Seeing Community

I came across this when I needed it today. Perhaps you are stumbling across this when you are in need of it.

“The ability to see is both a strength and a weakness. If we learn to see life as it is instead of as we want it to be, we have an edge on happiness. More likely, though, we set out to shape life according to our own image and likeness.

The Rule of Benedict simply laughs at the idea. Benedict doesn’t set up a model of rarefied existence as the end of the spiritual life. Benedict sets up a community, a family. And families, the honest among us will admit, are risky places to be if perfection is what you are expecting in life.

. . . .

Exactly what do the eyes of Benedict . . . see when they look at the human community? First, the Rule is clear: love costs. It costs the little daily things – serving the meals, providing the needs, asking for favors nicely, refusing favors gently. Second, love makes demands. It demands that we use our gifts for our own communities as well as for others. It demands that we make relationships a priority. It demands that we make community for others. It demands that we share ourselves, our minds, our insights, and our time with one another. Most of all, it demands that we allow the people in our lives to be who they are and grow as they can.”

Excerpted from Joan Cittister, Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rlue of St. Benedict Today, (San Francisco, Harper: 1990), pp. 40-41.


Overheard at the Mall

While shopping at Macy's last night, I overheard this comment: "I don't think angels should have purses. That's just not right." I can only imagine what she may have seen. I found this on eBay:

Angel with Purse

"Beautiful angel made from faceted acrylic drop, with antiqued gold filigree wings. Gold bow at the neck, with gold purse charm hanging down; Gold stretch cord for hanging on tree, with suction cup on a window, on a knob, or on a small stand."

I must concur, I also don't think angels should have purses. That's just not right.


Be Alert at All Times

Sermon Preached on Sunday, December 3, 2006
at Church of the Transfiguration
Propers - Advent 1, Year C

Department stores, radio and television stations, and the fresh-fallen snow are all reminders that Christmas is upon us. Caribou Coffee is once again serving Fa-la-lattes, Starbucks has pulled out its Cranberry Bliss Bars, and our downtown streets sparkle with lights and decorations on windows and trees.

I used to think Advent was just a handy way to countdown the days to Christmas. One year, my Sunday School class made paper chains out of red and green construction paper loops. Each link on the chain contained a Bible verse that we were supposed to open and read at the beginning of each day to help us prepare for Christmas. But I knew what those chains really were about. They were to prevent me from having to ask my parents over and over again, “how many days until Santa will be here!?” As an adult, I’ve become much more sophisticated [said with a great deal of irony] and have an Advent Calendar that hangs in my home – it’s not altogether accurate though because it only contains 25 days – that works alright for this year, but most years, Advent begins on the last Sunday in November. Even in our churches, Advent candles help us with our annual countdown to Christmas. How much longer do we have to wait? --- well, let’s see --- about 3 more weeks! The countdown to Christmas, listening to the quiet jazzy strains of Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas and to Jessica Simpson singing the latest version of Brenda Lee’s Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, these have become the “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars” that Christmas is drawing near.

And yet, if these are the signs that we look to in order to know “'the Son of Man coming in a cloud' with power and great glory” – in order to know that the day in which the LORD’s promise “to the house of Israel and the house of Judah” will be fulfilled – if these are the signs, how do we make sense of this morning’s Scripture? Part of the problem, perhaps, is that Advent, unlike Lent, doesn’t come with a prescribed set of practices. In Lent, most of us “give up” something – chocolate, caffeine, swearing, the list goes on and on. Others “take on” something new – perhaps a spiritual discipline like reading the daily office, writing in a journal or volunteering in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen. These are all common ways in which we “use” Lent to prepare for Easter. But what do we do in Advent to prepare for the coming of our LORD and Savior on Christmas Day?

In a message prepared for World AIDS Day, which was on December 1st, Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori reminded us that Advent “challenges us to carry our worship of God out of our churches and homes and into the world around us.”[i] Just as the world around us is trying to impart upon us its understanding of Christmas as a time of mass consumerism, a time of sleigh bells and parties, we are called by God to impart upon the world our understanding of Advent as a time of hopeful anticipation – a time of watching for and participating in God’s transformative work in the world. We are called to impart to the world our understanding of God’s promise of redemption that draws ever nearer in the birth of the Christ child. We are called to focus on the places of transformation in the world, “to stand up and raise our heads”, to “be on guard”, and to “be alert at all times”. We are called to focus on the places of transformation in the world so that we might see God’s transformation at work in the world, so that we might discern the ways in which we are called to help transform the world in ways that will serve as signs that God’s reign is at hand.

Two years ago, when my grandmother was dying, my grandfather asked me, “who will be with me when I am dying.” I answered him, “I will.” Ever since I spoke those words they have haunted me for how would I possibly be able to be with him. How would I know when to arrive? I couldn’t possibly know. And yet, I reassured myself that I said the right thing at the time – I gave him some comfort by letting him know that I would want to be with him when he was dying, that I would not want him to be alone. Last weekend, Andrea and I flew to Florida to spend some time with my grandfather who was very ill with advanced lymphoma. When Andrea and I arrived in Vero Beach, my grandfather was aware we were there. Sometimes he spoke to us in short sentences with long naps in between. At other times he spoke and it was difficult to know what he was saying – the words were gurgled or simply didn’t make sense to our ears.

We planned to return to Chicago on Monday morning. But, on Sunday morning, over breakfast, I began to feel guilty – I had promised my grandfather I would be with him when he was dying and now I was talking about flying home and leaving him alone – to die alone. As I went back and forth in my mind, considering my options, I asked God to help me find the right answer. But, I received no answer.

Breakfast ended and we returned to my Grandfather’s room. He was sitting in his favorite chair – an old blue recliner, his eyes were closed, and his breathing was labored. I spoke, “Grandpa, Andrea and I are here.” He opened his eyes and turned them toward me. I don’t know if he saw me or not. I held his hand. I told him that Grandma was waiting for him (more a reminder to myself than to him – for it was the one thing of which he was most confident). He closed his eyes again. A few minutes later, he died.

His death was both God’s answer to my predicament and a sign of God’s ultimate transformation of the world. As Lane reflected on that moment in which my grandfather passed from life to death, he commented to me that my grandfather was very lucky to have loved ones on both sides of that transition – Andrea, myself, and other members of my family who visited him over the past several weeks on this side of death and, my grandmother waiting for him with God.

As we prepare for the coming of Christ during Advent, my grandfather’s dying reminds me of the powerful transformations that occur in our world – the transformations we are invited to embrace because they are the true “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars. . . [that] ‘the Son of Man [is] coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.”

As you prepare this Advent season, I invite you to look around, “to stand up and raise your heads”, to “be on guard”, to witness God’s transforming work in the world, to become a part of this transformational work as we carry our worship of God into the world. And through it all let us wait with hopeful anticipation for God’s promise of redemption which draws ever nearer. How much longer do we have to wait? “Be alert at all times”.

[i] The Anglican Communion News Service – News Digest, “Presiding Bishop Calls Episcopalians to Unite as ‘One’ Against HIV/AIDS,” November 28, 2006 accessed online on December 1, 2006.



Last weekend, I was in Florida with my grandfather who was dying of lymphoma. Two years ago, my grandmother – his wife of more than 65 years – was dying and Grandpa asked me, “who will be with me when I am dying.” I answered him, “I will.” Ever since I spoke those words they have haunted me for how would I possibly be able to be with him. How would I know when to arrive? I couldn’t possibly know. And yet, I reassured myself that I said the right thing at the time – I gave him some comfort by letting him know that I would want to be with him when he was dying. That I would not want him to be alone. When Andrea and I arrived in Vero Beach last Friday, my grandfather was aware we were there. He spoke to us in short sentences with long naps in between. At times he spoke and it was difficult to know what he was saying – the words were gurgled or simply didn’t make sense to our ears.

We planned to return to Chicago on Monday morning. But, on Sunday morning, over breakfast, I began to feel guilty – I had promised my grandfather I would be with him when he was dying and now I was talking about flying home and leaving him alone – to die alone. As I went back and forth in my mind, considering my options, I asked God to help me find the right answer. But, I received no answer.

Breakfast ended and we returned to my Grandpa’s room. He was sitting in his favorite recliner, his eyes were closed, and his breathing was labored. I spoke, “Grandpa, Andrea and I are here.” He opened his eyes and turned them toward me. I don’t know if he saw me or not. I held his hand. I told him that Grandma was waiting for him (more a reminder to myself than to him – for it was the one thing of which he was most confident). He closed his eyes again. A few minutes later, he died.

His death was both God’s answer to my predicament and a sign of God’s ultimate transformation of the world. As Lane reflected on that moment in which my grandfather passed from life to death, he commented to me that my grandfather was very lucky to have loved ones on both sides of that transition – Andrea, myself, and other members of my family who visited him over the past several weeks on this side of death and, my grandmother waiting for him with God. As we prepare for the coming of Christ during Advent, my grandfather’s dying reminds me of the powerful transformations that occur in our world – the transformations we are invited to embrace because they are the “signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars. . . [that] ‘the Son of Man [is] coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory.” “Stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.

My grandfather's obituary is here.


Children's Sabbath

Sermon Preached on Sunday, November 12, 2006
at Church of the Transfiguration, Palos Park
Proper 27B

Late in June, Cheryl Ryniak and I began talking about holding a Children's Sabbath at Transfiguration as part of the nationwide celebration supported by The Children's Defense Fund. Congregations, synagogues and mosques around the country engage in prayer, education and service to learn more about problems facing children and poor families. Our 2006 General Convention, last June, passed a resolution to make the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals) a mission priority for the Episcopal Church. There are eight MDGs, but today we focus on just one - the achievement of universal primary education.

You have been hearing the voices of our young people in worship this morning. You have witnessed the creativity and spirituality of our confirmands who wrote this morning's Psalm. And, in a little while you will hear the voices of some of our young children as they sing our offertory anthem. Children are a beautiful and wonderful part of our worshipping community. And having them share their gifts on a Sunday morning is a great way to glorify God.

And yet, as I consider my joy in witnessing this vibrancy in worship, I recognize a tension, a feeling of discomfort. Because as we listen to our children's voices, their creativity, the song of our children, as beautiful and as wonderful as it all is, I become aware of another set of voices crying out in despair. Currently there are 100 million children out of school who, if nothing is done, will add their voices to the already 1 billion voices of adults who are illiterate. And today, we are largely deaf to their cries - we have become numb.

As I was preparing for this morning, I read report after report filled with statistics from around the globe which, after awhile, became, in and of themselves, numbing. My mind can only take in so many horrifying facts and figures before it can no longer comprehend. And so, I only want you to hear those two numbers: 100 million children out of school and 1 billion illiterate adults.

And here are some of the reasons why those numbers matter: (1) studies show that economic development is directly tied to adult literacy rates; (2) education demonstrably leads to more productive farming which, in turn, leads to a decline in malnutrition, hunger, and death from starvation; (3) and adequate health care - both for the prevention of illness and the treatment of illness - is linked closely with literacy. Educated mothers are more likely to immunize their children than mothers with no schooling. The likelihood of contracting HIV is much higher among young people who have not completed primary education; and women who are not educated are less likely to seek prenatal care, assisted childbirth, and postnatal care, thereby increasing the risk of maternal and child illness and mortality [source: UNESCO, Education for All: Global Monitoring Report 2006]. Walter Brueggemann, an Old Testament scholar, writes, "living in a world where death is so visible, so daily, so pervasive, and so massive, and yet so unnoticed. . . we have no adequate way to relate to death's reality and potential, so we deny it with numbness" [source: The Prophetic Imagination, 2ND edition (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), p. 43].

100 million children out of school and 1 billion illiterate adults . . . and the numbness sets in.

The Old Testament reading is about scarcity and abundance. Elijah, at God's bidding, enters Zarephath and requests some water and a morsel of bread from a widow. At first the widow very matter-of-factly explains, "I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die." This is not the woman of the Stone Soup story I shared over the summer - not the story of a woman who would hold back what she has from a stranger to avoid the inconvenience of a house guest or weary traveller. No, this woman, the widow of Zarephath, is speaking her truth. She has enough to make a small meal for herself and for her son and then, because of their extreme poverty, they will, in all likelihood die. The widow of Zarephath knows a life of scarcity.

I do not know such a life and I find it challenging even to imagine such a life. And yet, time and time again we are called by storytellers and prophets in the Old Testament and by Jesus in the New to imagine just such a life. To see in new ways the impact our society has on many - the poorest of the poor in our congregation, in our backyard, and around the globe. But here is the challenge for us today. Most of us, myself included, cannot dare to see the world this way, cannot bear to see the world as it is, cannot endure the thought of children who cannot go to school or of young girls who are forbidden to go to school. We cannot or will not look at a world where families have no reason to worry about what college or university their child will go to because many of their children will die before they are five years of age. To be sure, we catch glimpses of these realities in the news, but we cannot bear to look for long. And, in not looking, the numbness becomes more pervasive. And that numbness leads to forgetfulness and forgetfulness leads to indifference. Soon we are denying "the legitimacy of the [Judaeo-Christian] tradition that requires us to remember, [the legitimacy] of authority that expects us to answer, and [the legitimacy] of community that calls us to care" [source: Brueggemann, p. 37].

What might we find if we dare to remember, dare to answer, and dare to care? The answer, my brothers and sisters, can be summed up in one word: Passion. Remembering, answering, caring lead us to passion which is the "capacity and readiness to care, to suffer, to die, and to feel" [source: Brueggemann, p. 35] - and each of these are enemies of the numbness.

As a gathered worshipping community, I believe we come nearest this place of passionate remembering in the prayers of the people. And yet, even here, I am reminded of the Roman Catholic ethicist, Kelly S. Johnson who wrote:
Week after week, we plead God to grant us faithfulness for the Church; wise leaders; peace throughout the world; an end to cruelty and injustice; healing for those who are sick and relief for the poor. Then the service moves on, and no one is tempted to look out of the window to see if the world has changed [source: "Praying: Poverty," The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, edited by Hauerwas and Wells, p. 225].
Are we so numb that we no longer believe that our prayers make any difference to God or tot he world?

A couple of weeks ago, I went to an Indigo Girls concert at the Vic in Chicago. As they finished their last song, we all stood up, applauded loudly, whistled, and cheered. We did this because their performance was awesome and because we hoped they would provide an encore. And, we got it. What's more, the Indigo Girls had planned for it - they knew we'd want more and they came out and delivered. This was not arrogance on their part - no, it was part of the performance. Each of us has a role - ours was to applaud and ask for more and theirs was to perform for us yet again.

Can you imagine the Prayers of the People as our call for more? The scripture that we hear proclaimed in the first half of our worship together each Sunday tells of God's marvelous work in the world - the sick are healed, the prisoners are freed, the good news is proclaimed, and salvation is brought to the world. Then, we respond with the Prayers of the People - our invitation to God for more - more healing, more freeing, more good news, more salvation. And then, just when we might see the performance of our live, we close our eyes, afraid even to imagine that god might just deliver. Afraid to remember that we, the gathered community, are ourselves the very body of Christ called to deliver. Afraid to imagine the world actually changed by our prayer. And, in this way, the prayers fall short. Johnson describes our behavior as doing "intercession from a safe distance" [source: Johnson, p. 231].

Elijah tells the widow at Zarephath, "Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son. She went and did as Elijah said. . . "[and] the jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the LORD that he spoke by Elijah." Elijah's proclamation of good news to the widow at Zarephath was not given from a distance. He was present with her. He ate wither her. And, most importantly, he believed with her that God's promise of abundance would, in fact, come to fruition in her life which before then had only known scarcity.

Two numbers: 100 million children out of school; 1 billion illiterate adults. Dare we go further, dare we enter the world of our prayers - the lives of those for whom we pray? Dare we imagine that our prayers might actually change the world? Look out the window! Expect God's encore!


Don't Let the Numbness Overcome You

Campaign Manager Mike Tate's speech after Wisconsin voters passed a constitutional amendment that bans civil unions and marriage for the GLBT population is a painful, yet poignant sample of the prophetic imagination at work in our world today. Wisconsin is my home state and it saddens me to know that my partner and I are not welcome there. I am reminded of Jeremiah's words, "A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not" (Jer 31:15).

At the same time I am haunted by Walter Brueggemann's words: "living in a world where death is so visible, so daily, so pervasive, and so massive, and yet so unnoticed. . . we have no adequate way to relate to death's reality and potential, so we deny it with numbness." (The Prophetic Imagination, p. 43).

Do not become numb - the powers and principalities win when we are numb. Instead, dare to feel the pain. Share your grief. And then, and only then, recall Jesus' words: "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted" (Matt 5:4).


Household of Freedom

The Voices Found Women's Theology Book Group met again last Thursday (Oct. 19th) at Borders Bookstore in Orland Park. We discussed Letty M. Russell's Household of Freedom: Authority in Feminist Theology. Russell defines a household of freedom as a place where

"the charisma of God's Spirit is recognized among the people, but those who lead find that their job description is one of diakonos, servant, and the job description is to work themselves out of a job. Charisma becomes a gift of empowerment for others rather than one for dominating and manipulating others" (p. 98).

Like Russell, we too questioned, "How would we recognize a household of freedom if we were lucky enough to stumble across its threshold?" (p. 87). Each of us was able to offer up small examples of such households - for one of us it was the home of an adult niece and her children, for another it was in how we use our authority in the workplace. I played around with this conversation a bit more after our meeting and the result, in part, is reflected in my sermon (published here).

Please feel free to add your own comments about Household of Freedom by clicking on "comments".

Also, know that all women are invited to join us next month - November 16th at Borders Bookstore in Orland Park. We will be discussing the first half (Introduction through chapter 3) of Anne M. Clifford's Introducing Feminist Theology. The book can be ordered from Borders or may be available at your local library.


A Center That Can Hold

Sermon Preached on October 22, 2006
At Church of the Transfiguration - Palos Park
Proper 24, Year B

Top Ten Lists – it seems that everywhere we look today, we find them. David Letterman is, of course, most renowned for his nightly top 10 lists – always timely and almost always funny. But, I was curious to know what else I could find, so I googled “Top 10” and got the following results[1]:

  • Top Ten Holiday Parks
  • Top Ten Best Web Sites - is there a list of the Top Ten Worst Web Sites?
  • Top Ten Most Wanted by the [2]:

    • Top Ten Stock-Based Derivatives - I don’t even know what those are
    • Top Ten Fastest Growing Companies
    • Top Ten Video Sites
    • Top Ten Songs in the Flemish Singles Charts
    • Top Ten Most Vulnerable Democratic Incumbents

    Now, October is stewardship month at Transfiguration so before I leave my list of lists, I would be remiss if I didn’t share with you this gem: The top 10 ways to involve your kids in stewardship. For those who are interested, that list is posted on my blog which you can access through Transfiguration’s website.[3] I confess to adding the word “stewardship” to my search to get that one!

    As you and I think about these top 10 lists – stock-based derivatives, fastest growing companies, video sites, Flemish songs, I think we can agree that it is a good thing to be in the top 10 and, if you and I were Flemish song writers, we might even have a bit of friendly competition going on between us to see who could make it into the top 10 singles charts first. Even the list of top 10 most vulnerable democratic incumbents – while, on the surface, it sounds not so good – may not be so bad. After all, just being on that list in the first place does mean that you have been the top one winner of at least one previous election – so, come on, it’s not all bad.

    This morning’s gospel reading is the reason for my recent fascination with top 10 lists. The first time I began reflecting on James’ and John’s request, “Teacher grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory,” I recognized in it our own obsession with glory. While James and John are asking for a place of honor among the disciples and among Jesus’ many followers, you and I are often asking for places of honor or status in our own cultural milieu.

    If you just take a moment to think back to a time when you were on a team – a sports team, a team at work, even a church committee. Once you have that image, think about how the people on that team functioned. Was there someone or maybe a couple of people on that team who wanted to take charge, to take primary ownership for the work of the committee? People who wanted all the glory for the success of the team? Were you angry? Did you feel cheated? Maybe you were quietly jealous or resentful? Or maybe you were one of the ones who charged ahead, taking the initiative to get things done even if that meant stepping on a few toes along the way. So feelings were hurt, you met the goal, didn’t you? Whichever side of the equation you find yourself on – and most of us, if we are willing to be honest, can find times when we’ve been on both sides – but whichever side we are on, we are complicit in a system that says being in the place of power and status is more important than anything else in that moment. We all want our place on the top 10 list.

    And so I am also fascinated this morning by Jesus’ response to this request from James and John. Instead of reprimanding them – and, remember, in Mark’s gospel, Jesus does, in fact, reprimand the disciples from time to time – remember his harsh words to Peter, “get behind me Satan?”[4] So, instead of reprimanding the disciples, Jesus instead tells them, “You do not know what you are asking.” I hear these words and I wonder if James and John understood what suffering and what service would be required of them should they be granted their request. And then, when Jesus asks them “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?” James and John quickly reply, “We are able.” I can almost hear their enthusiasm as they try to convince Jesus that they really are the best- suited for the job. But there is a sad irony in their response because you and I know that it will only be a matter of time before Jesus’ death march through Jerusalem and only a few years later before both James and then John are themselves martyred. Had they known the cost, would they have been so certain of their answer and so excited about holding their place beside Jesus?

    Now let’s go back for a moment and consider the other disciples. They become angry with James and John but let’s not think for a moment that they are outraged because James and John would ask such a selfish question. No, they are outraged because they wish they had had the audacity to ask the question themselves. “Why didn’t I think to ask to sit on his right hand in his glory?” Like James and John, the other disciples do not fully comprehend the implications of the request. They understand power in the 1st century much as we understand power in the 21st century. They understand that the ones with the power are the ones who control all the decisions, the ones who can tell others what to do. It is a place of prestige, of status, and of honor. And who among us has not wanted, at one time or another, to be there – to be at the pinnacle of success as defined by our culture?

    Jesus takes all of this in and teaches them in the 1st century and teaches us in the 21st century, “. . . whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” Jesus, the Radical, is saying that the social and cultural understanding of power and of status in the 1st century and in the 21st century is upside down. And Jesus has come to turn the world and our lives right side up again. James and John and the other disciples understood being at the top as status and as power over others. But Jesus makes it very clear that this is not the model of leadership he is advocating. The cup that he drinks and that you and I are invited to share today in the celebration of the Eucharist is the cup of service and the cup of servanthood.

    Bishop Vincent Warner of the Diocese of Olympia in Western Washington has defined several values of servant leadership. Some of these values include:

    • Collaboration rather than competition
    • Accountability rather than blame
    • Compromise rather than control
    • Truth-telling rather than concealment
    • Power with rather than power over[5]

    As we are approaching Election Day, television, radio, and newspapers are filled with ads pitting one political candidate against another. Most of these ads are filled with language that blames the opponent without ever addressing their own position. All of this, not in an effort to unite us or to bring us together for a common cause, but in an attempt to make their opponent look undesirable. I can’t help but think of these ads as images of candidates vying for that prized seat on the right hand – or is it the left? – of a center that cannot hold. A center built on competition, blame, control, concealment, and power over other people.

    There is a poem by William Butler Yeats called “The Second Coming” and it begins like this:

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.
    The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.[6]

    A center built on competition, blame, control, concealment, and power over cannot hold. This is a truth that those who are recovering from addiction understand. So long as the addict continues to live a life centered on their addiction – whether it be alcohol, gambling, drugs – a life centered on self, centered on concealment, the center will not hold and mere anarchy – chaos – is loosed upon their world. So, in recovery, the first step is to admit our own powerlessness over these false centers and to recognize the chaos and unmanageability of life lived in this way. And then, after we’ve recognized this, then comes a second realization that there is no human being that can become that center for us and make the chaos disappear. Instead, the recovering addict learns that only God can be that center and only God can restore us to sanity.[7]

    At the heart of Christianity is a center that can hold and that center is Christ’s love. Any other center point is divisive. Any center other than Christ’s unrelenting love for us results only in division between you and me, between us and them, between humanity and God. Former senator John Danforth, an Episcopal priest, recently said, “Church people should speak out on behalf of reconciliation as opposed to emphasizing . . . issues [like abortion, gay marriage, and stem cell research[8]] that in the name of religion tend to split us apart.”[9]

    James’ and John’s request to be in a special place of power and prestige is a request that creates division between them and the other disciples and it is a request that creates division between them and God. Our own seeking after honor, power, and status creates the same divisions today. But if we are ever mindful of Christ at our center, mindful of the Holy Spirit already at work in and among us, if you and I seek ways to collaborate with God’s reconciling work already ongoing in the world, then in those places where we only saw division and chaos, we will begin at last to catch glimpses of God’s reign in our lives, in our communities, in our world.

    [1] Results which follow are based on a single search (sorted by relevance (search-engine’s default setting)) for “Top 10” at Google on October 19, 2006.

    [2] Results which follow are based on a single search (sorted by relevance (search-engine’s default setting)) for “Top 10” at Google News on October 19, 2006.

    [3] The Church of the Transfiguration Homepage. The direct link to the post on my blog.

    [4] Mark 8:27-38 is the appointed Gospel reading for Proper 19, Year B in the BCP Lectionary.

    [5] The Rt. Rev. Vincent W. Warner, “Values of Servant Leadership,” in Diocesan Profile: The Episcopal Church in Western Washington, Diocese of Olympia accessed online on October 19, 2006.

    [6] William Butler Yeats, "The Second Coming," The Norton Anthology of Poetry, 3rd ed., eds. Alexander W. Allison, Herbert Barrows, et. al. (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1983), p. 883.

    [7] Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism, 4th ed. (New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 2001), pp. 59-60.

    [8] This list of examples comes both from Kim Lawton, “Religion Blamed for Strife: Senator Believes Issues Stir Division,” Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly accessed online on October 18, 2006 and from Peggy Eastman, “Senator Danforth Decries Religious, Political Polarization,” The Living Church Foundation, October 4, 2006 accessed online on October 19, 2006.

    [9] Lawton.


Top 10 Ways to Involve Kids in Stewardship

In the event that my sermon for this coming Sunday goes in the direction it is currently headed, then this post will be relevant. If not, I hope it will be of mild interest to those of you who are just passing by my blog today.

Top 10 ways to involve kids in stewardship

10. Recycle everything from cans to clothes
9. Consolidate car trips; read a book while you wait
8. Shut off lights and appliances not in use
7. Harvest what you plant, share what you harvest
6. Share clothes with a sibling or parent
5. Use e-mail rather than long distance
4. Treat possessions as valuables
3. Ride a bike or walk for short errands and exercise
2. Wipe your feet
1. Eat leftovers

I found this list online at the Southwestern Synod of Minnesota Resource Center, contributed by Marlaine Doidge, Associate in Ministry at Christ Lutheran Church in Glencoe, Minnesota. Thank you Marlaine.


Wired for Hope

Sermon Preached at The Lakes of Pointe West
in Vero Beach, Florida
on Sunday, October 15, 2006
Proper 23B

Human beings are wired for hope. You might find this statement a bit ironic in light of the gospel story this morning. The rich man asks Jesus, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus first remdins the man of the Great Commandments. After assuring Jesus he has obeyed these commands, Jesus continues to tell the man that he must sell what he owns and give the money to the poor and then he will have treasure in heaven. When he hears this, the rich man is shocked and goes away grieving.

In light of teachings such as this it is difficult to hold on to hope, isn't it? So often our lives seem to present us with ample opportunity for disappointment and little opportunity for hope. Just a quick glance through the front section of yesterdya's Indian River County newspaper yesterday delivered stories of domestic violence, lawsuits, stabbings, and drug and alcohol abuse. The powers and principalities are truly at work in our lives trying to stamp out hope. And yet, I contend, that human beings are wired for hope. We are an Easter people - a hope-filled people rooted in the Christian affirmation that Jesus is the promise of the future. In light of all of life's disappointments then, we must work at hope. To keep hope alive, we must cultivate tasks that garner hope and weed out disappointment.*

For hope to be cultivated it cannot be masked by illusion or by utopian visions for both of these lead ultimately back to disappointment and despair. Instead, hope must be cultivated within the realities of finitude, contingency, and transcience. First, finitude: you and I will die. Contingency: accidents - hurricanes, forest fires - do happen. Transcience: everything passes. Hope, to be life-bgiving, must be practical. Hope must be personal. And, hope must be particular. For some of us hope is self-sustained. We all know people who seem hopeful no matter what life throws at them. For most of us, however, hope is supported by community. Whenever you visit your neighbor, you come both as yourself and as a representative of the larger Christian community. You come bearing the reminder of Christ's promise for the future. You come in hope, offering hope - a hope that provides strength for the day and freedom from the past. This kind of hope, Christian hope, is firmly rooted in the here and now. There are no false expectations with this hope - death will still come, accidents will still happen, and everything will continue to pass. But, cultivating hope in one's life will yield a harvest of gratitude for opportunities, a harvest of generosity of spirit and, above all a harvest of freedom.

Let me say a bit more about this hope-filled freedom. Hope-filled freedom allows each of us, at any point in time, the freedom to choose the attitude with which we will face the realities of our world. Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, wrote, "The last of all human liberties is your choice of attitude." They cannot take that away from you. We may not always like the choices we are given, but ultimately, the freedom to choose our attitude remains firmly our own. As Christians we are called to cultivate an attitude of hope.

In today's gospel, the rich man lost hope upon hearing Jesus' words. For him to sell all that he had and give to the poor was more than he could imagine. He despaired over this choice and so went away disappointed. But, had he stuck around a bit longer, he would have heard Jesus' words to the disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" When the disciples expressed their confusion, they asked Jesus, "Then who can be saved?" And Jesus responded, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible." You and I will never earn our way into heaven. That rich man will never earn his way into heaven. Earning one's way into heaven is an impossibility. But, for God, all things are possible. Salvation is not a human endeavor. Salvation is a God-given gift. A gift that is not for you or for me to understand or explain. Instead it is a gift that is to be graciously accepted. When we hold fast to that Good News, we are cultivating hope.

The disappointments in our lives will continue. But as certain as that is, so too is the certainty of God's promise for the futre. When we live a life of hope, we are saying yes to the light breaking through the darknses, the light that refuses to out in the face of adversity. And this light is our Hope. And whether we choose an attidue of hope - focusing on the light - or whether we choose to focus on the darkness will make a world of difference in each day. And this is the promise: our hope is not in vain because "for God all things are possible."

*This sermon relies greatly for inspiration on a talk given by Dr. Martin Marty at Central DuPage Hospital on October 11, 2006, "Harvesting Hope in Healthcare."


She Who Is and God's Vulnerability

Voices Found Women's Theology Book Group met again last Thursday evening at Borders in Orland Park. This month we discussed Elizabeth Johnson's work, She Who Is. We spent most of our time talking about trinitarian language and Johnson's main question, "How do we rightly name God?" However, we also got into a conversation about vulnerability - our own - and, by virtue of being created in the image of God, the possibility of a vulnerable God.

This morning I preached from the epistle in the BCP lectionary. James' words: "God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us." For those of you who are used to reading my sermons here, I need to let you know that I did this one without notes. So, alas, you truly had to be there.

In any event, this post is here for any women from Thursday night's group who wish to continue the conversation or for anyone who would like to comment on the notion of a vulnerable God.

Next book group: Thursday, Oct. 19th at 7:30pm, Borders Bookstore in Orland Park. Discussing Letty Russell's Household of Freedom.


Who Do YOU Say That I Am?

Sermon Preached
September 17, 2006 (Proper 19)
Church of the Transfiguration

Number two at the box office last week was Hollywoodland starring Adrien Brody, Diane Lane and Ben Affleck. For those of you who haven’t seen it yet, I’m going to do you a huge favor – I’m going to tell you how it ends. Think of the money you’ll save --- $9.00 for tickets, $7 for a bottomless pit of popcorn, and $5 for a soda. So here we go. The movie is about a private detective who is investigating the mysterious death of Superman star George Reeves. During his investigation the detective uncovers an affair that Reeves was having with the wife of a studio executive. Typical Hollywood intrigue, but just as the film is about to close with us all thinking the crime is simply unsolvable, the truth is uncovered that . . .

Don’t you hate when people ruin the end of a movie or a book for you?! I sure do! But that’s a little bit of what I feel when I read Mark’s gospel because even though the disciples are portrayed as bumbling humans who just don’t get it, you and I know even before the very first sentence of the gospel is read that this is Jesus Christ, the Son of God – The Messiah!

The disciples, on the other hand, are slow to catch on. After Jesus heals a man with an unclean spirit – the first such miracle in Mark’s gospel – the disciples say to one another, “What is this? A new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”[i] Later on in their journeys with Jesus, the disciples are out on the sea when a great windstorm comes upon them. They become afraid and Jesus criticizes them saying, “Have you still no faith?” We are told that the disciples “were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”[ii] Some time later, the disciples were again at sea struggling against a wind when Jesus walks out to them on the sea. Again, the disciples were fearful and this time we are told “they were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves.”[iii] After hearing a parable, the disciples ask Jesus about its meaning and an exasperated Jesus says to them, “Then do you also fail to understand?”[iv] Who is this man that even unclean spirits obey him? Who is this man that even the wind and the sea obey him? Who is this man who feeds thousands with so little, who walks on water, who speaks in riddles?

So, today we hear Jesus ask, “Who do people say that I am?” and the disciples answer him, “John the Baptist” or “Elijah” or “one of the prophets.” Jesus stops them at this point and asks the next question, “Who do you say that I am?” And, Peter gets it right and pronounces, “You are the Messiah.” And this is the point in the story where I feel let-down. I feel let down because I have known this about Jesus from the very beginning. I cannot even remember when I first learned about Jesus, the Messiah – the story has been a part of my life for so long. And when I hear today’s gospel, I long to be able to hear it for the first time. Because now, when Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” I already know the answer. The element of surprise, the radical nature of Peter’s proclamation, any disbelief or amazement he may have felt when he, at last, got the right answer are forever lost to our experience. It is as if someone spoiled the ending for us.

This week as I was bemoaning the ruined ending, yet again, something new occurred to me. Jesus asks the disciples two questions: (1) who do people say that I am? and (2) who do you say that I am? As I heard these questions again, it occurred to me what my problem was. Jesus asks his followers – those who have been with him from the earliest days of his ministry - “Who do you say that I am?” The problem is, I have been answering the wrong question. I know who Jesus is because of what other people say. We have been told so many times by so many other people who Jesus is that if we are asked “who do you say that I am” we are most likely to respond with one of these: He is the Messiah, the Christ, Emmanuel, the Savior, the Good Shepherd, the Word Made Flesh. But these are not, necessarily, the right answers. They answer the question, “Who do people say that I am?”

But again, hear the question, “Who do you say that I am?” The difference in these questions and their answers may be for some of us the difference between a faith that says, like the Johnny Cash song, “There’ll be pie in the sky when I die, when I die and it’ll be alright” and a faith that recognizes the awesome and marvelous ways in which God is with us in the world today. Not just a future hope, a future promise, but a living presence each day from the moment we get up in the morning to the moment we return to bed each night. Many of us are living a faith based on other people’s answer to the question, but are yearning for a faith based on our own answer to the question. And, I believe that if we are able to answer this question for ourselves, it may mean “the beginning of the end of [our] old life, and the beginning of [our] emergence into a new one.”[v]

Great, so how do we begin? A few weeks ago, I invited you to try setting aside some time each day or at least each week to “just be” – to sit quietly with God, reading scripture, writing in a journal or just listening to the sound of your own breath and listening for the voice of God’s Wisdom. This, I believe, is a first step in finding a living faith. But it is not the only one.

This morning’s reading from James gives us another step in our journey toward a living faith. James tells us that we will “do well if [we] really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. . . . [For] faith, by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” To bring our faith alive – to have a life-giving faith – we must act – we must give of ourselves. James tells us, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,” we are to supply their needs. And again James says, “If a poor person in dirty clothes comes in,” we are to say “Welcome, have a seat here”!

There is a prayer that is often referred to as “St. Patrick’s Breastplate.” Part of it goes like this:

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.[vi]

But, how do the reading from James and this prayer move us towards a living faith? Here’s the connection, I think. Elsewhere in Scripture – in Matthew’s gospel - we are told, “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and welcoming the stranger is clothing Jesus, feeding Jesus, and welcoming Jesus. And so, as we practice our faith through action, and experience Christ with us, Christ before us, Christ behind us, we may find, soon enough, our own answer to Jesus’ question, “Who do you say that I am?”

[i] Mark 1.21-27.
[ii] Mark 4.35-41.
[iii] Mark 6.47-52.
[iv] Mark 7.14-23.
[v] Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p. 26.
[vi] “St. Patrick’s ‘Breastplate’ Prayer” accessed online on September 13, 2006.


Knowledge is Power; Wisdom is Life

Sermon Preached at
Church of the Transfiguration on
Sunday, August 21, 2006 (Proper 15B)

"When I say knowledge is power, I mean it. Use it to your advantage." Donald Trump wrote these words last year in an article touting the benefits of continuous education and self-study.[i] Trump was not the first to assert that “knowledge is power” nor is he the only one who understands the value our culture places on knowledge. Consider your own desire for your children and grandchildren to do well in school, to go on to college. The expression “Knowledge is power” was first used by Francis Bacon who found his inspiration in the Book of Proverbs which says, “Wise warriors are mightier than strong ones, and those who have knowledge [are mightier] than those who have strength.”[ii]

Our first reading, from the Book of Proverbs, talks about Wisdom. We heard, “Wisdom has built her house. . . She calls from the highest places in the town, ‘You that are simple, turn in here!’ To those without sense she says, ‘Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.’” This is not a text about knowledge; it is a text about Wisdom. To be sure, knowledge may be a part of Wisdom, but Wisdom herself is much greater than mere knowledge. One can have knowledge and still be unwise. We all know people like this. And, more importantly, we all probably demonstrate this at one time or another in our own lives.

Just this week I was listening to an interview with Vigen Guroian on the Mars Hill Audio Journal that gave me new insight into the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Guroian is an Orthodox theologian who teaches Theology and Ethics at Loyola College in Baltimore. He is also an avid gardener. Here is what he said about his experience with gardening over the years:

“I was [initially] gardening because of practical necessity and the opportunity to be able to enjoy some things that might cost more than I could afford when [my wife and I] were first married. . . . [Gardening] was an instrumental good and I suppose I could have gone on that way. On the other hand, if you garden enough, it seems to me the garden teaches you. . . . The garden taught me how to view it differently. I dare say that anyone who has been gardening for a while. . . will begin to discover beauty in the garden and God in the garden, even if they don’t name God and that’s what happened to me. So, at this point, while I enjoy consuming what’s in the vegetable garden, for example, I probably take more pleasure, daily, in being in it than I do in consuming what grows in it; which is odd given the culture that we live in. . . . ”[iii]

Anyone with knowledge about gardening can grow a garden. Plant seeds at the right time of the year, ensure that they receive the right amounts of water, sunlight, and nutrients from the soil, harvest at the right time of the year. Knowledge is such that we can now grow gardens in deserts or on rooftops, we can even grow them without soil. The possibilities seem endless with knowledge. Knowledge gives us the power to control the environment in such a way that it will grow a garden. In the interview with Guroian, it is what the interviewer refers to as “mastery by way of systematic manipulation.”[iv] Knowledge.

But, to do more than grow a garden, to actually be a gardener, you need more than knowledge – you must seek Wisdom. And that Wisdom comes not from yourself, but, in this case, from the garden itself – from creation. Once you begin seeing Wisdom in the garden, you appreciate the garden for its beauty, for its revelation of God. Knowledge allows us to do the things that make a garden grow. Wisdom allows us to simply be in the garden. The knowledge doesn’t go away – Guroian continues to harvest the vegetables that grow in his garden; but the knowledge is subsumed by Wisdom – Guroian’s realization that just “being” in his garden gives him pleasure.

Let’s go back to our text from Proverbs again. Here we have an image of Wisdom personified. She has prepared a feast and goes out to “the highest places in the town” to extend her invitation. The invitation goes out “to those without sense.” I love that expression because, in English, it has a double meaning. On the one hand, it can be sense as in “common sense” or perhaps even “knowledge.” But, on the other hand, it can mean sense as in the five senses – taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing. An invitation is extended to all of us who have become unaware of our five senses - unaware of our environment, unaware of the beautiful tastes and smells that surround us. An invitation to “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.”

When I was a little girl, my mother used to bake. And when I came home from school, I knew as soon as I walked in the door when she had been making bread because the house smelled delicious. To this day, the smell of warm yeast and fresh-baked bread is the smell of home. To be sure, more often than not, I go to the store and buy bread because it is faster and much less messy. I know this. But there are times when I’m not seeking knowledge, times when I just need a bit of home and that is when I pull out the wooden bread board and the big mixing bowl and get to work, as my mother taught me. The smell of the warm yeast, the feel of the pliable dough in my hands as I knead it, the sense of wonder as I watch the dough rise in the pans, and the taste of fresh baked bread with just a little bit of butter and jam – there is nothing that compares to that experience. That experience of just being with this marvelous creation is, for me, an experience of Wisdom.

And so it is with Lady Wisdom’s invitation to come and eat of her bread and drink of her wine. This is not an invitation to gain more knowledge, my friends, it is an invitation to taste life and to walk in the way of insight. When do you taste life and feed your senses? We spend much of our time juggling too many appointments, too many activities, too many carpools, too many obligations and we become more and more disconnected from those places, times and experiences that promise us new life. If you are like me, you can’t imagine where you will find the time to take-in the life-giving Wisdom that surrounds us. A few weeks ago, I added an appointment to my calendar each day. It is a 30 minute time slot and it is reserved for prayer and meditation. Some days that takes the form of writing in my journal. Other times it involves reading Scripture. Most of the time though it takes the form of just sitting still, listening to my breathing, becoming aware of thoughts that go through my mind, listening for the voice of Wisdom as she calls to me.

I invite each of you to try this: in whatever place you record appointments, meetings, sports events, whatever, schedule (in ink) 30 minutes to just be. If every day sounds like more than you can manage, then try it just once a week. It will be hard at first, but don’t be discouraged. We have been in training to be doers for most of our lives. So it is not a surprise that just being will take some training as well. But, if you stick with it, you will begin to experience something new. See if it doesn’t make a difference in your life. Just 30 minutes – Wisdom invites us all to “live and walk in the way of insight.”

[i] Donald Trump, “Use Knowledge to Your Advantage,” Inside Trump Tower, Issue 4: June 21, 2005 accessed online at Trump University on August 17, 2006.
[ii] “Knowledge is Power,” Wikipedia accessed online at on August 17, 2006; Proverbs 24:5.
[iii] Vigin Guroian, Interview by Ken Myers, Mars Hill Audio Journal, Vol. 80(4), May/June 2006.
[iv] Ibid.


Voices Found: Womanspirit Rising

Last night 9 women gathered at the Borders in Orland Park for the first meeting of Voices Found - a women's theology book group. Our discussion focused on a collection of essays published in Womanspirit Rising, edited by Carol Christ and Judith Plaskow.

A number of us thought it would be great to continue the discussion online and so this post is to set up a forum for continued discussion. In addition to those who took part in the book group, any who have read the book are welcome to add their thoughts/questions here.

For those interested in joining us next month, we will meet on September 21st from 7:30 - 9:00 pm at Borders in Orland Park. For more information, click here.


On False Dichotomies and the Good News

Sermon Preached at Church of the Transfiguration - Palos Park, Illinois
Proper 14 - Year B
Texts can be found here.

Are you pro-choice or pro-life? Do you think we should teach our children abstinence or should condoms be available at high schools? Do you support the military or are you against the war in Iraq? Do you support the war in Iraq or are you anti-American? If you are like me, then, at least some of the time, your answer to these questions and others like them is “could I have another option please?” False dichotomies, such as these, offer two alternative points of view which are held to be the only choices available, when in reality the options presented are only expressions of extremes without acknowledging the many positions that exist between the two extremes. Or, they offer two views that are not even mutually exclusive. And this is why, for example, the question, “Do you support the military or are you against the war in Iraq?” leaves me in a quandary. Because I do support the military, one might assume then that I also support the U.S. involvement in Iraq. But here’s the dilemma. While I think that the young men and women who enlist in the armed services are admirable for their courage and should be well-compensated, should receive health benefits for themselves and their families, and so on; I also think that our government made a mistake entering Iraq. Now that we are there, I think it is more complicated than just saying we should pack our bags and go home, but I am clear that I am against the war in Iraq. The false dichotomy inherent in the question – do you support the military or are you against the war in Iraq - does not permit my answer – instead, it paints me into a corner with little way out.

In today’s gospel the people began questioning Jesus because he claimed to be “the bread that came down from heaven.” These people knew Jesus as the son of Joseph - you know the guy down the street with the carpenter shop on the corner. So they ask one another is this man the son of Joseph and Mary or did he come down from heaven? Because they knew him and knew his earthly parents, they rejected the possibility that Jesus came down from heaven. What they did not recognize was the false dichotomy they had created. We understand that the answer to their question is yes, Jesus is fully human – the son of Mary - and yes, Jesus is fully divine – the bread that came down from heaven. We confess this each time we say The Nicene Creed - “he came down from heaven: was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human.”

Jesus’ response to the question was to say to them “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” Don’t worry about where I’ve come from, don’t create more confusion for yourselves which overshadows the message that matters most. Instead, pay attention to the will of the one who sent me. Pay attention to the will of God. Because “whoever believes has eternal life.” That is the message that ultimately matters.

Before we become smug about our own wisdom, clearly superior to those people in John’s gospel who were questioning Jesus, we would be wise to hold back just a bit longer as we consider some of the issues confronting us today in our churches.

Just last week the Chicago Tribune ran an article stating that, “The leader of a network of conservative Episcopal dioceses says the global Anglican Communion will unravel unless the archbishop of Canterbury helps U.S. conservatives distance themselves from the Episcopal Church.”[i]
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
The New York Times reported last week on the upcoming election of a new bishop for the Diocese of Newark with this headline, “Picking Bishop Means Facing Diocesan Rift.”[ii]

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one being with the Father. Through him all things were made.
While what is reported by the media is far from representative of all that goes on in our churches, it is nonetheless disturbing to see the headlines’ converging lens focused on our debates over such issues as the gender of our clergy, the sexuality of our clergy, and the number of times our clergy have been married and divorced. Yes, this is indeed disturbing; but, my friends, it is not surprising.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets.
And while there are many points on which we agree – many things we believe in common - our own focus has been on those points on which we disagree – points which we hold-up as though they were theological truths. So instead of authentic dialogue, instead of being a Church centered on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we have become a people who lob distorted sound-bytes at one another leaving precious little space or time for discerning God’s will for the future of the Church – for our future.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
What might you and I need to let go of in order to make room for the beauty of creation to be revealed in our lives, and the lives of those we touch, each day? What opinions ought we to hold lightly so that the bread that came down from heaven can be witnessed in our ministries? What ministries are we called to enter into so that the Holy Spirit working through us is more worthy of the media’s attention than our in-fighting? What ideas about how we “do church” might we be willing to let go of in order that the one holy catholic and apostolic Church may become visible in our world – may grab the headlines?

“Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.” Let us be a people who “find more grace in the search for meaning than in absolute certainty, [more grace] in the questions than in the answers.”[iii] And let us focus, not on arguments shaped by false dichotomies, but on Jesus Christ who is “the living bread that came down from heaven.” For we have been promised that “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

[i] Tribune News Service, “Anglican Leader Asked to Intervene,” Chicago Tribune, August 4, 2006 accessed [ii] Tina Kelley, “Picking Bishop Means Facing Diocesan Rift,” The New York Times, August 5, 2006 accessed [iii] The Center for Progressive Christianity, “The 8 Points: Point 6 – Study Guide,” accessed online on August 10, 2006.


A Pot, Some Water, and a Small Round Stone

Sermon Preached on July 23, 2006
at Church of the Transfiguration
Palos Park, Illinois
Proper 11B

An old folktale tells of a man who has been traveling through the forest for a week without any food to eat. He is tired and hungry and all but ready to give up hope when he sees a dim light off in the distance. As he approaches the light, it grows brighter and brighter and soon he can make out the small cottage from which it is shining.

The man knocks on the door and says to the woman that answers, “I have been traveling alone in the woods for many days without any food to eat and I am wondering if you might have a little something for me.”

The woman tries to close the door in the man’s face, saying, “I have nothing here.”

But the man is persistent and he tries again and says, “Do not be so hardhearted, for we are both human begins, and should help one another.”

The woman replies, “I have no food in the house! Now, go somewhere else.”

But the traveler, it turns out, is as clever as he is hungry, and so he says, “Poor woman, you must be starving. Let me make some soup for you to eat.”

The woman’s curiosity is raised and so she opens the door a bit and says, “You will make soup for me? What kind of soup will you make . . . you have been traveling a week in the woods with nothing to eat for yourself?”

Rather cryptically, the man replies, “If you’ll just lend me a pot, I will show you.”The woman opens the door the rest of the way, the man walks in and begins to prepare his soup. He filled the pot with water and put it on the stove. Then he took a small round stone from his pocket, turned it three times in his hand and put it into the pot.

“What’s this going to be?” asks the woman.

The man replies “Stone Soup.”

As he stirs the pot of Stone Soup, the man comments, “this generally makes good broth, but this time it will very likely be rather thin, for I have been making broth the whole week with the same stone. If I only had a handful of flour to put in, that would make it all right. But there’s no use thinking about that” and he continued stirring the pot.

“Well, I think I have a scrap of flour somewhere,” says the woman, and she went to the cupboard to get it. The man began putting the flour into the broth, and went on stirring, while the woman sat staring at him and then at the pot until her eyes nearly burst their sockets!

“This broth would be good enough for company,” says the man, “if only I had a bit of salted beef and a few potatoes to put in. But there’s no use thinking about that” and he continued stirring the pot.

When the woman really began to think it over, she thought she had some potatoes, and perhaps a bit of beef as well, and she gave these to the man, who went on stirring, while she sat and stared as hard as ever.

“This will be grand enough for the best in the land,” he said.

Well, the story continues in this manner for some time and soon the woman finds a little barley and some milk for a very fine soup; and even remembers she has bread, cheese, and smoked veal for sandwiches. The two sit down to a grand feast and the woman is delighted that such a wonderful meal can be prepared with only a pot, some water, and a small round stone.[i]

I like to solve problems. A number of you probably enjoy solving crossword puzzles or, the newest craze, Sudoku. I have to confess that my discovery of websudoku.com was nearly my undoing during my last quarter in seminary. That sense of satisfaction when the last number drops neatly into the grid or the final word fits into the crossword – what else is like it!? Problem solved, no lingering worries. I am guessing that my enjoyment of problem-solving is universal. Most of us like problems – especially ones that that have easy solutions – and most of us have come to believe that our world is made up of a series of problems of varying degrees of difficulty that can be solved.

So, we go to the doctor with a list of symptoms and we expect the doctor to say, “Your problem is that you have Disease X” and “the solution is to take Drug Y.” Then, we imagine we’ll go home, take Drug Y and Disease X will be gone with no lingering worries. But, instead we discover upon taking Drug Y, that it makes our stomach upset, or it causes nausea or a rash. Or, we can take Drug Y for our headache, but it might cause an ulcer. And this is a day of ‘good news’ medically speaking. Because the other news that we all know of is the doctor who says, “you have Disease X and there is no cure” or “you have a group of symptoms, but I cannot identify the cause.”

We like problems that have solutions and we’ve come to expect that the world is made up of problems that can be solved. So we ask questions like, “how do we solve the crisis in the Middle East?” “How do we solve the problem of unemployment?” “How do we solve the problem of hunger and extreme poverty in the world?” But here’s the catch: life does not come in a problem-solution format. It is not a crossword puzzle to be solved. There is no one answer that will allow us to set the problem down and say, “There, that takes care of that.” Many of us are tempted to stay the course – we won’t give up because we know that a solution is out there – we just haven’t found it yet. But, if we keep trying, the answer will come to us and ultimately we will be able to go to bed without worrying about the hungry people, the unemployed people, the sick people, the tired people, and ourselves.

That this problem-solution dyad is firmly ensconced in our collective worldview became apparent this week as I searched online newspaper headlines for information about the conflict in the Middle East: The L.A. Times, “Israelis See No Quick Solution to Crisis in Lebanon”[ii] suggests that they do, however, envision a solution exists somewhere. The headline in the Hindustan Times reads, “UNSC wants sustainable solution, not quickfix for Mideast.”[iii] Likewise, the Toronto Star, “’More Permanent’ Solution Sought;”[iv] and CNN International, “Arabs Look to U.S. for Diplomatic Solution.”[v] This is a small sampling from the dozens and dozens of headlines reporting on proposed solutions or hoped for solutions to the problem in the Middle East.

But, my friends, here is where it all begins to break down for me because I have to ask myself, “What precisely is the problem for which a solution is being sought?” To be sure, the most recent “problem” is that Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers ending six years of tenuous peace between Lebanon and Israel. But, I doubt that many of us believe that this is the problem we are ultimately hoping to solve here. Perhaps the problem was the election of Ismail Haniya in the Palestinian General election last January. Or maybe the problem is Israel’s refusal to withdraw to its 1967 borders. Or perhaps the problem is actually Syria or Iran, two countries who some suggest are behind the Hezbollah attacks on Israel. Maybe the problem goes back to the Biblical question of which people are, in fact, part of “the covenants of promise.” I am no expert on Middle East politics (in fact, I am barely a novice).[vi] But here is what I see. We are so wound up in a worldview that insists on finding solutions that when we are presented with a situation for which no single clear-cut problem can be identified, we still look for or at least hope for the one solution that will magically solve the crisis.

According to L. P. Jacks, a British Unitarian minister and prolific writer of the first half of the 20th century, the Bible contains neither the word “problem” nor the word “solution” suggesting that maybe there is another way to view world events.[vii] This small bit of Biblical trivia appears in Dorothy Sayers' 1941 classic, The Mind of the Maker in which she builds on the notion that humans are created in the image of a creating God proposing that it is the very act of creating which is most God-like in our being.

According to Sayers, “the creator does not set out from a set of data, and proceed, like a crossword solver, . . . to deduce from them a result which shall be final, predictable, complete and the only one possible.”[viii] Now if the creator doesn’t work in this manner and if we are, by our very nature, created in the image of this creator, then why is it we insist on treating the world as if it were made up of a series of problems to be solved, one by one, once and for all.

In the beginning, God looked out upon the void and darkness which covered the face of the deep and saw in it “a medium for creation.”[ix] And, as we look out at our world and all of its messiness – as we look at the Middle East, or at hunger and extreme poverty, or any other of the so-called ‘problems’ in our world – as we cry out, as Sayers does, “‘Here is a mess, a crying evil, a need! What can you do about it?’ We are asked not to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ or ‘I will’ or ‘I will not,’ but to be inventive, to create, to discover something new.”[x] The answer to most of the ‘problems’ of our world will not come in the form of a simple solution; in fact, many of the ‘problems’ may turn out to be unsolvable. But we are to meet this, not with despair and frustration, but with creativity. To do otherwise, according to Sayers is to do “violence to the very structure of our being.”[xi]

In today’s gospel, the apostles presented Jesus with a problem, “there are too many people and they are hungry.” This is a problem our world continues to recognize and struggle with. But Jesus, rather than providing a solution, simply says, “feed them.” The apostles, like most of us, assume there is only one solution – or, in this case, no solution because the cost is more than they can afford: “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” In today’s terms, they might have said, “Jesus, what are you thinking!? It would cost a billion dollars to feed all these people.” But Jesus, thank God, is a very patient man and Jesus’ actions point the apostles in a new direction. His actions say, “Create” don’t “solve” for life is much more complicated than a crossword puzzle. Jesus points out that among them they have five loaves of bread and two fish. And out of this material stuff – this medium for creation - he tells the apostles to feed the people. And what are we told? Not only did all five thousand people eat, but twelve baskets full of broken pieces and fish were left over after all had been fed.

Just imagine, all that with only a pot, some water, and a small round stone.

[i] There are a number of variations on this simple story. Several are available at “Stone Soup: Folktales of Aarne-Thompson type 1548,” translated and/or edited by D. L. Ashliman, 1998-2004, accessed online. A children’s story by Marcia Blake, Stone Soup, written in 1947 is still published by Atheneum. My own version is a combination of Ashliman’s “The Old Woman and the Tramp” and my recollection of a childhood album in which Danny Kaye narrated the story of “Stone Soup.”
[ii] Laura King and Megan K. Stack, “Israelis See No Quick Solution to Crisis in Lebanon,” Los Angeles Times, July 18, 2006, online edition accessed on July 18, 2006.
[iii] “UNSC wants sustainable solution, not quickfix for Mideast,” Hindustan Times, July 18, 2006 accessed online on July 18, 2006.
[iv] Olivia Ward, “’More Permanent Solution’ Sought,” The Toronto Star, July 17, 2006 accessed online on July 18, 2006.
[v] Elise Labbott, “Arabs Look to U.S. for Diplomatic Solution,” CNN International, July 18, 2006 accessed online on July 18, 2006.
[vi] I am such a novice in this arena that even my list of potential problems come from this week’s Time: Lisa Meyer, “Hate Thy Neighbor: Understanding the New and Lethal Logic of Violence in the Middle East – and What the World Can Do to Find Peace,” Time From the Magazine, July 16, 2006 accessed online on July 17, 2006.
[vii] L. P. Jacks, Stevenson Lectures, 1926-7 quoted in Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mind of the Maker, New York: Harper, 1941, p. 179.
[viii] Sayers, p. 186.
[ix] Genesis 1.1; Sayers, p. 188.
[x] Sayers, p. 192.
[xi] Sayers, p. 185.


Robert Bly

I pulled my Norton Anthology off the shelf after reading, "For wisdom is more mobile than any motion; because of her pureness she pervades and penetrates all things. For she is a breath of the power of God . . . " (Wisdom of Solomon 7:24-25a). The motion reminded me of Robert Bly's "Driving toward the Lac Qui Parle River". Here is the second stanza:

The small world of the car
Plunges through the deep fields of the night,
On the road from Willmar to Milan.
This solitude covered with iron
Moves through the fields of night
Penetrated by the noise of crickets.

Reading Bly . . . The vast area and mystery of the "deep fields of the night" coupled with the close sound "of crickets". . . peaceful and warm, alone, but not lonely.


Uganda and the Gay Games

This photo by Matt Buguy appeared on Planetout.com's website in an article about the opening ceremonies at Gay Games VII in Chicago. I was really touched by the photo. On a very deep level I connected to the isolation of being gay even in a country which, compared to Uganda, embraces homosexuality.


On Speaking the Truth

Pre-Post-Script*: Speaking about "Truth" in a post-modern age is always risque. I had an interesting discussion about this with one of my mentors (Ryan, you might prefer the term "boss-man") last week. Because "truth" has become enmeshed with the notion of my embodied/experienced truth, can we speak about Truth in any meaningful way? What are your thoughts?

*which is to say it is written pre-the post, but it is post-the sermon which follows (below):

Sermon Preached at
Church of the Transfiguration
Palos Park, IL
July 16, 2006
Proper 10B

Truth-telling is a painful business. We try to hide the truth, confuse the truth, and cover up the truth. Sometimes we don’t even think about the fact that we are not telling the truth. For example, when I ask you, “how are you?” Most of you will respond, “Fine thanks and you?” It’s a social custom – just a courteous greeting – a formality, void of any real meaning. But, if you are like me, then at least some of the time, the answer is a lie. A fairly benign lie to be sure – but a lie nonetheless. What might it be like if we were to actually pause when someone asks, “how are you?” and then respond with the truth. What might it be like for us to speak the truth? To tell someone that you are having a bad day, that you are feeling lonely and cut-off, that you wish family and friends would visit more often – or at least call, that you are feeling a bit under the weather, that your arthritis is acting up again. Why is it, that even for such a simple question, telling the truth seems so challenging?

For Amos, speaking the truth to the priest of Bethel was not easy either. In fact, when he does speak the truth, Amaziah tells King Jeroboam, “Amos has conspired against you in the very center of the house of Israel; the land is not able to bear all his words.” The words Amos spoke were so threatening to the King of Israel that Amaziah tells Amos to leave the land – “flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there; but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom.” In short, Amos is told, we don’t want to hear your words here. We don’t want to hear about all our troubles. We don’t want you to give us this bad news. So go home!

Just to provide you with a little background, Amos was, in fact, from the Southern Kingdom of Judah and was delivering his prophecy to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Early in the book, Amos has told the Israelites that they had better shape up. The Israelites were enjoying a period of relative prosperity and they surmised that this prosperity was proof that God was with them. Because of this, they became complacent about the covenant with God – they abused the privilege of being God’s chosen people and were just going through the motions of worshiping God without any care or understanding for the nature of that covenant – a covenant that demanded the Israelite’s responsible actions toward their neighbors.

Because of the Israelite’s empty worship, Amos, through a series of visions, warns that God will destroy Israel. Today’s reading is the third such vision. The image of a plumb line is a bit obscure to us today – not because we don’t know what a plumb line is but because here it appears to be related to destruction as opposed to the hanging of wallpaper. But despite the obscurity of the image, the message is clear: “the high places of Isaac shall be made desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste, and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” It’s really no wonder that the priest of Bethel and King Jeroboam himself were pretty adamant that Amos should return to his home in Judah. This was a truth that was too hard to bear.

As hard as it is for us to speak the truth, it is just as hard – or maybe harder – to hear the truth being spoken. We don’t want to hear the truth. We don’t want to hear that someone else is having a bad day. We don’t want to hear that something we’ve done or said has offended someone else. Because hearing this sort of message compels us to respond, pushes us to step out of our own world for a moment, stand in the shoes of the other, and respond. Perhaps the required response is only a word of comfort or a quick apology. But, it is possible that the required response will be much more and this, I think, is why we don’t want to hear the truth in the first place. Hearing the truth – really hearing it – may require a commitment from us – a commitment to do something.

In the case of Israel, choosing to hear the words of Amos would have required a radical response. No mere apology was going to do the trick. Old Testament scholar Bernard Anderson writes, “Israel’s special calling . . . does not entitle it to special privilege, but only to greater responsibility”[1] and Amos’ truth-telling was a reminder of this responsibility. But this reminder was threatening to the Israelites because if they chose to hear this truth, they would have to change their ways. Rather than choosing to reform and reorient their lives, the Israelites chose to ignore Amos and attempt to send him back to his homeland. Being willing to hear hard truths – especially when things are going well - requires hard work.

Amos had no choice about the truth he was to speak. When Amaziah tells him to leave, Amos says, “the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.’” Amos understands that he cannot do other than follow God’s will for him. As challenging as that is, as frustrating as that is, Amos can only speak God’s truth to the Israelites. In much the same way, the disciples are sent out by Jesus to proclaim that all should repent. And, like Amos before them, they are to understand that even when they are ignored or pushed away, they should continue on with their message and their ministry.

Jesus calls the twelve and begins to send them out two by two to proclaim the good news. And Jesus knew how difficult this journey could be. Just last week, we heard how Jesus himself was rejected by his home town – do you remember the jeers from the crowd, “isn’t this the son of the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son?” Who does he think he is to come here all high and mighty? So, Jesus tells the disciples, “If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” “Shake off the dust that is on your feet” – let it go and move on to the next place. It is as if Jesus is saying, don’t take it personally and, more importantly, don’t give up. Just move on . . . continue on your way doing that which I have called you to do. And so, we heard this morning, the disciples do go on and “they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.”

In the same way, we are called to respond to God’s will for our life. We are not to be discouraged by those around us who will not hear us. No, you and I are to dust off our feet and continue proclaiming the Good News and continue witnessing by the way we live our lives to the reign of God that is continually breaking into our world. So, the next time someone asks you, “how are you?” I challenge you to answer truthfully. And the next time you ask someone how they are, I challenge you to stop and hear the answer – even at the risk of needing to respond.

[1] Bernhard W. Anderson. Understanding the Old Testament. 4th edition. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall. 1986. p. 295.