Tuesday, April 22, 2014


If sacraments don’t change things, there is no point in doing them.
All sacraments change relationships.
Since our identity is grounded in relationships,
            sacraments change our identity.
They do not obliterate  our old identity and replace it
            with a new one.
The bread and wine do not cease to be bread and wine
            when they become the body and blood of Christ.
But sacraments shift our identity in important ways.

Figuring out what difference ordination makes takes a lifetime.
It is not a matter of going to the ecclesiastical trade school,
            learning the craft, and then just doing it.
Ordination is the beginning of a lifelong path of discovery.

So what I offer Abigail today is not instruction on how to be a priest,
            but rather a few pointers on how to walk the path of discovery.
I want to address three axioms about priesthood
            you have heard and will hear again.

Axiom number one: trust your gut.
Don’t do that. Never trust your gut.
Your gut is a metaphor for the mirror neurons in the amygdala
            of your brain.
It is reactive, unreflective, and undifferentiated.
If you think you are trusting your gut,
            you are likely trusting somebody else’s gut,
            -- most likely the gut of the most proficient button pusher
in the room
            who is most likely the least healthy person in the room.
Never trust your gut. Think, Reflect. Pray.
And above all, consult wise calm people outside the situation.

Ask advice but do not necessarily follow it.
85% of the advice you get will be wrong.
Clergy living with their own repressed hostilities
            will urge you to do what they are rightly afraid to do
                        because it would in fact be suicidal.
But the advice will be sufficiently contradictory
            to move you into a neutral balanced place
            where you can access  your own heart wisdom
                        instead of your reactive gut.

Bishop Barker of Nebraska recently said his guide to ministry came
from Louise Penny’s fictional detective hero,
Chief Inspector Armand Gamasch.
His principles are:
            Know that you do not know.
            Ask for help.
            And apologize.//
Those principles will keep you alive when trusting your gut
            will get you killed.

Axiom two: build bridges.
This one is actually true.
That’s what you do liturgically.
You say prayers to God on behalf of the people.
You pronounce absolution and blessing to the people,
            on behalf of God.
That is the vertical bridge you build in the liturgy.

The rest of the time, you are to build horizontal bridges
            among people.
To do that bridge building, which is the heart of your vocation,
            you must first connect with people yourself --
not just in the hospital room, not just at the hour of death,
            not just in the time of crisis --
but day in, day out,
in the ordinary moments that make up our lives.
                        you must connect.

You do not have to be a glad-handing social butterfly,
            but you must speak to people, and while you speak to them,
            you must look at them, look with interest as if they matter.
Look them in the eye, not trying to think of something wise to say,
            but just to see them.
Look with interest and care. Cultivate curiosity.
See your people – deeply and often.

But you must not stop there.
You are a midwife of their relationships.
You are the matchmaker.
You have to tell the people about each other, and
-- using as little force as possible
                        but as much force as necessary --
            get them in the same room together and lock the door,
            so  that if they do not kill each other,
they will work something out.
We live in a time of profound alienation and loneliness.
While social media connect us more widely and more often,
            we have less and less of the organic human interaction
            without witch our souls shrivel.
That organic human interaction is the lived experience of Holy Communion.
Without it our Sunday rituals are a sham.

So it falls to you to invite, to cajole, to entice people
            into relationship.
And you cannot do that with a flyer.
You cannot do that with an email to distribution list
            or a Facebook initiation.
You cannot do it with an announcement at church.

You have to, at a minimum, call someone up on the telephone
            and speak words to them.
Better, you have to speak to them in person.
You have to take people to lunch.
You have to invite them to coffee, tea, sherry, beer,
            or whatever they drink..

Read Daniel Goleman’s book Social Intelligence 3 times,
            and practice building neural bridges.
Then use those neural bridges for the sake of the gospel.

Axiom three: just be yourself.
True, you must be yourself.
But you cannot just be yourself.
You were already yourself before you were ordained.
Priesthood demands that you become more than yourself.
The cross you will put after your name is also a plus
            -- Abigail plus the attributes of a priest.
Do not leave yourself behind.
Do not become someone other than  yourself.
Be yourself, but not just yourself.
                        Be a blessed version of yourself,
                        Be yourself as priest.

You have to do that, not to puff yourself up,
            but because the people need it,
            they need your authentic self spiritually amplified.

Last week I heard a survivor of the 1995 bombing
            of the Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City
tell her story.
It was a story of physical injury, severe PTSD, then depression,
            despair and the loss of her faith.
The bomb blew apart her moral universe.
She ceased to believe in meaning, goodness, hope, and happiness.
That is a dangerous state of mind.

Out of natural concern, her family sent her to a priest.
The priest listened to her.
You have been trained in that. I know. I was with you.
The priest was present with her. You have been trained in that too.

But she needed more than  you learned in CPE.
When she told the priest she had lost her faith.
he said, “That’s ok. Just keep going to church.
Keep praying  even when it feels like you’re talking to the wall.
You don’t’ have to have faith right now.
I have enough faith for both of us.

Someday, in two years, five years, 20 years,
            your faith will come back.
Until then, I’ve got it covered.”

She has her faith back.
She got it back in due course
            while her priest believed on her behalf.
Abigail, faith is a choice, not a feeling, not a mood.
It’s a choice.
Most of us choose for or against faith
            based on what works better for us.
By your vows you make that choice not for yourself
            but rather for the sake of all the people who need you to believe,
            to trust, to hope, and pray
                        precisely because they cannot.

As a priest, you are not better than anyone else.
You are no more righteous, no more holy.
But you have taken on special obligations, a special dharma,
            a special way of being in the world,
not for your own satisfaction or even sanctification,
but for the sanctification
                        of the plebs sancta dei, the holy people of God.

So let me summarize:
Don’t’ trust your gut.
Think, pray, and consult, consult, consult.

Build bridges.
                        Bridges to God. Bridges from person to person.
                        The Kingdome of God is build or torn down
                        in the relational space among the people.

Be yourself but be more than yourself.
Be the personal, flesh and blood embodiment,         
            of the whole Church,
            embodying her faith and her discipline
            because that’s what people need and that’s your job.

May God bless you in this ministry.
May God bless you in this life.
It is a hard life, a crazy making life,
            but it is first and foremost a love life.
Love well and you will live well. That much is guaranteed.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


In Jesus’ day, Jews were afraid and oppressed
            -- afraid of the Romans and oppressed by the Romans.
Rome used its vast military power to control
weaker nations like Judah and Galilee.

So there was a  revolutionary movement.
The Zealot party gathered swords and spears
the way modern revolutionaries would gather guns and bombs.
They planned to match the violence of Rome
            with their own violence.

Others said, “That is hopeless.
It is better to do what Rome says – just get along.”
Some of Jesus’s follower wanted Jesus to lead their revolution.
Others just  wanted to stay out of trouble.

But Jesus taught a third way.
He taught them to resist oppression in clever peaceful ways.
He taught them ways of prayer and a holy life
            that put Rome to shame.
He said “do not resist evil with evil.
Do not resist the violence of Rome
            with your own violence.
But overcome evil with good.
Defeat the way of violence with the way of peace.”

On that first Palm Sunday, two men led parades into Jerusalem.
From the West, Pontius Pilate,
the most powerful military and political boss
            in the country rode on a stallion, a warhorse.
Pilate led a whole cavalry brigade of Roman warriors,
            and at least 80 foot soldiers too, maybe as many as 500.
Pilate’s soldiers were there to reinforce the garrison
            at Jerusalem in case of any trouble
            during the big gathering in the holy city for Passover.
But the procession was designed to intimidate the people
            with the threat of Roman power.
So Pilate rode in with trumpets blaring.
He rode in with pomp and grandeur.
But half the crowd wasn’t there.
Half the crowd was on the other side of town.

While Pilate was entering Jerusalem from the West,
            Jesus was arriving from the East.
Instead of a powerful stallion, he rode a flea-bitten little donkey.
Instead of hundreds of soldiers, he had 12 ragged friends.
It was a deliberate political demonstration.
It was political theater mocking Pilate and his Roman power.
It was the kind of joke that makes self-important people
            like Pilate furious until they learn to laugh at themselves.

I have just returned from the Episcopal Church’s conference on
            Reclaiming the Gospel of Peace.
Bishop Sutton of Maryland called the way of Jesus
            “soul force,” the power of persistent love
                        to overcome evil.
He cited Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela
            as followers of Jesus’ peaceful path to justice.
He might have added Caesar Chavez and Aung San Suu Ky of Myanmar.
He might have included Corazon Aquino.
He cited a historian who said the 20th Century was a testimony
to the effectiveness of non-violent resistance
                        to change the course of government.
It was also a testimony to the futility of war
            to accomplish anything good.

None of our national wars has brought peace, prosperity, or happiness.
Yet, we have grown so fond of war
            that our leaders use the idea of war to solve anything.
We have a war on terrorism, a war on drugs, and so forth.
Once we even had a war on rising prices.
Gangs are a major problem in our cities.
They are the biggest problem when the gangs have a gang war.
So to respond to this problem, we now have the War on Gangs.
Any fool can see that is pouring gasoline on a fire.
We haven’t actually won a war since 1945 but we keep doing it.
What we are doing is not working.
Instead of having our minds stuck in the way we have been doing things,
            the way of war on whatever we thing is bad,
            we might remember Jesus and his teachings.

“Do not resist evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.”
Here was a man who dealt with sin by forgiving sinners,
            dealt with sickness by healing the worst diseases,
            dealt with divisions among Jews by inviting
                        people from opposing sides to be his disciples,
dealt with the separation from gentiles
                        by healing a gentile child and committing an act
of civil disobedience, breaking the law to drink water
from the hand of a Samaritan woman.

Jesus crossed the boundaries to make peace.
And that made the people in power angry.
It made them angry because their power was based on fear and division.
Without enemies, they lose their power.
Jesus scared them with a completely different power – soul force.
But how far was he willing to take that?
Would he remain non-violent even to the point of death?
When the guards came to arrest Jesus, Peter went for his sword.
But Jesus said, “Put it back in its sheath.
Don’t you know I have only to say the word
            and I’ll have more than 12 legions of angels
                        to take these guys out?”

Each angel is a fighting force beyond what we can imagine.
Do you know how many angels are in 12 legions?
That would 64,800 angels.
Jesus had ample firepower at his disposal.
He also had a lot at stake -- torture and death.
But Jesus chose to take up his cross
            rather than resist evil with evil,
            violence with violence, war with war.

Holy Week will be a story of courage,
            the courage to suffer and even die
            in hope that God will redeem.
Easter will be the story of God’s judgment,
            awarding eternal life and perfect glory,
                        to Jesus who overcame evil with good.

Sometimes someone still acts like Jesus.
Coming on Christmas 1957, Martin Luther King was in jail,.
While there he wrote his Christmas sermon. He said,
            “To our bitterest opponents I say,
            ‘we will match your capacity to inflict suffering
                        with our capacity to endure suffering.
            We shall meet your physical force with soul force.
            Do to us what you will and we shall continue to love you. . . . .
            Bomb our homes and threaten our children,
                        and we shall continue to love you.
            Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community
                        at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead,
                        and we shall still love you.
            But be ye assured we will wear you down
                        with our capacity to love.
            We shall win freedom but not only for ourselves.
            We shall  so appeal to your heart and conscience
                        that we shall win you in the process,    
                        and it shall be a double victory.”

I speak to you today, as one of those racists,
            whose soul was saved by those  African American heroes
                        with their endless capacity to endure suffering.
That’s what Jesus was doing on the cross.
He won soul of the centurion
who saw who Jesus was by the way he died.
He won you and he won me.

And following his example, we will win the world.