What I am supposed to be doing is. . .

Beth posted the instructions for "five books meme" here (at Dec. 6th). Following are my results:

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug. And he would have broken from the circle, but Miss Cathy seized him again. Why his final words to her referenced the famous painting, Sophie had no idea, but she could think of only one possibility. Eh bien, moi, j’en ai assez des gens qui meurent pour une idée [trans. “as for me, I know some folks who would die for an idea”(*)]. I been there before.
  1. Little Women (actually it is a volume of three Louisa May Alcott novels, but I thought it would be dull to use them for each of the first three sentences of my paragraph)
  2. Wuthering Heights
  3. The Da Vinci Code (how embarrassing!)
  4. La peste [trans. The Plague]
  5. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

*I confess that I did not use a dictionary for this translation and have not studied French since 1990 so I make no claims as to the accuracy of my translation.

So, what I am supposed to be doing is (a) preparing a sermon for Sunday - on bearing witness to the light; (b) creating my lesson plan for the youth Sunday school class; and (c) scheduling the next liturgy commission meeting. This bit of procrastination now behind me, onward and upward. . . (wow, a Google Search of "onward and upward" and "procrastination" yielded 357 hits. . .)


The End Is Coming . . .

One of my favorite Sesame Street bits involved one of the adults reading a story to the kids who were sitting on the steps. Throughout the story, a muppet kept walking by shouting the words which were printed on the sandwich board he was wearing: "The End is Coming!" When the adult finished reading the story, the same muppet walked by with a new sandwich board - this time announcing that the end had come. Brilliant! Just brilliant!

Today is Tuesday and I keep waiting for that sandwich board announcement: "The End is Coming!" to mark the end of my academic career at Seabury-Western. For during the winter quarter, I will be away at St. Nicholas Episcopal Church in Elk Grove Village "doing field ed" (i.e., a full-time, 10-week internship). Once that is completed, I'm done. Yup - that's it friends. My two years at Seabury will come to an end.

Some have asked, "What are you going to do once you've finished seminary?" Well, my friends, I'm going to Disney World. That's a fact. Andrea and I have been talking about this since we met and, at long last, we're going. The tips from my coffee shop job are all in a coin jar waiting to be cashed in for 1 day at Disney World, 2 days at Epcott, and 1 day at MGM.

Don't worry. . . I'll be back in June for commencement. You see, "the end IS coming." but for today I must live in the already and the not yet of the parousia.


Preaching in Omaha

I thought I had posted this on November 8th only to discover today (December 6) that I had not! So, here it is - yes, it says November 8th - but those of you who have been checking my Blog know that it is new today! I can't fool you!

Sermon Preached on November 6, 2005 - Year A, Proper 27
St. Andrew's Episcopal Church (The Rev. Grant Wiseman, Rector (and, incidentally, Seabury alum))
Omaha, Nebraska

I think I can speak for all of us visiting from Seabury-Western and say that we have truly enjoyed our time here in Omaha. I especially appreciated experiencing the variety of worship here last week and this. And, at this service, I really enjoyed the musical gifts offered by the Son-Shine Singers, the Treble Choir, the Junior Choir, and the Senior Choir. And, then in comes the Prophet Amos to dampen my good mood:

“Thus says the Lord, the God of hosts. . .
Alas for you who desire the day of the LORD!
. . . .
I hate, I despise your festivals,
And I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
. . . .
Take away from me the noise of your songs;
I will not listen to the melody of your harps.”

Well shoot – that throws a wet blanket on things! Amos challenges me; but I like a good challenge and I hope you do too! Amos was writing to the nation of Israel about 750 years before the birth of Jesus at a time when most of Israel was enjoying great material wealth and prosperity. The Israelites attributed this accumulation of wealth to God; in their view, God was blessing them with these great riches. To thank God, their worship of God intensified. Unfortunately, what they seemed to have lost sight of was that their accumulation of wealth had come at the expense of others – especially the poor in their community and, in the eyes of the Prophet Amos, this made their worship a sham. So Amos took an image which was familiar to the people of Israel and turned it on its head. That image is the Day of the Lord.

Many of you may be familiar with C. S. Lewis’s book The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. There are actually seven books in the series. The central character throughout is Aslan – a “huge and real, golden Lion.” Most readers agree that this Lion represents God or Christ in the stories. In the last book of the series - called The Last Battle - Lewis describes the Day of the Lord; the moment in which all the creatures come to stand before Aslan. Lewis writes, as all the creatures came before Aslan they looked:

“straight in his face, I don’t think they had any choice about that. And when some looked, the expression of their faces changed terribly – it was fear and hatred. . . . And all the creatures who looked at Aslan in that way swerved to their right, his left, and disappeared into his huge black shadow. . . . I don’t know what became of them. But the others looked in the face of Aslan and loved him, though some of them were very frightened at the same time. And all these came in at the Door, in on Aslan’s right.”

For these “a great joy put everything else out of [their] head[s].”

In the Day of the Lord God will return in judgment to punish sin and set things right. The people of Israel longed for this day. They were sure it would mean judgment on their enemies, blessing for Israel and, above all, vindication for themselves. The prophet Amos, however, was certain that unless the Israelites changed their ways The Day of the Lord would be darkness, not light. In Lewis’ The Last Battle, as the creatures passed through the Door to the Great Lion’s right and looked back, they saw, “With a thrill of wonder (and there was some terror in it too) . . . [a] spreading blackness [that] was not a cloud. . . it was simply emptiness.” On the Day of the Lord, you don’t want to be on the side of darkness, isolation, and emptiness.

But, there is Good News, my brothers and sisters in Christ: Being human means making choices. We can choose to live in sin or we can choose to live the life that Christ sets before us by turning our hearts and our lives over to God. Being chosen by God entails more than just showing up. Being a child of God comes with responsibilities. Amos reminds the Israelites of this at the conclusion of today’s Old Testament reading: “But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” And we acknowledge this each time we renew our baptismal vows promising to continue in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers; promising to persevere in resisting evil; promising to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; promising to seek and serve Christ in all persons; and promising to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being.

During the past week, I’ve visited the Nearly New Shop, I’ve heard about mission trips to Pine Ridge and the Dominican Republic, I’ve participated in study groups grappling with some of life’s big questions: Responsibility, Sin, Trust; and I’ve had the opportunity to meet and talk with a number of you and listen to the passion with which you discuss the ministries of St. Andrew’s and Holy Family. I’ve seen firsthand the ways that you are a resource to the surrounding community. This place IS committed, YOU are committed to ensuring that “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream.” So you might “live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God’s purpose for the world” (BCP, 861). “Encourage one another with these words.”


Waiting in the Pumpkin Patch

I am watching "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" and am struck in this my 30-something-th viewing (The program first aired in 1966) by the juxtaposition of three story-lines: (1) Linus and Sally waiting for the Great Pumpkin in the pumpkin patch; (2) Snoopy, as the World War I Flying Ace; and (3) the rest of the gang trick-or-treating and partying.

Is my attempt to link them something akin to the preacher's attempt to get the Old Testament, New Testament, and Epistle reading all to make sense in a 3-minute sermon?

What is the link? Maybe I need to wait for the next broadcasting of "It's a Mystery, Charlie Brown" to find out!

(For those concerned about my sanity, NOW I am watching the 3rd game of the World Series)


Juvenon or Jesus?

Sermon Preached on the Feast of Ignatius (Bishop of Antioch, and Martyr, c.115) at The Chapel of St. John the Divine, Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, October 17, 2005.

"JUVENON: The Supplement That Can Slow Down the Clock on Aging Cells. For more information, call 1-800-JUVENON."1 That number again is 1-800-j-u-v-e-n-o-n.

This ad appears in this week’s issue of Time in the middle of a short piece from Dr. Andrew Weil’s latest book, Healthy Aging in which he criticizes the growing field of anti-aging medicine for its role in helping us turn a blind eye to the reality of death. Dr. Weil suggests:

"accept the inevitability of aging, understand[] its challenges and promises, and know[] how to keep minds and bodies as healthy as possible while moving through life’s successive stages."2

He then goes on to provide a number of proven techniques: don’t smoke, watch your weight (better yet, follow Dr. Weil’s Wellness Diet), take a multivitamin and multimineral supplement (you can buy one formulated for your specific needs from Dr. Weil’s website), get regular exercise, adequate rest, mitigate stress, and exchange nurturing touch.3 You can read more about these techniques in Dr. Weil’s new book. A book which, as of yesterday, ranked 39th in sales at Amazon and it won’t even be released until tomorrow.4

The market for anti-aging products – and, I would include Dr. Weil’s books, DVDs, and nutritional supplements in this market despite his own criticism of the field – that market for anti-aging products just five years ago was $30 billion. In 2003, this rose to $65.2 billion5 and today includes money spent on live-cell therapies, caloric restriction, and hormone therapies all promising to reverse the normal process of aging.6 Although the technology is new, the concept is not. Men and women have been dying their gray hair for quite some time – mine is highlighted, not dyed - thank you very much! – and buying skin lotions and eye creams that cause wrinkles to magically vanish overnight! Who are these people? According to a Wall Street Journal article that appeared last month, anti-aging treatments are sought mostly among men and women in their 30s and 40s.7

Flashback 19 centuries. . . .

Bishop Ignatius was also interested in physicality. While en route to his trial in Rome, he wrote letters to several Christian churches including those in Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome. In these letters he warns the churches about the dangers of docetism – a problem in his own community of Antioch. For Ignatius, to deny Jesus’ humanity – his “fleshiness” –is tantamount to removing him from history. And, removing Jesus from history leads ultimately to the removal of humanity from salvation. Jesus’ death on the cross had to be physical – not merely spiritual - in order for it to be effective. It is not surprising then that as Ignatius marched from Antioch to Rome, marched to his own martyrdom, that he would ask the churches not to intervene on his behalf. A death as violent and as physical as that experienced by Jesus was, for Ignatius, a noble death.8

Early 21st century – anti-aging medicine; early 2nd century – noble martyrdom. What has happened? Today, many of us carefully create our own image of life, and even more carefully avoid any image of death, any image that reminds us of our humanness – of our physical nature. I am not suggesting that we should be seeking opportunities for martyrdom – though in our current political climate this may become as inevitable for some of us as it was for Ignatius; but rather, I am suggesting that we reexamine our own understanding of what it means to be human, to be created in the image of God, to be gifted with a physical body, and to imagine growing older. Anne Lamott may help us here. In her latest book, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, she makes the bold decision that her body – even the jiggly parts of her legs which she kindly names “The Aunties” – her body deserves to soak up the sun just like everybody else’s.9

This is not about self-acceptance; rather, it is about acceptance of others and acceptance of God. Anything less is a betrayal – a betrayal of our Lord.

We have a choice:
JUVENON: The Supplement That Can Slow Down the Clock on Aging Cells;
THE GOOD NEWS: “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation” – nor our own self-loathing attempts to deny our creaturehood “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The fine print: “The statements made here have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The product featured is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.” But, it does come with a 100% Satisfaction Guarantee!

1 Advertisement appearing in Time, Vol. 166(16), p.68.
2 Andrew Weil, "Aging Naturally," Time, Vol. 166(16), p.62.
3 Ibid., p.64-9.
4 As of the date of this posting (10/21/05), the book has risen to #7 in sales.
5 According to this website, the figures I provided were inflated. Another suggests my estimate was too low. In any event, the number is really, really big!
6 Weil, p. 62.
7 Rhonda L. Rundle, "Wrinkle Treatments Don't Age Well," Wall Street Journal, September 27, 2005, p. D-6.
8 Sources include: John Anthony McGuckin, The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), entries at "Ignatius of Antioch", "Docetism", "Antioch".
9 Anne Lamott, "Cruise Ship," Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith, (New York: Riverhead, 2005), pp. 279-98.


Bowen Family Systems

According to a blogger-quiz, I am most likely an only child . . .

You Are Likely an Only Child
At your darkest moments, you feel frustrated.At work and school, you do best when you're organizing.When you love someone, you tend to worry about them.
In friendship, you are emotional and sympathetic.Your ideal careers are: radio announcer, finance, teaching, ministry, and management.You will leave your mark on the world with organizational leadership, maybe as the author of self-help books.

. . . or not (though the description of me is not too far off the mark). Thanks Beth for sending me away from my homework for a fun respite. Now, back to it!


On List Making and Wedding Feasts

Sermon Preached at St. Nicholas' Episcopal Church in Elk Grove Village
Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost - Year A

Buy milk, call Mom, pick out a card and gift for the party this weekend, get the oil changed on the car, mow the lawn, do laundry. Does this sound familiar? Your “to-do” list may not be on paper . . . maybe you just make a mental list. But, list making is one of the ways in which we make order out of the chaos that is life. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul proclaims: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made to God.” I don’t know about you, but the last time I tried handing my to-do list over to God, not a whole lot happened - - - or did it?

On a Wednesday afternoon, one and a half weeks ago, I was packing up my stuff to head home from St. Nicks. It was time to go. As I stuffed my last book into my bag, I heard a knock on the church doors. So I set down my bag and went to the door. I greeted an elderly brother and sister – not members of St. Nick’s, but they had received our welcoming postcard in the mail and thought perhaps we’d be able to help them. They were having some financial difficulties and were having trouble making their mortgage payments. Steve and I spent some time talking with them and provided them with the phone numbers of community organizations that they might try contacting to obtain some assistance. This brother and sister were not on my to-do list – I know, because I still have that list - Liturgy Committee Agenda, Review Newcomer’s Kit, Work on Sermon. It said nothing about a knock at the door just when I was trying to go home for the day. There was nothing neat and tidy about a knock on the door when it was time to go home. In fact, the needs of this pair were rather messy - a professional, but menacing letter from a bank; a disconnected phone because bills had been unpaid; not enough money to put food on the table AND pay the mortgage; and a desire for someone to hear them and to care.

For most of us, on most days, our list of things to do is either too long for the hours in the day OR simply unmanageable because of interruptions that are beyond our control. On days like these, we might go to bed feeling frustrated and defeated and, if we have the energy to think about God, on days like this, it is often in the context of “Where were you today when I needed you God?”

Today’s gospel lesson tells a familiar parable – Jesus liked talking in parables. Several chapters before our reading from Matthew today, the gospel writer says of parables: “You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive” (Matthew 13.14b). And yet, this is the method Jesus used to teach and we must do what we can to understand. Over the centuries, many have tried to understand this parable of the wedding feast. The most common understanding goes something like this:

God is the king who invites each of us to the wedding banquet of his son Jesus. Many people choose to ignore the invitation either because they don’t take it seriously or they have too many things on their “to-do” list and can’t be bothered. Of those who do come to the wedding banquet, one man stands out because he is not wearing a wedding gown. Instead of a suit and tie, he has come in cut offs and a ripped t-shirt. This man knew what was expected, but, like those who chose to ignore the invitation altogether, this man doesn’t take the invitation seriously – he shows up maybe hoping the food will be good, maybe there will be a good band - but he is largely indifferent to the nature of the occasion. His indifference, in this reading of the parable, amounts to a rejection of the life that Christ sets before us. This man chooses to live in sin rather than to turn his heart and life over to God.

This is not a bad interpretation of the parable. Because being a Christian entails doing more than just showing up. Being a Christian comes with responsibilities. We acknowledge this each time we renew our baptismal vows promising to continue in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers; promising to persevere in resisting evil; promising to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ; promising to seek and serve Christ in all persons; and promising to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. Yes, being a Christian comes with responsibilities.

But this morning I’d like to suggest another possible interpretation of the parable. What if the king in the story is not God, but is just some ordinary king and the king’s son is not Jesus, but just some ordinary prince? What if Jesus is the man who is cast out – the man wearing the cut-offs and the ripped t-shirt? What if Jesus is the last person you would have expected to be at the party – after all, he has been known to hang out with tax collectors and prostitutes – not to mention all that time he wastes wandering around the Galilean country side swapping stories with his motley band of disciples! Surely this man was not on the invitation list – the wedding banquet “to-do” list. Clearly this man does not belong in the neat and tidy world of the king and his son.

Eugene Peterson has written a book called Under the Unpredictable Plant in which he writes, “The human race has put up with numerous attempts to avoid the mess of creativity in order to guarantee a predictable goodness” (p. 165). So we, making our “to-do” lists, effectively avoid the mess of creativity - of life itself – choosing instead to organize our days into manageable chunks thereby ensuring that we have a predictably productive day. We might even reference such a day by telling friends, “I really had a good day yesterday – I got everything done I’d planned to.” Peterson goes on to suggest that in order to be truly “involved in creativity” we must enter “the mess” (p. 163). The very things that we commonly see as interruptions or inconveniences in our day – the man in the cut-off shorts and ripped t-shirt at the wedding banquet; the elderly brother and sister knocking at the door of St. Nick’s; the phone call from your neighbor just as you were running out the door to pick up the kids – these unexpected people and events may, in fact, be God’s invitation to us to seek and serve all persons in Christ. As we go about our daily routines, let us hand over our “to-do” lists to God and see what creative surprises God might have in store for us each day.


Seeing Eye to Eye is Not a Prerequisite for Love

Grandpa will be 91 years old in October. Several years ago, my dad gave my grandparents a computer. Dad thought it would be a good way for them to stay connected with family news. The family is scattered around the country - Illinois, Wisconsin, Louisiana, Pennsylvania, New York, and Florida - so this has proved beneficial. We all send one another weekly updates (o.k., some of us do this on a monthly basis), and digital photos are exchanged.

Grandpa really took to the internet. All of his stocks are on-line and he checks each one and discusses them with his stock-broker, Ralph, at least once a day. Grandpa enjoys playing Free Cell and Spider Solitaire - as did my Grandma while she was still alive. But Grandpa's unique gift to the family is an almost daily barrage of jokes he has received in his still-dial-up AOL account from friends. I admit, I don't read them all - just seeing that he has sent them is enough for me to smile. But I try to read a few of them each week. This is one I just got a few minutes ago:

A woman walked into the kitchen to find her husband stalking around with a fly swatter. "What are you doing?" She asked. "Hunting Flies" He responded. "Oh. Killing any?" She asked. "Yep, 3 males, 2 Females," he replied. Intrigued, she asked. "How can you tell?" He responded, "3 were on a beer can, 2 were on the phone."
Grandpa and I don't see eye to eye on a lot of things, but we love each other immensely. This realization - this reality - has caused me to think about other people with whom I do not see eye to eye: George W. Bush, for example. What stands in my way of loving him?

In the Book of Common Prayer there are several forms that can be used for the Prayers of the People:
  • Forms I, III, and V, for example, have us pray for those in authority "For our President, for the leaders of the nations, and for allin authority" (I); "for all who govern and hold authority in the nations of the world" (III); and "for those in positions of public trust [especially ], that they may serve justice, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person" - at Seabury it is common practice to insert "George, our President" into the bracked area (my personal preference, regardless of the addition of specifics, is to emphasis the word every at the end) (V) and
  • Forms II, IV, and VI, on the other hand, do not single out individual authority figures, but instead offer prayers which emphasize peace, justice, and the common good

When George W. Bush was first elected in 2000 and again in 2004, I confess that I wasn't always praying for nice things during the Form I/III/V prayer weeks. I figured that was o.k. - after all, in the Lord's Prayer which does typically occur after the Prayers of the People (yes, there are a few things that intervene), we clarify that we are praying only that God's "will be done on earth as in heaven." Today, I wonder what it might be like to hold a mental image of my grandpa and George W. together as I pray. I suspect that over time it will change me and, as it changes me, perhaps God will further and expand that change in the universe.

"God, I offer myself to Thee — to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!"
- Third-Step Prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous from The Big Book, p. 64.


Gifts of Desperation

My spiritual director lent me her copy of Anne Lamott's Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith. Today, I began to read and then I began to laugh (and laugh, and laugh) because I understood:

"In my experience, there is a lot to be said for desperation - not exactly a bright side, but something expressed in words for which 'God' could be considered an acronym: gifts of desperation. The main gift is a willingness to give up the conviction that you are right, and that God thinks so, too, and hates the people who are driving you crazy. . . .

I try to listen for God's voice inside me, but my sense of discernment tends to be ever so slightly muddled. When God wants to get my attention, She clears Her throat a number of times, trying to get me to look up, or inward - and then if I don't pay attention, She rolls Her eyes, makes a low growling sound, and starts kicking me under the table with Her foot" (pp. 20-21).

Before I was willing to believe my call to the priesthood:

  • in 1987, God introduced me to Rev. Taryn to show me that women could be ordained and, as importantly, be employed;
  • in 1992, God blessed me with a wonderful friend, Paige (now Rev. Paige), to show me that the wounded could be healed and that the wounded could help others heal;
  • in 1996, God had a complete stranger say, "you look like you should be a minister" (this was, in fact, a police officer who had pulled me over in Newton, Massachusetts for running a red light - apparently looking like a minister also relieved me of a ticket - "just a warning, ma'am"); and
  • in 2001, God brought Andrea into my life - that's a longer story, but trust me it was part of God's attempt to get my attention

This, of course, was all well and good and I (finally) returned to seminary in the spring of 2004. But I still had my doubts. So, in July, I finally received my kick under the table --- hard enough that the tears ran down my cheeks. I had hit bottom, a moment of desperation in my life, a moment when I had nothing to rely upon except God - and isn't that just the point?! G.O.D. - gifts of desperation. When all we can do is rely upon God, there God is. It is not that God wasn't there before, but that we just were too dense, too proud, too ego-driven, too [fill in the blank with your own personal character defects] to let go.

Tonight I was with a group of people who were trying to "make sense" of Katrina and the devastation caused by this hurricane in Louisiana and Mississippi. I was really struck by the conviction of two individuals' belief in a "pure, positive God" (as one of them put it); they knew, without a doubt, that God did not cause the hurricane and that God was not punishing the people of Louisiana and Mississippi. And they prayed that the victims of the devastation would reach out to God for what little solace they might receive amidst the wreckage. Hearing their testimony made me realize that unlike my angst about God after the tsunami, my experience this past week has been quite different. I've been angry at our government, I've been angry at my own weaknesses in the face of this disaster, but I have been very clear about God - God was not in the hurricane. God is in the desperation. G.O.D.

Tonight I am grateful that I have been kicked by God and I continue to lift my prayers to God for all the victims of Katrina - and yes, for the government of the United States, because I cannot presume that I am right nor can I presume that God "hates the people who are driving [me] crazy. . . . "


Meditation in Support of Hurricane Victims

I received this message today and wanted to pass it along.

To Our Beloved Community,

We would like to encourage all, each in your own way, to send prayers and support to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. We suggest you set aside a specific time each day to send your prayers and support, and that you do it for at least one week.

Below, we have included a suggested meditational prayer. It is but one way to focus your energy and send much needed love to those in need right now. Adapt the prayer any way you want, and include your own personal prayers.

For the People of Hurricane Katrina

May all the people affected by Hurricane Katrina find safety and shelter;
May all the people affected by Hurricane Katrina receive food and water;
May all the people affected by Hurricane Katrina be treated with dignity and compassion.

May they receive immediate medical care, and may they be healthy and free of disease;
May they experience peace in their hearts, and be free from sorrow.

May they all be held in Love and Compassion, now and forever.

Many Blessings to All,

Raz Ingrasci and the Staff of The Hoffman Institute



Peter - worthy of receiving the keys of heaven one week, Satan the next. Peter's name means "rock" and a rock can be used for good (sturdy foundation, beautiful retaining walls, drainage systems, etc.) or for bad (weapon, hinderance to plowing). We are not so unlike Peter. We can set our eyes on the Kingdom of Heaven and strive to do God's will in all things or we can be blinded by the lures of our earthly existence and do that which pleases us in the moment. Either way, we are still called by God.

What I love about the juxtaposition of the two readings from Matthew on the 14th and 15th Sundays after Pentecost is that Peter is both chosen by Jesus and capable of messing up. This is Hope! I can turn my eyes toward God at any time - start my day over at any moment - and Jesus still loves me. Sure there are consequences for actions taken blindly - this is not a "get out of jail free" card - but God's love remains steadfast - like a rock.

Just some ramblings on a Sunday evening. . . take what you like, leave the rest.


God Bless Parents

BIAS: I am not a parent.

Children are fascinating. I spent several hours today with my 8-year old niece at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. If there was something to do we could stop - however, if it was not self-explanatory (i.e., had "too many" (egad!) words to explain it or if it didn't work the way it "should" on the first try), then we were running off to the next item in the exhibit.

My own emotions fascinated me as I alternated between feeling guilty for not being an adult who has that innate talent to keep a child amused and feeling grumpy because I didn't get to spend the time I wanted to at exhibits that interested me (ah, the child still alive within me!)

For those of you who are blessed with children of your own, God bless you. As for me, I am thankful to be an aunt who gets to enjoy a few days of "parenthood" every summer when one of my nieces comes to visit. And, at the end of the day, I can only pray to God using the words of Psalm 91 (appointed Psalm for the Feast Day of Saint Bartholomew), "'You are my refuge and my stronghold, my God in whom I put my trust.' Please don't leave me!!!!! Amen."


Who Do You Say That I Am?

In the gospel lesson that will be read in many Episcopal church's next Sunday, Jesus asks the disciples, "who do you say that I am?" Last year in a class at Seabury called Gospel Mission, we were asked to answer that question. We came up with a list of adjectives, titles, etc. - the things we believe about Jesus - what we think about Jesus - what we've been taught about Jesus. Then, one of the professors (I think it was Dr. Yamada) said (my paraphrase here): "remember, evangelicals have an answer ready for this question." This discussion has been on my mind a lot since then.

A few weeks ago, I came back from an 8-day experience held in the Berkshires called The Quadrinity Process. One of the ground rules stipulated that we could not tell other retreatants our occupation (nor could we ask them about theirs). Think about this - when you meet someone for the first time, what do you usually discuss: What is your name? Where are you from? What do you do? Then, magically, we think we can answer the question, "who do you say that I am?" Interestingly, when someone asks us to tell them about ourselves, we respond with something like the following: My name is Debra. I am originally from Wausau, Wisconsin but I came to the Chicagoland area by way of Decorah, Iowa and Boston, Massachusetts. I am a full-time student at Seabury-Western Theological Seminary. My 8-days in the Berkshires revealed my own inability to answer the question, "Who do I think that I am?" apart from these places and occupational attributes. The other 27 retreatants may have experienced the same. And, if we do not know who we are ourselves, how can we possibly be prepared to fully know who someone else is? or, equally important, how can we possibly be prepared to let someone else know us fully?

When Jesus asks, "Who do you say that I am?," I am amazed that one who knows me fully for who I am (not for what I do) is inviting me to know him as well - not by what he does or by where he is from, but for who he is at his essence. "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it" (Psalm 139.6). Jesus is the one who knows who I am - even when I have least known myself.

"My God calls my name on the morning dew.
The Power of the Universe knows my name.
Gave me a song to sing and sent me on my way."
- Bernice Reagon Johnson, "I Remember, I Believe," Sacred Ground


Have You Asked for Help?

Sermon Preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Park Ridge
Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost - Year A

Jesus left Park Ridge and went away to the city of Mount Prospect near Arlington Heights. Just then a young woman from Mount Prospect came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; I have a terrible illness that may leave me blind in a few years." But Jesus did not answer her. The citizens who had gathered around Jesus urged him, saying, "Send her away, for her health problems are costing us too much money – our taxes are already too high, our insurance premiums are too costly, and she keeps shouting after us." Jesus answered the young woman, "I was sent only to those who work full-time for large businesses." But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." Again, Jesus answered, "It is not fair to take the taxpayers’ money and throw it to those who are less fortunate." She said, "Yes, Lord, but all people deserve a chance to be healthy." Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And the young woman’s eyes were made well and Jesus’ eyes were opened.

Lisa is the owner of a small business in Mount Prospect. When I spoke with her to get permission to share her story with you, she asked that her name and her business name not be used. So, I’ll call her Lisa. At one time Lisa had full coverage health insurance. Today, because of a serious eye disease that requires ongoing medical attention, her insurance policy contains a rider that excludes coverage for her eyes. For Lisa this means that in addition to her monthly premiums she is paying about $300 per month for prescription medication and continues to pay the out-of-pocket costs for an eye surgery that was performed over a year ago. Despite making small, but consistent, payments for this surgery, the hospital has turned her account over to a collections agency.

Lisa was one of a handful of individuals who shared their stories last Wednesday at the Healthy Illinois Community Meeting in Des Plaines. Some of the testimonies were of small business owners like Lisa; others were of parents who work two and three jobs in order to make ends meet, but who still do not have access to healthcare. What these people shared in common, besides their concern about healthcare, was their willingness to ask for help, their faith that by joining together, by asking one another for help, they could accomplish what they could not do alone.

I don’t like to ask for help. When we moved into our house in Mount Prospect a few years ago, we needed to replace a ceiling fan in one of the bedrooms. We had removed the old fan some months earlier to apply a fresh coat of paint to the ceiling and were finally getting around to buying a new fan. New fan in hand and easy-to-follow instructions in the box, we managed to install the new ceiling fan. In the process of turning the power on and off to determine if our installation was a success, we each received a small electrical shock once – believe me, once was enough! And today the fan and light still don’t turn on at the switch on the wall – I even tried switching the wires back and forth a couple of times. But, no matter, the chain pulls work fine. And, most importantly, I didn’t have to ask for help. I don’t like to ask for help.

Do you know someone like this in your life? Maybe you are like this? I suspect that most of us find it easier to help someone else than to admit we need help ourselves. Perhaps asking for help seems like an admission of weakness – an admission of failure. And yet, in today’s gospel lesson and at the Des Plaines Community Meeting, women and men found the courage and strength to ask for help. Because they believed that what they could only dream about alone, could become a reality by asking for help from others.

But – yes, there is a caveat here – when we ask for help, we must be prepared for challenges and obstacles which may alter our dream – might open our eyes to new possibilities. Because we can never assume that our dreams - our vision for how the world should be - are in line with God’s vision for the world. We see how this came about in today’s reading by watching the change in Jesus. The Jesus portrayed in this story seems far from God-like as he rebukes the Canaanite woman who is pleading for her daughter’s life. He does this not once, but twice, and even stoops to calling her a dog. It is only the woman’s persistence that opens Jesus’ eyes to a new possibility and he has mercy on the woman and heals her daughter.

In this encounter, both the Canaanite woman and Jesus are transformed. This is the power of asking for help. In asking for help you are not only giving yourself a gift – an opportunity for your dream to become a reality – but you are giving others a gift. You are giving others an opportunity to see your dream, to learn more about who you are and what is important to you. And you are giving yourself the gift of seeing new possibilities, new ways forward. In this mutuality of asking and receiving, we begin walking together to create a common vision for the future.

When Lisa shared her story with those of us gathered in Des Plaines, she opened all of our eyes to a vision. A vision which because of so many people with stories like hers and because of the work of organizations like United Power for Action and Justice, like Citizen Action/Illinois, like Illinois for Health Care – because of these individuals and groups coming together, asking one another for help – because of all this –Lisa’s dream is moving forward, creating a new reality – a reality that will lead to increased access to more affordable and quality health care for small businesses, for the self-employed, and for other individuals.

What is your vision? Are you ready to be transformed? Have you asked for help? “Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish!”


. . . What We Have Left Undone

The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) took (at least) two important votes today. First, delegates at their national convention voted 851-127 to keep the church together despite great disagreements over homosexuality. Later, delegates voted 503-490 to reject a plan that would have allowed synods to ordain homosexuals who might certain criterion (e.g., being in a long-term, monogamous relationship). More details on the voting can be found in this news article or at the ELCA's website.

One of the concerns expressed by members of the ELCA (and, for that matter, by many in the Anglican Communion) is that a convincing theological argument on why homosexuals should be eligible for ordination has not been offerred. Instead, what are offerred are testimonials as to how ordination of gays and lesbians - or the exclusion from ordination - has hurt gays, lesbians, their friends and families, etc.

As a lesbian who is a candidate for Holy Orders in the Episcopal Church, I concede. I have not seen - nor have I contributed to or prepared - a theological argument for why "people like me" should be ordained or ordainable. And yet, I am not sure that I have seen a convincing theological argument for why heterosexuals - married or single - should be ordained or ordainable. Theological treatises on the reasons for ordained ministries certainly exist but how much of the detail is devoted to the potential ordinand's sexuality? What in these treatises explicitly exclude an homosexual? I'm not trying to be difficult - I really don't know the answer. What resources can I look to for this? [note: this is not a rhetorical question].

I am grateful for the ELCA's vote to remain united as they continue on their journey. I don't recall the ECUSA having such a resolution on the table 2 years ago and will watch, with interest, the manner in which the discussions in both denominations continue. Will the unified vote taken by the ELCA today make a difference in the nature of their dialogue?

A good discussion on this topic as it pertains to the ECUSA has already been ongoing on AKMA's blog (unfortunately, it is late and despite my best efforts at coming up with a search term that will land me in the midst of said discussion, the best I can do is say, here's the blog - I hope you can find the discussion - and, I'm sorry).


God and Change

I'm in a quandry and am looking for help. I am preaching on Sunday --- the gospel lesson is from Matthew: Canaanite woman comes to Jesus seeking healing for her daugher --- twice Jesus pushes her aside --- calls her a dog, no less! --- and then, she changes Jesus' mind! Woah!

Is it too "edgy" to say, "Jesus' eyes were opened in this encounter" --- just how much trouble will I wander into? So much emphasis is placed on the woman's action - on the "greatness of her faith" and so many seem to simply ignore the Jesus that is portrayed here. This is not a nice guy!

If God desires our prayer and invites us into the ongoing dialogue of the triune God (a la Moltmann) AND if God's nature is not duplicitous (which Brunner says is a big NO-NO), then God is, in fact, willing to change - i.e., to truly respond to our pleas. Is that a reasonable conclusion? that God can be compelled? Without this, I feel stuck with a reading of the text that says, "ah, this is the VERY human side of Jesus. . . stay tuned, next week, the God-side will show up again." Clearly, a reading I must - and do - reject. And, if God is not compellable (not sure the adjective works in this direction), then why do we pray? (o.k., let's save that question because I'm not really going down that path on Sunday).


Divine Mathematics

I used to manually complete long division problems on the back of my Hebrew quizzes when I finished early. So, it should come as no surprise that I am delighted by the following facts concerning God (according to Francis J. Hall in Theological Outlines, Volume 1: The Doctrine of God, Cf. Q. 66., ¶5, p. 143):

1 Divine Nature
2 Processionsu
3 Propertiesv
4 Relationsw
5 Notionsx

This, of course, leads to the following:

5 Notions - 4 Relations = 1 Divine Nature
3 Properties - 2 Processions = 1 Divine Nature
Therefore, 5 Notions - 4 Relations = 3 Properties - 2 Processions


1 Divine Nature + 3 Properties = 4 Relations
5 Notions - 1 Divine Nature = 4 Relations
Therefore, 1 Divine Nature + 3 Properties = 5 Notions - 1 Divine Nature

OR, impressively deduced from the latter:

2 Divine Natures = 5 Notions - 3 Properties

E-gad! I've just increased God by 1. . . Who knew it could be done!? - and without cloning, no less! And yet, I confess, there may be more merriment, than fact in all that has preceded.

u"the Son proceeds from the Father by generation, and the Holy Ghost from the Father and the Son by spiration" (Cf. Hall, Q. 65, ¶1, pp.139-40.)
v paternity, filiation, and procession
w paternity, filiation, spiration, and procession
x Innascibility, paternity, filiation, spiration, and procession


Wenzel's Bad Night Out

Originally uploaded by dkbullock.

Subject: Wenzel
Age: 6.5 years
Gender: Male (um, sort of)

Tonight's adventure involved pushing his way through the closed (and, we thought, locked) screen door, getting into a fight with a more outdoorsy-neighborhood cat, and losing the battle resulting a trip to the CARE Animal Hospital.

How many times have I explained to Mr. Wenzel that he simply doesn't have claws (PETA people - I adopted him this way, I did not subject him to the torture)? How many times have I explained to Mr. Wenzel that he really is a wimpy cat?

Don't worry, readers, those are rhetorical questions meant only to increase your interest --- did it work or have you now suspended reading? (Is this a rhetorical question?) (Does "this" in the preceding parenthetical question refer to the parenthetical question or does it refer to the preceding question?) (Is there any such thing as a "parenthetical question"?)

Right. Wenzel. Anyhow, he has a minor laceration beneath his left eye - cornea appears fine. Two of his paw pads were ripped off, and two other paws seem a bit "roughed-up" (for lack of any other word to describe the phenomenon). No sutures needed. He'll be on antibiotics for the next 10 days --- giving a pink liquid in a syringe to a cat could be interesting (the vet assures me it is easy and he'll like it! O.k., whatever!)

Anyhow, Wenzel is now home (inside where he belongs), curled up at my feet hoping that there will be no more trips to the vet. I'm just curious, do you think Wenzel makes the connection between his bolting through the screen door and getting into a fight and my taking him to the vet? No. I didn't think so.

Oh - to add insult to injury, his sister Kirbie keeps hissing at him whenever he comes near - he smells a bit too anti-septic and vet-like for her taste. Poor Wenzel.


Wild Geese

Sermon preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church - Park Ridge, Illinois
The Feast of William Reed Huntington, July 27, 2005

What do you think of when you see a goose or a flock of geese? Say it out loud . . . what comes to mind? Last time you saw them in a park, in the street, in your yard, flying in the sky above. . . What did you think? Perhaps you remembered how dirty they are. How much of a mess they leave on your favorite walking path – or in your yard. Maybe you recalled the noisy nuisance they create as they fly overhead. Perhaps you recalled a time when one of those ill-tempered birds nipped at your heel as you walked along. Or, maybe you paid them no attention at all.

Now close your eyes for a moment and think about yourself. For some of you, what you hear as you listen are disappointments and failures? Or maybe you see good intentions that have fallen flat? A broken promise? An unfulfilled dream? Does your mind compare you to someone else – someone who is kinder, more successful, prettier, more accomplished? Hear what your mind tells you about yourself. Perhaps you are reminded of a time you did something you are proud of - and then that same voice interrupts, telling you to feel ashamed for being so prideful. . . it reminds you of how selfish you really are. Just take a moment and listen.

Now gradually allow your eyes to open and listen to the words of Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese.1

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles across the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours,
and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese,
harsh and exciting – over and over again announcing
your place in the family of things.

Did you know that geese fly in that V-shaped pattern because of the updraft created by the wings of the goose in front? Each goose creates an updraft when it flaps its wings. This updraft increases the individual goose’s flying range by about 70-80%. It is therefore less work for any one goose to get to its destination. The lead goose has it the hardest with no goose before it to create updraft. As a result, when it gets tired, another goose flies to the front to take over for a while. Each goose takes its part in insuring that the flock reaches its destination. When one goose becomes injured or ill and falls out of formation, two other geese follow it to the ground. They will stay with the sick or injured goose until it is strong enough to fly again or until it dies. Then the two or three geese will take flight again to re-join their own flock or to take their place in another flock.2

Allow the world to call to you like the wild geese . . . announcing over and over again your place in the family of things.

So often we focus on the disappointments in life – the negatives in our lives and in the lives of others. And when we focus our attention this way, we miss so much of the beauty that is in our world and in ourselves. We miss the truth that the Love with which the Father loved Jesus is in us and that we are in God. And it is in acknowledging and living this Truth - this understanding of Love - that we become completely one with God and with one another.

When we refocus our attention we may notice what William Reed Huntington described more than a century ago. Huntington wrote that to “feel gratitude and joy” we must discover “that . . . the lines of the original painting are still traceable upon the stained and torn canvas and that underneath the incrustations of long ages there lies the pure and perfect outline of the Mystical Body of the Lord.”3

Next time you see a flock of geese, what will you choose to notice? Next time you look in the mirror – or into the eyes of another human being – what will you choose to notice?

“Righteous Father, the world does not know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the Love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17.25-26).

1 Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese,” Dream Work accessed online at the Ikelman Home Page on July 25, 2005.

2 Inspiration and details for the goose information came from a visualization experienced during my participation in the Hoffman Quadrinity Process on July 22, 2005. More information about this Process can be obtained at The Hoffman Institute’s website.

3 William Reed Huntington, The Church-Idea: An Essay Toward Unity, Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2002, p. 33.


Love-Hate Relationship

I love reading other people's blogs; however, I almost hate the pull of the online quizzes to which I am so often called :( [Yes, friends, I must do an elevator: "what are the unidentified negative patterns which create this tension within me?"].

In the meantime, here are the results:

You scored as Sacrament model. Your model of the church is Sacrament. The church is the effective sign of the revelation that is the person of Jesus Christ. Christians are transformed by Christ and then become a beacon of Christ wherever they go. This model has a remarkable capacity for integrating other models of the church.

Sacrament model


Servant Model


Mystical Communion Model


Herald Model


Institutional Model


What is your model of the church? [Dulles]
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Feast Day of the Parents of the BVM: A Question of Blame

One of the appointed texts for this day comes from Genesis 17. It is that bit of story in which God makes a covenant with Abram promising him that he will be the ancestor of many nations, changing his name from Abram to Abraham, and promising that God will be the God of Abraham and the God of all of Abraham’s offspring throughout the generations. This then, is an everlasting covenant. Many authors have written a great deal about covenants in general and about the Abrahamic covenant in particular. So, I wander off in another direction.

Given that it is the Feast Day of the Parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary and given the tendency in our society to hold our parents accountable for all the misery that exists in our own lives, I thought it might be interesting to explore the first words God speaks to Abram in this passage: “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.”

What does it mean to be blameless?

Merriam-Webster defines blame as “to find fault with” or “to hold responsible.” The English word comes to us from the Greek root blasphEmein1 wherein the similarity to the word blasphemy can be seen. In this reading, we might suggest that God is demanding that Abram not show contempt for God; that is, to remember that God is God.

Of course, the original text is the Hebrew tämîm. While it is translated into English as “blameless” it actually has a more positive connotation – it refers to a state of being sound, wholesome, unimpaired, innocent, or having integrity with regard to God’s way, God’s work, or God’s law.2

So, the passage might read, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and have integrity (be wholesome).” This is a far cry from our modern day associations of blame with guilt and wrong-doing. Perhaps we might bear this in mind next time we feel an urge to blame our parents for something that is wrong in our lives. They may be guilty for wrongdoing, but are they to blame?

1 “Blame,” Merriam-Webster OnLine Dictionary accessed on July 26, 2005.

2 Whitaker’s Revised BDB Hebrew-English Lexicon, Copyright © 1995, Dr. Richard Whitaker accessed using BibleWorks for Windows, Windows 98/2000 Release, Copyright © 2001, Bibleworks, LLC, Version 5.0.038s.


Announcing Your Place in the Family of Things

To my old friends - yes, those of you whom I have only just met. You know who you are. We are that we are. I offer you this website (go ahead, click on the link - keep your eyes open this time). You will recognize the first poem, but there are others. Explore them, take them in. Own them for yourself. We are that we are.

To my old friends - those of you whom I have known for months, maybe for years - and those whom I have never met. I offer you this website.

And, finally,

". . . is anything more mortifying, when we have the picture of what might be, and of what was meant to be, before our eyes, than to observe in what a sad and terrible way human willfulness, and human pride, and human enmity have marred and disfigured in the fulfillment the fair beauty of promise? And yet, along with our mortification, we shall feel gratitude and joy, if we discover that, after all, the lines of the original painting are still traceable upon the stained and torn canvas, and that underneath the incrustations of long ages there lies the pure and perfect outline of the Mystical Body of" God.1
Thank you Paula. Without you, I may have wandered around for many, many more years just wondering, "why me?" Today, I know the answer.2

1 William Reed Huntington, The Church-Idea: An Essay Towards Unity, Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2002, p. 33.

2 The Hoffman Institute.


On "doing" ministry

It is easier to minister to non-family members. Perhaps this is a no-brainer, but it truly hits home when your own family is experiencing loss and looking to you - the seminarian - for the right words to say, the right decisions to make, etc.

To be fair, my family has not done this nearly as much as I have been doing it to myself. My own expectations of having just the right thing to say to make everyone feel 'o.k.' are in high gear this week - or perhaps I am only hoping for just the right things to say to make me feel 'o.k.' In either case, a little CPE wisdom is in order: silence can be exactly the right thing to say when there are no words to be said.



Thanks to Beth's blog for the WeatherPixie idea. She looks a bit like Hope, I think.

We Are

Two pieces of news today:

  • At 5:30 this morning, I received the news that my niece, Anastasia Louise, died yesterday. She was 6 1/2 weeks old. Anastasia joins two sisters in the great company of saints: Gabrielle Michelle, December 2002 (1 day old) and Catherine Michelle, November 2003 (10 months old). Anastasia's big sister, Elizabeth (who will be a 1st grader in the fall) and her two loving parents, John and Karen, have been through more than enough. There are no words.
  • Justice Sandra Day O'Connor announced her retirement today, July 1, 2005 (Supreme Court Justice O'Connor retiring - The Changing Court - MSNBC.com).

I suspect these two events will be forever linked in my mind - perhaps the way that people remember what they were doing when JFK was shot. A meaning-making woman and a meaning-making baby girl . . .

For each child that's born
The morning star rises
And sings to the universe Who We Are

We are our grandmothers' prayers
We are our grandfathers dreamings
We are the breath of our ancestors
We are the spirit of God.

- "We Are" from Sweet Honey in the Rock's Sacred Ground CD


Aw shucks, you flatter me . . .

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Go Ezekiel!

June 29th marks the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul and the appointed text from the Hebrew Scriptures is Ezekiel 34:11-16. I love Ezekiel! He makes you work hard, he gets you mad, and he doesn't give in or give up. He has a message to speak and by gosh and by golly, he's going to get the Word out!

Thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. . . . I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
Do you know how amazing this is?! First of all sheep are flighty, particularly when they are scared (which is often). Second, they can see 270 degrees around without turning their head* so it is tricky to "sneak-up" on a sheep. Even if you think you are walking in their blind spot, their keen sense of smell will alert them to your presence (hmmm. . . to ponder, does God have an odor ). Moreover, when you approach a sheep, it's natural instinct is to walk away from you (logical enough).

So, let's see if we understand this correctly. God is not only going to gather all these sheep, but God's going to do this on a dark and dreary day. Then, once they are all together, God's going to make them lie down! Wow, I know people who can't do this with highly trainable dogs! And, what's more --- once God has gone to all this trouble, instead of being exhausted and cranky, God's going to take care of the sheep. They will get not just adequate care; no they are going to get the best pastureland available.

Uh-oh, and then there's that last part: "the fat and the strong I will destroy." On the one hand this could be a plug for Slim for Him and other trendy Christian diets; on the other hand, this could be Ezekiel at Ezekiel's best - the message remains strong: If you are fat and strong (compared to the other sheep) it is likely because you aren't playing by a fair set of rules. God's rule is about justice (and, mercy - again see what love the shepherd shows to the sheep) and, hmmmm, is Ezekiel suggesting our rule ought to be that way too? Just a thought.

1I wonder if Lewis Carroll noted the irony when he put these words in the mouth of the Sheep in Through The Looking-Glass: And What Alice Found There, "You may look in front of you, and on both sides, if you like . . . but you can't look all round you - unless you've got eyes at the back of your head." I suspect he did know this - he was a pretty smart cookie!


Dog days of summer. . .

Seems that the hot, humid days of summer have sapped me of my creative energies (or perhaps my research paper is taking all of my unique thoughts - that wouldn't be so bad). In any event, quizzes seem to be all I can muster and so, at Raisin's suggestion and, again, with nods to Beth, I offer myself:

You're Catch-22!

by Joseph Heller

Incredibly witty and funny, you have a taste for irony in all that you see. It seems that life has put you in perpetually untenable situations, and your sense of humor is all that gets you through them. These experiences have also made you an ardent pacifist, though you present your message with tongue sewn into cheek. You could coin a phrase that replaces the word "paradox" for millions of people.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

The description suits me. Now, I should just read the book - or maybe, reread (it seems I read this in a college American Literature class some years back. . . ).

Let's hope the creative juices return in time for my two summer preaching gigs: July 27th (9am) and August 14th (8am and 10am) - at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Park Ridge. Hope to see you there!


What kind of Christian are you?

Thanks to Beth and Ryan for this quiz!

You scored as Neo orthodox. You are neo-orthodox. You reject the human-centredness and scepticism of liberal theology, but neither do you go to the other extreme and make the Bible the central issue for faith. You believe that Christ is God's most important revelation to humanity, and the Trinity is hugely important in your theology. The Bible is also important because it points us to the revelation of Christ. You are influenced by Karl Barth and P T Forsyth.

Neo orthodox


Roman Catholic




Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Classical Liberal


Modern Liberal




Reformed Evangelical




What's your theological worldview?
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Given that I am clearly influenced by Barth and Forsyth, I guess I best get busy and read something they've written! (O.k., in fairness to me, I have read excerpts from Barth). I also wasn't surprised to see the Wesleyan influence so high on the scale given my years at Boston University's (United Methodist) School of Theology prior to my time at Seabury.

I'm looking forward to finishing my research on Rachel Speght and Amelia Lanyer as this accomplishment will mark the official beginning of my summer vacation!


Just Duh!

I have always considered myself to be something of a technology nerd. Mind you, I was more current when I was 20 something than I am today (Beth, Si, and AKMA clearly reveal the novice that I truly am). In any event, I was shocked - no appalled - yesterday when I discovered that my laptop has a DVD player (I assumed it was a CD-drive). This means that the independent study I have (not) been doing could have been moved forward while I've been at the library by listening to the required DVDs on my laptop. . . but no, I've been trying to fit them into my "at home" schedule which simply never worked. This also means that I am no longer the techno-geek I was once (or, equally likely, that I've simply become oblivious to all things observable)! The good news in all of this? --- I have a DVD player in my laptop! Huzzah!


The Evil One

I learned in Systematic Theology yesterday that our Presiding Bishop does not have any quelms about referencing The Evil One - and, in fact, did so in an NPR interview shortly after he was made Presiding Bishop (while I was unable to locate the NPR interview, I did find additional confirmation of its broadcast in this sermon). An MSN search for "Griswold" and "The Evil One" provided this interesting article (thereby reminding me of my preference for Google which first provided a sermon preached by Bishop Griswold on February 13, 2005 sermon at St. David's Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas just prior to the meeting of the Episcopal Church's Executive Council in which he uses the phrase "the evil one" (lower case decision made by the website editor or by Bishop Griswold? - my guess is the editor).

On the whole, it seems much more common "these days" (whatever that means - I'll let you set the parameters), to hear folks speak about the "powers and principalities" (though a search on Google tells me my assumption is wrong: 235,000 hits on "powers and principalities" vs. 553,000 hits on "evil one") rather than "The Evil One".

O.k., revised thought: why do I prefer "powers and principalities" rather than "The Evil One"?
Is this more palatable than "the evil one", "satan", or "the devil"? Am I embarrassed by the prospect of letting folks know that I think The Evil One does, in fact, exist? Or is it simply too much for my very rational (so I like to amuse ourselves believing) mind to accept belief not only in an "invisible" God, but in an "invisible" Devil too? Ooh. . . my favorite: or is it that a "what" rather than a "who" seems more controllable?


It's Over . . . Sort of

Folks keep asking, are you done with the term yet. Well, here's the answer: yes . . . and no. Yes, I am done with going to classes; but no, I am not done with the term. I opted to take a 2-week extension on my independent study on England in the Age of the Reformation so that I can give some undivided attention to my research topic --- poets of the Reformation.

Folks also keep asking, what are you doing this summer. Well, here's the answer: working 15-20 hours / week at the SWTS / GETS United Library and coordinating a half-day workshop called "Faith, Family, and Addiction" which will occur on Saturday, November 5th at St. Mary's in Park Ridge in conjunction with Advocate Medical Group's Addiction Medicine experts. In addition, I have a few trips planned - a couple of weekends to Altoona, Wisconsin (near Eau Claire) to visit my dad; 10 days in Massachusetts (the Berkshires) for a personal retreat; and, right before classes begin in late September, a trip to Santa Fe and Albuquerque.

So. . . are you done with the term yet? and what are you doing this summer?


Proper 15, Year A

I have been invited to preach at St. Mary's Episcopal Church in Park Ridge on Sunday, August 14th. The Propers are here.

"Maintain justice and do what is right" (from Isaiah 56:1, 6-7) struck me as an interesting juxtaposition (my apologies to the middlers at Seabury who loathe that word) to the gospel reading from Matthew in which the Canaanite woman dares to suggest Jesus may be wrong in turning her away because she is not part of the house of Israel: "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."

During our preaching classes this year, we've been strongly advised to preach on only one portion of one text on one Sunday (in other words, don't try to incorporate all the propers for a given Sunday and expect a suscinct sermon). Yet these two texts seem to be preaching to one another. Searchign the web, I discovered this sermon which also connects the two readings (and, as an added bonus, references "The Little Rascals").

As the 14th of August approaches, it will be exciting to discern what the Holy Spirit would have me say to St. Mary's - perhaps another portion of the propers will be calling out to be heard that day. Stay tuned. . .



"Here we are all, by day; by night, we're hurled
By dreams, each one into a several world."
- Robert Herrick (1591-1674)

Roller coasters, a broken VCR, cross-country skiing, watching cartoons, and cancer. . . I've been dreaming a lot lately. Correction: I have been remembering the details of my dreams a lot lately. Must be transition time. Let's see: graduation, end of the quarter. . . yup, transitions. Good, normal.


Anglican Communion Sunday

I received an e-mail from the Anglican Communion News Service today inviting us to celebrate Anglican Communion Sunday on May 29th. I also received, from the same source, an invitation for children to color this picture of the compass rose as an Anglican Communion project to show that we truly are "a rainbow people." Interesting . . .


Have you understood all this?

Jesus said to his disciples, "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

"Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes." And he said to them, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old." (Matthew 13:47-52)

This text is appointed both for the Feast of Alcuin (May 20, 2005) and for the Feast of The Venerable Bede (May 25, 2005). As a result, I have heard two sermons preached on the same text within a single week. But, here's the catch: I've had a difficult time hearing the sermons because as we near the end of the reading, Jesus asks the disciples, "Have you understood all this?" And, we are told, the disciples answered, "Yes." Jesus' response is "great. . . let's go on then, here's the rest of the message."

But I want to say, perhaps on behalf of the disciples (or at least those who were of a similar mental constitution), "WAIT! I don't get it! The fish in the net that are thrown out because they are "bad" - o.k., pretty straight forward; but, the fish in the net that are kept because they are "good" - um, don't they get eaten?!" Maybe the metaphor breaks down at this point and this is why, the Gospel writer uses anaphora to create a piling of images - in the hopes that by the third time, the disciples really DO get it. . . Here are the three verses which precede this pericope:

"‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.' ‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.'"

So, the Kingdom of Heaven makes us want to sell everything we have in order to partake AND, at the same time, it's like a net full of fish - some good, some bad - which will be sorted out in the end. After which there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth." This is no help: now I am to sell everything I have in the hope that I will not end up in the trash heap.

I suspected that the answer sat emerged in the final verse:

"Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old."

And yet, I can make neither heads nor tails of it (sorry about the switch in metaphor).

The explanation offerred by M. Eugene Boring in The New Interpreter's Bible, while it may be apt from a scholastic standpoint, does little to relieve my anxiety. Boring suggests that this last verse is actually an autobiographical parable - that is the Gospel writer is referring to himself as the scribe. That which is old includes such things as "Scripture, stock of traditional imagery, perspectives, and concerns" and the new is the manner in which the old has been appropriated by the Gospel writer in his storytelling (314-5). Great! Bottom line - the sorting is going to happen.

I wish Jesus had stopped the metaphor just after the net was cast into the sea, catching fish of every kind. This is a comfortable image of the Kingdom of God - everybody gets scooped up and included (we'll set aside that image of fish getting eaten at this point - very unhelpful!). But then, as Boring reminds us, in a paraphrase of Ulrich Luz, "On the sofa, the parables of the kingdom cannot be understood" (316). Perhaps my struggle with this text is intended to motivate me to leave the comforts of my metaphorical sofa, to leave this cozy place and seek the Kingdom of Heaven so that, upon discovering it, I too will be so moved as to sell all that I have in order to partake of that treasure. It sure is hard to imagine a place more comfortable than the sofa . . .on the other hand, how long was I really planning on just sitting here anyhow?


That's not Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrreat!

I just learned that at 91 years of age, Thurl Ravenscroft, known by many as the voice of Tony the Tiger, died on Sunday from prostate cancer.

I'd never heard his name before and yet he has been the voice of many of my favorite characters from Tony the Tiger, to the singer in Dr. Seus' "How the Grinch Stole Christmas" (incidentally, his name was left off the credits and so we've all been thinking that creator Boris Karloff did the singing as well - not so, at least according to this source), to Thing 1 in Seus' "The Cat in the Hat." More complete credits can be found here.

So much of our identity is linked to our names - having a loved one say your name can be quite powerful (and, as a very good friend of mine will attest, having a loved one forget your name can be quite painful - sorry!). I wonder what it is like to know that people love the voice of the characters you enliven and the sound of the songs you sing and, at the same time, to know that relatively few people know your name? Is it lonely?

Next time you hear a character voice you really like, take the time out to find out the name - and remember it. Don't love Jimminy Cricket, love the voice - Cliff "Ukulele Ike" Edwards!

When Plans Change. . . and it is Good News

Last night, Andrea and I agreed we would read until 9pm when the season finale of CSI: Miami airs on CBS.

When I was supposed to be reading, I called my dad. He wanted to call me back - so, I said, "O.K., but it HAS to be before 9pm because we are watching the final episode of CSI: Miami and we don't want to miss it!" He called at 8:55 pm. Needless to say, I missed the beginning of the episode; but, when I got off the phone 10 minutes later, Andrea was able to fill me in.

About 10 minutes after that the phone rang. We agreed to let the answering machine pick it up; but, because we were waiting for a call from Rae, we were on the ready. The call, it turns out, was not Rae, but Cheri! The very friend who was in the hospital in New Mexico. We turned off the TV and called her back - she's home and she's fine; heading back to work on Wednesday.

I need to continue assessing my views on the effectiveness of prayer. . . And, Andrea and I need to see when CSI: Miami will be rerunning that final episode (which was well worth missing)!


Phantom of the Opera

I (finally) saw Phantom of the Opera last night - the DVD version, not the broadway spectacular. The music, the costumes, the music. . . wow! how could I have missed this for so long?!

Today, planted flowers in the yard. The weather, the colors, the weather. . . wow! wouldn't have missed this for anything!

A good weekend.


Moving Through Locked Doors

Sermon delivered to Preaching II class on Friday, 20 May 2005 (texts used were for Pentecost, Year A - Sunday, 15 May 2005). For those interested in thought processes, this link will take you to the post in which I originally began pondering this text and topic.

"When it was evening . . . and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, 'Peace be with you.’ . . . 'As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’” - from John 20:19-23

“The Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief, 2005” became Public Law on May 11th. As its title suggests the new law authorizes an additional $82 billion for U.S. military spending in Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, the Palestinian Authority, and ongoing tsunami relief efforts in Asia. What its title does not mention is its incorporation of the Real ID Act of 2005 - an act which, when it stood alone, was largely opposed by Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike. Despite the opposition, when tucked into this “must pass” supplemental appropriations act, the Real ID Act was whisked through the system and signed into law. This is the latest piece of legislation that, in the interest of “homeland security,” is designed to tighten security around our nation’s borders and simultaneously to increase the challenges faced by those seeking asylum in the United States.

When the new law effectively prevents terrorists from using our asylum laws to gain entry into the United States, the Real ID Act will be heralded a success. When it prevents a terrorist from illegally crossing our borders, the Real ID Act will be heralded a success. When the new law turns away a family – no, even one individual – when the new law turns away even one person who is seeking asylum to escape the daily risk of torture and death, who will raise their voice and declare the Real ID Act a failure? Who will stand up when Irena Antipova, a Jewish Russian national, is denied asylum because the immigration judge “believed that Ms. Antipova put her faith on display in Russia and bore the blame for her persecution” by lighting a menorah candle at her apartment window?[1] Who will stand up when Mihail Daniel Ileana, a Romanian Baptist, is denied asylum because the immigration judge didn’t believe Mr. Ileana’s testimony that because of his beliefs, he and his family were kept under surveillance and suffered severe beatings by the Romanian security service?[2] Who will stand up and declare that the Real ID Act and “Homeland Security” are euphemisms for locking our doors against those whom we fear – those who are not like us?

The disciples were not so different. In today’s gospel we learn that the disciples had locked the door for fear of the Jews. And yet, despite this locked door, Jesus entered the room, stood with his disciples, and greeted them: “Peace be with you.” Though the disciples wanted to protect themselves - to close their doors against those outside - Jesus came in, passing through the locked door, breaking down the artificial boundary. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” Just as Jesus demonstrated his willingness to break-through an artificial boundary – a locked door - so we are called to break through the artificial boundaries of our world – to move outside of our comfortable house, to stand up with those on the other side of the locked door.

Next month on June 20th World Refugee Day will celebrate its fourth anniversary. Chicago’s Interfaith Refugee & Immigration Ministries will be hosting events on June 18th and June 20th to celebrate this important day. I invite each of you to join me in this time of celebration and advocacy – either here in Chicago or with your home congregations. By our participation in World Refugee Day we will be demonstrating our commitment to unlocking the doors. But, let us not stop there. Let June 20th and World Refugee Day mark our renewed commitment to unlocking the doors, greeting our brothers and sisters with a sign of peace, and standing up with them in the name of the God who sent Jesus and who now sends us.

[1] Maria S. Constantinescu, “Faithful but Forsaken: REAL ID Act Harms Victims of Religious Persecution,” document endorsed by 34 non-governmental and faith-based organizations including Episcopal Migration Ministries, (Washington, CD: Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, February 1, 2005; Updated April 11, 2005), 17.

[2] Ibid, 16.