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.