wrath, envy, and hatred.  There were bombings and beheadings. “God is Love” was lost behind a seeming sea of “God hates fags!” signs all over the news.

What in the world could make a believer be so idiotic as to believe?

I came back to the Church not because I was persuaded somehow by argument, word, or reason but by love.  I could tell that this was something that was important to a person who meant the world to me so I came along – grudgingly and often looking for an excuse not to.  Yet, when I came, I found something that seemed to be missing.  God was till speaking even when my anger tried to drown out the choir and second-guess the preacher.

I began to look for reasons to go not just for reasons to be angry.  I realized that I was not an atheist.  I didn’t not believe – I truly and deeply believed.  And I was furious with God.

Yet, simple things made me listen again.

trinityexteriorwebA thoughtful, educated, and decent priest.  A warm greeter.  A catechist with doubts.  A man who lost more than me and yet still came back.  One by one, I met people who taught me more of faith than the media could of fear. I met people who were bright, faithful, kind and yet who could admit they didn’t have all of the answers.

Laughter and tears. Bread and Wine.  Hymn and Candlelight.  Simple things ultimately wore my anger down to something manageable – something I could finally metabolize because I was being fed with something else.

I would not be a Christian if not for two things.  The love of someone patient and the beauty of adoration offered lovingly.

If I were asked now for what might bring people back to Church, I would offer those two things – be patient with those you love – the whole community around you if you can. Do what you do with beauty, care, and reverence.  These two things – patient loving-kindness and attentive beauty are scarce in our society and their cultivation says something holy about us as believers and as a community of faith.

God speaks to us in these simple things.  Ultimately, God is patient with us.  God tells us something of himself in beauty.  God is giving us a chance to hold open the door for those who long to come in but can’t dare to dream that the invitation is for them too.


The Eucharistic Heart of Christian Leaders

In watching a couple of crises unfold around the Church I have been wondering about the nature of Christian leadership.  I wrote a piece not long ago on “prayerfully holding the center” in times of change and crisis.  The image I chose was one of the host being carefully held in a priest’s hands during mass.  I had chosen the image because I said that leadership that emanates from the Altar is different from leadership asserted at a board table.

Now though I am thinking that there was more to the image – to its use in talking of the exercise of Christian leadership.  What is Christian leadership except the giving up of self to become something more?  In order to truly lead a Christian organization one must, necessarily, sublimate the ego-self to the point where your own best gifts are seen in the revealing light of Christ’s own Presence in the community and in the Sacramental life.

There is a Eucharistic Heart to Christian leadership.

It fundamentally and decisively hinges on holding the community and people you serve with the same delicate attentiveness that one holds a consecrated host.  The Body of Christ we serve demands the same reverence, adoration, and thoughtful care that the Sacrament does – for what it makes of us is as precious as what it is.

The Sacrament, and Christian leadership, do not exist for their own ends but for the ends of those who receive them – they do not exist to feed privately holy or powerful individuals but to reveal and focus the Christ-likeness of those journeying in the heart of God.  A Christian leader is one who reveals more of the fundamental best, the essence of the community and the individuals in it. The crucial thing is to hold onto the essential truth that our fundamental best is Christ.

Icon, Adorer of the Euch. Face of XtWhen we consecrate bread we are taking a common thing and naming it holy because that is what Christ commands of us.  We are in mortal danger when we take it without perceiving that deepest alteration of its essence.  It is substantially transformed and by grace we approach it, take it, and let it make of us something new.  We are in equally mortal danger should we not see the Body in the community that trusts us to lead.

We come to it with trembling hands because we have been given an awesome gift.

The exercise of Christian leadership must be undertaken with the same awareness of the precious gift that it is – and with the same care for that which is being handed to us.  Our role is to hold, adore, nurture, and receive the gifts of the Body.  In the same way that we implore the Holy Spirit to make of bread a new thing, the Christian priest begs the Holy Spirit to be in and with the communities we lead and to make of them a new and holy thing – to reveal their essence which has been baptized into new life.

This leadership is only about power in that it is the welcome of the power of the Spirit.

It is only about force when in that we reject the force that raised the cross.

It is only about ego in that it is about laying aside our own.

It is only about abuse in that it frees the community from the fear of it.

It is only about recrimination in that it asks us to interrogate our own motives.

The Eucharistic Heart of leadership rests its hope on the shape of the Eucharistic act.  We gather with our community.  We hear and know the word of God.  We respond to that story of God’s faithfulness with our own pledge to live in holiness.  We confess where we have gone amiss – and when we have wronged the Body.  We are forgiven and restored.  We know peace and come before the throne together.  We gather our shared gifts, small and large, and lay them out for transformation.  We ask the Holy Spirit to come.  We see, know, and understand brokenness – then we see it made whole in perfect love.  We share in that which we know ourselves to be as the Body.  We are blessed and we go forth blessed, fed, forgiven, and made bold in Christ’s own humility.

In all of this it is easy to be distracted by the stuff – in liturgy it is easy to fall prey to the need to be charismatic, charming, or humorous.  It is easy to think, “This is going wrong and it is up to me to fix it.” It is easy to say, “I’m doing a great job!”  It is even easier to say, “I’m failing.”  It is tempting to be anxious, resentful, or fearful.  It is tempting to be prideful, vain, or self-satisfied.  Yet, it is not about us.

When we hear the words of Christ, when we look into the eyes of the gathered community, when we let the generations call us to humility in a Communion shared from before the foundations of the world, when we know ourselves as forgiven and restored – when we do all of this with a generous heart we will have rested in the Eucharistic Heart for we will have let the Body change us.

The Eucharistic Heart of leadership is not really about “leadership” at all – at least not in the classic sense of force of will or charisma.  It is about creating the space for holy and utter transformation to occur – this can never happen in communities that are fearful of our authority.  It can only happen in communities that trust that we too are letting the Spirit make of us a new thing – that we are letting the Body feed us for some new work of holiness.

So we hold it gently.  We hold it fearfully.  We hold it with tenderness.  We hold it knowing that in it the fullness of Christ is prepared to dwell – if only we can have the courage to see it for the revered and precious thing it is for it is nothing less than the Body.


Appreciating the Faculty of General Seminary

“It is the office of a true teacher to show us that God is, not was;  that He speaketh, not spake.  -Ralph Waldo Emerson

This evening, I remembered something from our senior year at General Seminary as I was finishing an earlier piece about GTS.  I was responsible for coordinating the annual Faculty Appreciation Dinner and put together a program for the evening.  The program included appreciations of the faculty written and submitted by students.  These included reflections such as:

David Hurd: “A true genius, it is an honor to learn from David Hurd – CM 1 was as much a class in liturgy as music, and we get brilliant flashes of insight as such during his lectures – in both these lectures and in his work in the chapel and schola, it is abundantly clear how much this man truly loves God, and that his most fervent wish is to communicate as much and in such ways as will spread that love to us as individuals, and will help us to go forth in that very spirit. There are few things in life more sustaining than witnessing David Hurd when the spirit is moving in him.”

Deirdre Good: “It has been an incredible relief to have an intelligent, strong woman as an example. I love that I am not only allowed but expected to think outside the box and I have learned more from her than she will know.”

Mitties DeChamplain: “Mitties is such a powerful proponent of the student’s own abilities… she is one of the most supportive, yet challenging teachers I have had the pleasure to study under. Her ability to manage rhetoric and help us to say what we really mean (or what we need to say in the world) is priceless to this institution!”

The program is attached in its fullness below and has many more reflections offered.  It would be a wonderful thing to see these kind of reflections all over Facebook so we can express our appreciation for the fine, faithful work these men and women have done regardless of how the current dispute unfolds.

Faculty Appreciation Program



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,298 other followers