Friday, May 29, 2020


When the day of Pentecost had come, 
the disciples were all together in one place. 
And suddenly from heaven there came a sound 
like the rush of a violent wind . . . ."

Happy Birthday, Holy Comforter.
Today is your parish birthday and the birthday 
          of the Church Universal.
The bad news is that I am going to speak 
        -- not just about the Pentecost lesson --
but about the entire Book of Acts.
The good news is that I have only two simple points
-- Church change and life change. 
They both happen.

The story of Pentecost is from 
       The Acts of the Apostles, but it’s better known 
        as The Acts of the Holy Spirit.
Every important thing that happens in Acts
              is done through people by God’s Spirit.

To get the point, you have to know 
when and why this book was written.
In the first generation, 
         the Apostles led the Christian Movement.
They were the rock stars of our faith.

But then they began to die off.  
So, people were anxious.
Without Peter, Paul, Barnabas, James, and the rest, 
could the Church go on?

Luke’s point is that it wasn’t really about the Apostles.
It was about God. Whatever they did,
                they did by the power of God’s Spirit.
Leaders come and leaders go; 
         but the Holy Spirit is still here.

A young priest was called to his first rectorate.
His first Sunday, in the receiving line,
    an old church member named Joe said,
    “Glad to meet you. I’m a fore and aft Episcopalian.” 
“What’s that?” the priest asked.
Joe replied, “I was here before and I’ll be here after you.”
Well the Holy Spirit is a fore and aft Episcopalian.
Truth be told the Holy Spirit will outlast even Joe.

Holy Comforter has seen a lot of turnover.
Father Bill left to become rector of St. Alban’s;
Deacon Linda was redeployed;
Mother Kim became Director of Cathedral Ridge.
We have changed leadership in Youth Ministries.
Our parish administrator, Jackson, 
          has begun a new career.
And beloved lay leaders have moved to other cities.

None of these people – not one – left 
         because of anything wrong at Holy Comforter.
They all moved on in the ordinary course of life.
A 9-year rectorate is a good run.
A 3-year assistant rectorate is a good run. 
No one left because of anything wrong here.
It was just the way things go.

Impermanence is part of life.
In 500 BC, Heraclitus said, “Change is the only constant in life.”
The rate of change has not slowed down.
We have ups and downs. People come and go.
But as Frank Sinatra said, 
       “This fine old world just keeps turning around.”

Acts simple point is that 
        the Holy Spirit works through us.
And when we aren’t here,
            the Holy Spirit keeps working through new people.

We don’t place our faith in the people,
             however noble and gifted they may be.
We place our faith in the Holy Spirit.
Luke wrote Acts as the sequel to his Gospel.
In Luke’s Gospel, just what makes Jesus the Christ?
You might say “the Virgin Birth,”
          but how did that happen?
The angel said to Mary, 
           “the Holy Spirit will come upon you.”
Jesus was born by the Holy Spirit.

At Jesus’ baptism, Luke says, 
          he was “full of the Holy Spirit.”
When he began his ministry, Jesus said,
           “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me
             because he has anointed me 
             to proclaim Good news to the poor.”

It is the Holy Spirit that makes Jesus the Christ
just as it was the Holy Spirit 
        that made the Apostles apostles,
           just as it is the Holy Spirit that makes priests priests
                     in ordination 
           and makes all of us Christians in Baptism.

Remember, each of you is 
     “sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism 
      and marked as Christ’s own forever
          -- not until there’s a clergy transition, forever!

Change is hard. Change is just a lot of trouble.
But Zorba the Greeks said, “Trouble? Life is trouble.
Only in death is there no trouble.”
Life is change and change is unsettling.
Life is unsettling. We were not made to be settled.
We are made to be on the move 
    like Abraham, like Jesus, and like the Apostles.

Change is a sign of the Holy Spirit moving among us.
The Holy Spirit is always changing things.
In Thessalonica, they prosecuted the Apostles
    for “turning the world upside down.”

That’s just what they were doing -- guilty! --
    because they were acting from the Holy Spirit
    and that’s what the Holy Spirit does.
She turns the world upside down; 
         then she turns it downside up.
She blows the status quo open 
         to new and unforeseen life.

So where do we place our faith?
In each other, yes, 
    but only because the Holy Spirit lives in us,
    inspires us, and guides us toward wisdom.
The Apostles came and went. Clergy come and go.
But the Holy Spirit is still here.

This isn’t just about Church. 
It’s about all of life.
The pandemic, for example, has disrupted our lives.
Some of the old ways will come back.
But not all of them. 
And there will be new ways we cannot yet foresee.

That’s unsettling. 
We are apt to miss the past
    and feel anxious about the future.
That’s natural. But hold onto this:
God never changes but God changes everything.

Henry Ward Beecher said,
    “ Our days are a kaleidoscope. 
Every instant a change takes place. 
New harmonies, new contrasts, 
new combinations of every sort. 
The most familiar people stand each moment 
in some new relation to each other, to their work, . . ..”

“Every instant a change takes place. . . 
     New harmonies, new contrasts, new combinations . . ..”
It is foolish and futile to place our faith 
in the familiarity of the status quo.
We place our faith on the solid rock of God’s love for us.
You can take that to the bank.
God’s love is the constant that lies behind and beneath
    all the change.

Trusting God gives us the courage to live
    knowing that life is change.
We know where the change is headed,
    deeper and deeper into the Source, the Destiny, 
    the Meaning, and the infinite Beauty of everything.

Thursday, May 28, 2020


Dear People of Holy Comforter, 

     Thank you for the opportunity to serve the congregation in some small ways during this time of transition. One way I have tried to serve is by sending you these weekly letters. Originally, I  hoped the letters would establish a wide and consistent pastoral contact to help lower anxiety during the transition. However, the pandemic shifted our focus. In recent weeks, the letters have emphasized theology because the traditional Christian faith has much to offer for hard times – not just to get us through them but to make us better because of them. It is spiritual alchemy turning the lead of social distancing into the gold of compassion. So I’ve been teaching the practice of Christian virtues, how God meets us in times of trouble, and how God just being God gives us hope.

Many of you have responded graciously to these letters and others have sent kind notes of appreciation and good wishes. I was touched by all your messages and am deeply grateful. I will remember you and your words warmly for years to come.

     As I write, your new interim has been chosen but the necessary formalities have to be completed before your wardens can make the announcement. But I can say your new interim is a well-respected, experienced, and capable clergy person who I have no doubt will serve you better than I ever could have. You are in good hands. I hope you will greet your new interim with Christian hospitality and prepare your hearts to follow a new leader. 

There are different approaches to interim ministry. I took an approach that was authentic for me and that seemed best crafted to serve you at that time. In retrospect, I would do some things differently; so, if your new interim has a different approach, I have every reason to believe the new way is better. An interim prepares the congregation for the new rector who will lead you into a new day. I am confident your new interim will do that beautifully and that you will work with your new interim to that end. 

     In her wisdom born of experience, the Church has a protocol that when clergy leave a congregation, we keep our distance until the new rector has had at least a year to get established. So you will not be seeing or hearing from me after this Sunday for some months. A number of you are my friends on social media. While I must temporarily suspend that tie, please know that I am just adhering to Church protocol for your benefit. There is no one at Holy Comforter I would not be delighted to reconnect with when the time is right. 

Before I go, I want to say two more things about the current challenge. The first is that it is hard not being able to gather with each other at the Church building. No way around that. The online gatherings are good, but not the same. Cognitive science was already telling us the downside of doing our social connections cybernetically. So, the Church is doing the best she can with what she’s got to work with. 

     But we have been through something like this before. During the British Protectorate (think Oliver Cromwell), Anglican worship was prohibited for 40 years.  40 years! It was a crime even to possess a Book of Common Prayer. But the people had Prayer Books anyway and they used them to worship at home. They were together with other Church members, not in person, but by saying the same prayers. That’s what “common prayer” means. Many of you have Prayer Books. If you don’t, you can order one.  Or you can find it online. I encourage you to print off the prayers you want to use rather than praying them from the computer screen. Pay particular attention to the Daily Office. Click it on the side bar “Daily Office.” For those using the real Book, it’s pp. 37-135. For a short and simple set of prayers, check the Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families, pp.137-140. And you may find other prayers you want to add in to suit your own spirit. See pp. 810 - 841. Of course, you may draw prayers from other resources as well.

     Our forebears survived 40 years without joining each other for fellowship and worship because they still had the Book -- the Book of Common Prayer. You have it too. When the Church reopens, you may come together in a new way after having immersed yourselves in the prayers of Anglican Spirituality. 

     The second thing I want to share before I go is about the general mood of our time. Being separated from our Church community is only part of it. There is the separation from friends and family, the disruption of lifestyles, the economic burden, the anxiety for our own health and the health of those we love. There is no ignoring or pretending away our thoughts and feelings. Now is the time to be compassionate with each other as we are all going through a hard time, and that compassion starts with ourselves. So, be gentle with the parts of yourselves that feel all the things this ordeal makes us feel. 

     But if we practice faith, we don’t let those thoughts and feelings carry us away. We have our feelings, but our feelings don’t have us. Rumi wrote:

“If you are seeking, seek us with joy
For we live in the kingdom of joy.
Do not give your heart to anything else
But to the love of those who are clear joy,
Do not stray into the neighborhood of despair.
For there are hopes: they are real, they exist --
Do not go in the direction of darkness --
I tell you: suns exist.”

We do not deny our grief and anxiety. But we remember that “suns exist.” There is beauty out there, and humor, peace, simplicity, and love. Hold space for grace in your lives. 1st Peter said in last Sunday’s lesson, “Keep alert.” Alert for what? Alert for joy. Alert for delightful things happening right now in our lives. Pay attention to God who is present with us in this. God is present as the incongruous joy in the nighttime of our fears. “For there are hopes: they are real. They exist.”

I’ve spoken before of the psychoanalyst Victor Frankl, how he was imprisoned at Auschwitz and Dachau, how he lost his parents and his pregnant wife in the Holocaust. Dr. Frankl observed that the people most likely to survive the death camps were those who found or made meaning from the experience. That led him to write the classic, Man’s Search For Meaning. After his release, Dr. Frankl gave a series of lectures in 1946. His notes were lost for decades but have recently been published as Say Yes To Life In Spite Of Everything.[i]

     The title comes in a telling roundabout way. One of the first commanders at Buchenwald ordered that a “camp song” be written and sung every day. Understandably, most sang it with anger and resentment. But others wrote in a verse that had to be sung quietly so the guards could not hear. The verse went:
                 “Whatever our future may hold
We want to say ‘yes’ to life
Because one day the time will come –
     Then we will be free!”

This is Jewish strength and wisdom. Greek and Roman Stoics, Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, said the same thing, calling it the “discipline of desire” – saying “yes” to life whatever comes our way. Saying “yes” keeps us in the game. St. Paul, no stranger to hardship, said, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice!”[ii] Always? Yes, always. Because God is good even when life is hard. God cares and will bring us through. That’s worth rejoicing. Even the secular sage Frank Sinatra taught us that “this fine old world just keeps turning around.” We stay to see what happens next.

     So, brothers and sisters, hang in there. Keep alert for joy. Say “yes” to life. Seek the Lord. Be kind – to others and to yourselves. This too shall pass.

Blessings always,
Bishop Dan 




Saturday, May 23, 2020


We are all having a hard time these days
     – medically, economically, emotionally.
One way or another, this is rough for everybody.

We have all heard so-called Biblical explanations 
       of hard times --  punishment for sin
        -- part of God’s secret plan --  test of faith; etc. 
We may or may not buy those explanations,
     but they keep echoing in our minds.  

Today’s Epistle lesson sounds 
       like one of the bad explanations.
1st Peter says: “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal
     that is taking place . . . to test you.”
That makes God sound like a cosmic Josef Mengele[i]
     dousing us with disease and death 
                 just to see how we’ll take it. 

So, let’s be clear. The Bible does not have 
        one overarching answer 
for why life gets so dreadfully hard.
It has lots of ideas by people struggling 
         to make sense of things.
They don’t agree.[ii] They are just doing the best they can.
Most of the things they say include a thread of truth. 
But they are at best partial answers.[iii]

Philosopher Marilyn McCord Adams says,
     “The Bible is fairly short on explanations of suffering, 
but long on” (how God preserves
 and redeems us through it).

Take today’s lesson. 
If we can push the mute button on those echoes 
      ringing in our heads,
     we’ll notice the text never says God sent 
               “the fiery ordeal.”
The return address on that package was Rome 
          – not Heaven.[iv]

Peter says the ordeal functions as a “trial”.[v]
There’s truth in that. Hardship exposes our characters.
Today, we see some people behaving 
      with remarkable kindness, exemplary compassion,     
      bravery, generosity, and patience.
We see others hoarding, price-gouging, profiteering,
     gunning up, and acting in selfish disregard
for the safety of others.
Peter isn’t explaining away ordeals.
He’s counseling us how to practice our faith in hard times. 
Peter says: “Discipline yourselves. Keep alert . . . .
            Know that your brothers and sisters in the world
            are undergoing the same kinds of suffering. . . .[vi]
     Above all, love each other . . . .
            Use whatever gifts you have to serve others.”[vii]

Just as hardship shows what we are made of,
     it can be an opportunity to become better, 
       more fully human.
-- an opportunity to become more caring,
     compassionate, generous, kind.

The meaning in hardship isn’t any explanation
we can read in a book or hear from a preacher.
The meaning depends on what we do with it.
We can shrink into fear, bitterness, and blaming.
Or we can grow toward a new unity in our struggles.

We have had larger catastrophes.
The current death toll from Covid-19 is around 6 million.[viii]
The Spanish Flu killed 50 million;
New World Smallpox, 56 million;
The Black Death, 200 million.
The 2004 tsunami killed 225,000 people in a day
     and countless more in the ensuing famine and civil war.

But those disasters were localized in particular regions.
This pandemic is global. It touches the whole world.

So, might this be the time to extend 
     our circle of compassion to include 
refugee camps in Bangladesh and Lesbos
           -- think Episcopal Relief & Development 
      or migrant detention centers in Texas 
            and next door in Aurora
          --  think Episcopal Migration Ministries,
     or United Nations planning to rebuild the economy
better for the environment
            -- think Episcopal Creation Care.

There is much we could do, so much we could become . 
Might this be the time to extend our compassion
around the world to all the people Jesus loves?


[i] Nazi scientist who performed horrific experiments on Jews during the Holocaust.

[ii] The idea that God sends hardship as punishment for sin is problematic to be sure, first off because good people sometimes suffer disasters while bad people often fare quite well. In Antiquity, people believed that hardships were the work of the gods. Virgil called them “the merciless gods.” The pagan gods meted out blessings and curses randomly according to their whims. The best way to win a god’s favor was sacrifices. It was a system of cosmic graft. The Deuteronomic tradition in the Hebrew Scriptures agreed YHWH sent blessings and curses, but he did it according to his concern for morality. It was a carrot and stick spirituality, but it was a step forward in religion. Still, it didn’t ring true to experience. Later the Wisdom writers taught that if one lives wisely, he will flourish. But that didn’t always prove true either. Job’s “comforters” tried to advise him how to get back on his feet by quoting the Book of Proverbs (part of the Wisdom literature) to him. Job replied, “Quote to me no more these proverbs of dust.” God shows up at the end of the book and agrees with Job. These are examples of how different ideas were expressed trying to make meaning out of suffering. But none of them carried the day. 

[iii] In Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God, Marilyn McCord Adams says that the various theories of why the world is a mess if God is good generally have some value, but she calls them “partial answers” and says that the danger of treating a partial answer as a general theory is that it ends up “attributing perverse motives to God.”

[iv] Depending on the actual date, it might have been Ephesus instead. Either way, it was persecution from the state religion of the Empire. 

[v] We translate Biblical words as “trial,” “test,” and “temptation” but they all come down to occasions that invite or pressure us to fall away from our faith, become less than our true selves. The primal occasion of a “trial/ test/ temptation” is the serpent inviting Eve to eat the fruit in the Garden, Genesis 3. There is no indication God sent the serpent to administer a moral exam. God already knows our hearts. Jeremiah 7: 10; Romans 8: 27. Trials and temptations in Scripture are, generally speaking, not from God. 

[vi] I Peter 5: 8-10.

[vii] I Peter 4: 7, 10.

[viii] I am by no means saying a death toll of 6 million is “not so bad” and of course the numbers are still rising. It is horrifically tragic. The point here is that although there have been larger disasters, the difference in this one is that it not regionally limited. It is global. HIV/AIDS was also global, and it killed 25 million just between 1981 and 2012 when the number of deaths per year began to decline. But major segments of the population still felt they were not at risk. In this case, we all fee7,10l at risk and are more directly impacted by social distancing.