The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, November 30, 2008

A proud uncle, home for the holidays

So... Pardon my boasting, but I've got these two new nephews that I got to really spend some bonding time with over the holidays, I've just got to share it with the world!

They're twins (oddly people keep asking that...) and they were born a little too early. They were due November 23rd, but they were born September 8th at 3 pounds and 1 pound, 7 ounces.

This was a particularly special thanksgiving, as we gave thanks for the boys doing so well despite all that was going against them, thanks for the miracles of modern medicine that made it possible, and special thanks that we were able to be together for the holiday - Gaines (the smaller one) was released from the hospital just one hour after my flight landed! Miles was released just a couple of weeks ago.

Between a proud mother, a proud grandmother, and a proud uncle, about three hundred pictures were taken over the two days and a half days that I was there. (I'm thinking of compiling them into a flip book, which should supply video from most of my visit) But don't worry! I've just picked out a few of my favorites to share.

Here's big brother, inspecting his newest little brother. He'd been hearing about him for nearly three months, and was SO excited to finally get to see him for himself!

Gaines is now 4 1/2 pounds. He's growing up so fast!

Miles got attached to his Uncle Jon very quickly. I did get to hold him a couple of times and feed him in the hospital about a month ago. But we got a lot of special time to get to know one another this time. The hardest part is learning how to divide my time between three awesome nephews!

I call this one "Arm Full o' Boys". I was pretty reluctant to try to hold both of them at the same time, but their grandmothers insisted on the photo op, so they set it up. It worked rather well! They slept there for about an hour!

Finally, here's the whole family gathered together to ask the Lord's blessing (and to take a bunch of pics!). It's always special when we can all be in one place at one time! It's been more than a year since this happened, and now, we're happy to have two more of us in our midst!

Thanks for all of your prayers and support as the boys were having trouble and in the hospital. Now things seem to be coming along, and some prayers of thanksgiving seem to be in order. For you, for them, and for family.

It was a great holiday :)

Well if that don't just say it all...

It's Advent... Despite what you may be hearing on the radio or in shopping malls (where's it's been Christmas for a couple of months now) it is actually Advent.

Time for waiting.

Time for expecting.

Time to cultivate hope.

They're good disciplines. And this video helps us to see a little bit of why. There is hope out there greater than our imagining, and together we can find it and make it real.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Considering sheep and goats

November 23, 2008
Christ the King Sunday, Year A
Matthew 25:31-46

In the name of God. Amen.

We live in an amazing time. The world today can seem smaller and more accessible than it ever has in history. Through the miracles of rapid transit and instant communication anyone can quite literally see the world. We can travel distances once not even dreamed. We can build and sustain relationships with people so far from us geographically and culturally, that just a few generations ago, we probably would not have even known that they existed.

I was amazed to learn on election night that moments after our President-elect was announced, there was dancing in the streets in villages in Kenya. It was amazing to me not just that the world had become so small that they would dance at news from a world away, but that the world had become so small that I could see it.

A few years ago I traveled to Ghana in West Africa. I was there to study African indigenous religious roots of African American spirituality. While that was certainly valuable learning, I think the most important lessons that I learned on that trip were lessons about my own understandings of the Body of Christ.

While we were traveling, we had several local guides who helped us to bridge the cultural differences. One such person was a young man named Ebenezer. Ebenezer and I began spending time with one another, I think, largely because he wanted to spend time with some of the young women on the trip who were my friends and with whom I spent most of my time. But over the course of those weeks Ebenezer and I developed a friendship. We had deep conversations about our own cultural experiences and how they had informed our relationships with God and with the church. During some of the more difficult moments of my time there, Ebenezer provided a gentle, pastoral presence that helped me to have the strength to continue through the remaining days.

One of the deeply life-giving moments of that experience happened on an evening near the end of the trip. Our class was gathered in our hotel and reflecting on our experiences. We had seen the centuries-old buildings that were once hubs of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. We had visited the temples of indigenous religions and watched the people performing their ceremonies. We had talked with workers in sweatshops. Beggars had swarmed us on the streets. We had seen more abject poverty than most of us had ever imagined possible.

As we talked about the effect that all of this was having on us, my professor said something that I will never forget. She said, “You’ll find after you go home that ‘Africa’ is a little closer than it used to be. When you hear about poverty, or AIDS, or orphans, or political unrest, it won’t ever be ‘those Africans’ anymore. It will be Ebenezer, our brother.”

Suddenly, all of those “causes” and “news reports” that had previously been placeholders for invisible individuals were no longer “causes” or “news reports” for me; they were real people with real stories, who experienced real love and real pain. They were not just ideas; they were Ebenezer, my brother.

It was in that moment, I think, that I first really understood the Body of Christ – the unity of humanity that Christ came to show us and to call us into. It was in that moment that I began to know more clearly the Christian mission in the world: to be the Body of Christ in the world; to reconcile the people of God with God; and to be agents of that reconciliation by being agents of reconciliation between broken people, and thus helping to heal the brokenness of this world.

It’s a huge task – and one that can only be accomplished with God’s help.

So that’s why I was so discouraged to read the Gospel lesson appointed for today. When I first read this text, I could not see the call to reconciliation that so significantly shapes my understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

It’s the parable of the sheep and the goats. In it, we hear that we – the people of God’s own creating – will be separated like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And just as a shepherd places greater value on the sheep of his care than the goats, so, too, will God place greater value on the lives and contributions of some over others.

For many people, this can be a tempting image of God. For some people, this system of “meeting a demand to earn a reward” might seem attractive. They might think, “Christianity isn’t so hard: just follow these simple steps and get your all-expense paid ticket to heaven.” But part of the problem with that system is that it can lead to a kind of self-righteousness. It’s very easy for people to begin to think that they’ve followed all the rules, so they must be somehow better than others. They begin to think of themselves as sheep, or worse, they may even be so bold as to think of others as goats, thus saving the one who created us all the effort of sorting.

But the real trouble for me is that the sorting even happens. I believe so deeply that God’s desire for humanity is that we be united, that it’s hard for me to wrap my mind around an image of God as the one who would separate us.

I’ll admit – it’s not my favorite image of God.

But is that really what’s happening in this text? Is it God separating us?

I do believe that we are called to be the Body of Christ for the world, but what does that mean? What does it mean to be agents of reconciliation between God and humanity by being agents of reconciliation in the occasions of brokenness in this world?

Jesus said, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

That is the path to reconciliation. That is the work of the Body of Christ.

When we face those who hunger and thirst, when we encounter the stranger, when we come across those who are naked or sick or imprisoned – if, then, we fight their invisibility and begin to see beyond the “cause” or the “task”, we can begin to see in them Christ, our brother. In that moment of reconciliation the world gets a little smaller, and seeing Christ is always a life-giving experience.

It may not always be joyful – at least not in the immediate sense. In fact, it will often seem quite painful. Out of their fear of that pain, many people choose not to see the Christ around them. Many choose not to acknowledge those who hunger and thirst. Many choose to turn away from the strangers they encounter and to ignore the nakedness and sickness and imprisonment that surround them on every side. They choose to give up the live-giving Christ-encounters that are available to them. In the absence of those occasions of reconciliation their worlds must seem sparse and lonely.

The parable of the sheep and the goats is not about God dividing us according to our worth. It is about God recognizing that we are divided, and helping to show us the path to unity.

In this amazing age in which we live – an age of rapid transit and instant communication – we have never-before-known opportunities for encountering the living Christ in the world. Though our opportunities for travel and interaction are easier than they have ever been, our vocation of finding Christ in the world is no less intense. We may be able to travel ten thousand miles to do it, but the journey of finding Christ is always the same: no more and no less than opening oneself to the humanity of the neighbor.

God is calling us into the life-giving task of seeing Christ in the world and being Christ in the world. We needn’t be alone.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

the Lord wept...

"As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, 'If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.'"
Luke 19:41-42

I took this photograph in 2007 when I was visiting Jerusalem for Holy Week and Easter. It was taken on the grounds of Dominus Flevit, a Roman Catholic Church on the Mount of Olives that commemorates Jesus' weeping over Jerusalem before entering it on Palm Sunday.

The modern architecture of the church is roughly in the shape of a tear.

This photo, peering into Jerusalem from Dominus Flevit (which means "the Lord Wept") through the all-too-common razor wire in a city that has known centuries of weeping, helped to capture for me, in a way that my words at the time could not, the sadness of that part of the world that must still deeply grieve the heart of Christ.

Jerusalem can seem painfully sad. The landscape is scarred by cement and stone walls meant to exclude one people from another. Windows and doors on apartment buildings and college dormitories are fitted with armored covers to protect the inhabitants from unpredictable outbreaks of war. Religious ceremonies are guarded by teenagers carrying automatic rifles. The infighting among religious groups vying for space is held perilously in check by a centuries-old document called the Status Quo (honest-to-God!). The only chance for keeping any remote semblance of a tenuous peace is upholding the Status Quo and abiding by the rulings of long ago.

Even the Old City itself is a collection of subtle divisions: you may enter in Palestine, but after walking a few blocks you may find yourself in Israel. A few blocks more and you may find yourself in Armenia or Rome or Greece. They are divisions that most tourists would never recognize - at least not until having crossed them - but the people who know the city know their place within it and rarely stray.

My experiences in Jerusalem were profoundly life-changing and life-giving. I would never exchange them for anything.

But, at least in part, I feel like I know why Jesus wept that Palm Sunday so long ago.

I have wept over Jerusalem, too.

Whenever the people of God are torn by division and infighting, I believe that it grieves the heart of God.

Whenever we build walls that are meant to exclude, I believe that Jesus weeps again.

Today, the Episcopal Diocese of Fort Worth - a diocese that has long held fast to its walls to hold out women, and gay and lesbian people and their allies, and any other progressive or nontraditional voices that may have dared to attempt entry - today they voted to "leave" the Episcopal Church.

Obviously, a diocese - a creation of the General Church which is, in itself, held in trust for the General Church - cannot "leave" the General Church. But my purpose here is not to debate the legal or ecclesial realities. There will be time enough for that later.

My purpose, instead, is to notice that once again, the church has grieved the heart of God.

Once again, Jesus weeps.

I ask your prayers for the Episcopal Church in Fort Worth. I ask your prayers for those who felt the need to abandon the church and for those who feel called to rebuild it.

For more news on the matter, I refer you to the blog of my friend Katie Sherrod. Not only is she one of the true prophets of the church and a progressive voice on the ground in Fort Worth, but she's a rock star writer and can really capture the heart of most matters she approaches with subtlety, grace, and wit.

And while you're at it, say a prayer for Katie. Because while I'm sure that she's not one bit surprised, I have no doubt but that she's grieving for our church, too.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Baptismal Revolutionaries

November 2, 2008
All Saints’ Sunday
Matthew 5:1-12

In the name of God: Source of all being, Incarnate Word, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

One of the reasons that I love Jesus so much is that he had this way of turning the world on its end. I’ve always had something of a soft spot in my heart for troublemakers – those saints of the ages who stood up against the ways of the world to reach toward a world that could be. So really, it was only a matter of time before I began loving Jesus. He was a troublemaker of the best sort.

When we think of Jesus as troublemaker, we tend to get a kind of “Jesus Christ Superstar” image of Jesus arguing with Judas about the merits of Mary Magdalene, or turning over the tables of the money changers in the temple, or rebuking Peter with an angry, “Get behind me, Satan!” Those are the dramatic moments. But the troublemaking Jesus that stirs my soul is a little subtler. It’s a little more pervasive than any action-filled vignette could capture.

Certainly in the eyes of the authority of his day, Jesus was a troublemaker. He didn’t behave. He didn’t “play the game” and make the right friends. He didn’t climb the social ladder to gain influence. Instead, he challenged his society. He had incredibly high expectations for those around him – higher than anyone had considered before. He demanded that people think about their relationships with God and with each other in new ways, and very often they hated him for it.

This morning’s Gospel lesson is a fine example of that. In the Beatitudes, Jesus takes everything that the people following him thought they knew about the world and he turns it around.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven…”

I didn’t know it at the time when I was told to memorize these words as a child in Sunday School, but these are the words of revolution. The blood of the martyrs has been shed over these words. The memories of all the saints are preserved – right there.

It’s not a popular message, but it is the Christian message.

There are plenty of churches where you could go to hear safer messages: sermon series’ about how you can use your Christian faith to have a happier marriage or to be more successful in your career. But Jesus’ message to us is not so much about finding success in the traditional ways of the world than it is about finding a successful relationship with God. It is a revolution against the dominant social establishment in favor of a higher order.

It is this message of revolution to which we are called in the mystery of our baptism: to turn the world upside down so that we can see God in ever-new ways and so that we can see the Christ in each other a little more clearly.

It is this message of revolution that knits us together with the saints into one communion and one fellowship in the mystical Body of Christ.

Christ calls us to be troublemakers.

Through the pages of our history as a church we see it again and again. The people we revere as examples of the faith are those that succeeded in turning the world upside down and who helped to show us all new ways of seeking and serving Christ in all persons and better ways of loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, whose feast we celebrate on July 20th each year, was one of the 19th century founders of the Women’s Rights Movement. Born into a family of political power and social standing, she could have chosen to live a life of ease by upholding the status quo. Instead, she heard the call to strive for justice and peace among all people, and she dedicated her life to seeking equal rights for women in the church, in the workplace, and in society at large.

Jonathan Myrick Daniels was a seminarian at the Episcopal Theological School in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the 1960s. Moved by the revolutionary words of the Magnificat: “He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek,” he felt called to minister to oppressed African Americans in Selma, Alabama. After an appeal by Martin Luther King, Jr., he took a leave of absence from seminary to go to Alabama to help secure voting rights for African Americans. He was arrested for his efforts and on the day of his release he was shot and killed on the street by an unemployed highway worker who blamed the Civil Rights Movement for his economic hardship. Jonathan heard the call of his baptism and lived and died as a proclamation of the Good News of God in Christ.

Though we have hundreds of examples of the saints that we honor and celebrate in our tradition, there are countless other examples of troublemakers who have lived and who continue to live their lives as baptismal revolutionaries – saints who continually endeavor to turn the world upside-down so that we all might reach some better life.

In her All Saints’ Day message to the church, our Presiding Bishop asks that we bring with us today both the memory of a saint who we know and the memory of a saint who remains unknown to us. Perhaps that unknown saint is some member of the community who does the quiet and often-overlooked task of looking after others – the meals on wheels volunteer, or the woman on her front porch quietly keeping watch over the children at play on the street. Or perhaps the unknown saint is the one who does the work that we forget to do or would rather not do: the concerned one who sifts through the trash to sort the recyclables that we have blithely tossed aside, or the nurse, who on his break, spends a few minutes offering companionship to one who is dying alone.

The theologian, Jay McDaniel said, “Whenever and wherever we see wisdom, compassion, and freedom in our world, even if only for a moment, we see God’s spirit.”

In those moments of communion with God’s spirit, we are knit into the communion of the saints. In those all-too-rare moments when we are agents of wisdom, compassion, and freedom, we are the troublemakers, disrupting the world that would have been. We are the baptismal revolutionaries that Christ has called us to be.


Saturday, November 01, 2008


My dear friend and mentor, the Rev. Elizabeth Kaeton sent this to me.

Clearly she doesn't know that I spend the whole quadrennium just WAITING for another opportunity to vote for President! (I'm such a political nerd...)

But the message is clear. Will we have another Florida? Will it be YOUR fault??