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Here I am, send Grover!

I got asked to guest-blog!  On someone else’s blog!  

This was a first for me, and I was very excited.  

The brilliant people over at the Daily Cake asked me to write something “about hope/anticipation”.  “

“Ok!”  I thought.  “I can do this!”  “I can totally write about hope!”  

Then I thought about Grover.  And this came out.  

(Thanks for having me, Daily Cake!)

::insert title here::

I don’t have to preach anywhere today.
I’m a little grateful, selfishly, for that. I think my sermon would sound like an article from the Onion right now. “Let’s all hold hands and cry for a bit, because this is awful. And I don’t have words to make it comprehensible, or bearable.”

I spent Friday morning at the graduation of one of the Canterbury students. It was hopeful and joyous– the beginning of “real life” starting for a new generation. Just as it should be.
And then I got in my car, turned on the news, and heard about Newtown. Burst into tears.
Came home, checked Twitter, and watched the continuous feed of prayers, questions, and laments ascending.

There is so much unknown right now. We don’t know how this happened. We don’t know what the shooter was thinking. We don’t know why. We don’t know what will happen next, what we should do next. And, we don’t know why.

There is so much we don’t know. And there is so much to grieve for.

But there are some things we do know. (Not many. But a few.)

The first is that as our hearts are breaking, God’s heart breaks too. God remains present with us, grieving with us, in the midst of this tragedy. No human evil can separate us from the love of God– no mental illness, no violence, no despair, no anger, not even death itself. As we suffer on earth, God suffers with us. I don’t know why this happened, but I do know that God is with us, and with the victims, and their families as they grieve.**

And I also know this: we are called to do something. As we stand in our grief, and in our anger, and our sorrow, we are bid by Christ’s love to do something to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We are called to pray, and to grieve, but not only that.
Because we have gotten too good at this. Over and over we have watched parents mourn children who won’t come home. We have come to view public places as places of danger. We have begun to live in fear of each other, and our communities.
This is not the way it is supposed to be. This is not the way God calls us to live.
When John was speaking to those who came to him by the river’s edge, he didn’t just give them a baptism, and send them on their way. He told them to do something. To live different lives. To reflect their experience. Soldiers had to be merciful. Tax collectors had to not abuse their priviledge. Everyone had to share what they had with one another. They had to live differently.
We, too, if we want to avoid facing another day like Friday, have to ask ourselves, have to ask of God, “What then shall we do?” How can we change? How can we take better care of those who struggle with mental illness? How can we ensure that the tools of death are not unleashed on the vulnerable? How do we make for peace in our world?
Because the love of Christ that surrounds us now, as we stand on this river’s edge, this love of Christ compels us to care for one another in our sorrow, and empowers us to move together, and act together, to find a more peaceful day, as the dawn from on high breaks upon us.

May it come soon.

** And those who would suggest that somehow God turned his back on schools have a perverted, slanderous, and unbiblical view of Divine love. “If neither height, nor width, nor depth…nor anything in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus”, then surely the God of that sort of love shows up in public schools, and is with the children in them. To suggest otherwise borders on blasphemy. Period.

Yada Yada Yada Bible!

In slightly random news, after nearly 4 years of my begging/pestering/pleading/asking nicely, the college students have consented to forming a Canterbury Bible Discussion Group.  This has led to many tangents, interesting theories, and my having to re-learn Greek verb tenses.

It also led to this sermon.


October 28, 2012

Ordinary Time, Proper 25

Mark 10: 42-56


There was a Seinfeld episode that revolved around the idea of conversational ellipses.  Not in those words of course.  The idea was something Iike Jerry told a story, and to skip the boring part, he’d say, “Yadayada yada.” And continue on.  Just to make it shorter.  But problems arose when the rest of the gang adopted the habit.  George and Elaine didn’t understand the boundaries of the yadayada’ing, and they employed it over some really important details–I took the car out yesterday and yada yada yada, the repairs will cost $5,000.

Hijinks inevitably ensued.  And the phrase yadayada was deployed into the American lexicon.


Mark, the gospel writer, however, has no such stock phrase.  And so, there’s this weird thing that happens in the first sentence of today’s gospel reading.  “They went to Jericho. Period.  Then, upon leaving Jericho, …”

Gap!  Big gap.  No hint or clue about whatever the heck happened in Jericho, or why they’re hanging out there in the first place.  Which is odd for Mark, since his is such a spare gospel.  No word out of place, nothing extra.  Just this weird hole in the text.


Biblical scholars call this a lacuna–a hole in the manuscript.  Reams and reams of scholarly work have been done on what’s missing at this part.  Something an ancient monk objected too?  Something that got left out by mistake? We don’t know.  Whatever it was, it’s gone.  And all we have is the hole that’s left.  Yadayada yada.


There are actually a lot of places in the biblical text where there are these gaps, but they are less noticeable.  The book of Job has quite a few places where we have no idea what the Hebrew means.  Not because there’s a gap, but because whoever the author was, decided to break all the rules of Scrabble, and invent new words.  Words that appear nowhere else in any ancient Hebrew text, but bam! There they are.  Because of context, because of linguistic structure, we can take a swinging guess at what they mean, but know for sure?




When I studied Hebrew in college, there was a student in my class who was all excited to finally read the Bible in the original language.  He was convinced that now he would really know the singular truth, the REAL TRUTH of the Bible. He was really not happy, then, when our first assignment was Exodus 3– God reveals himself in the burning bush, and the professor blithely broke the news to us that God’s announcement to Moses ‘I am who I am’ can’t be translated.  Because the Hebrew doesn’t have firm verb tenses. Or punctuation.  Or vowels.


He was furious.  He thought it was a trick.  And he dropped the class.


For some, the idea that we are sent ‘yadayada’ ing through the Bible might be destabilizing.  This is the book upon which we base our faith!  We lean on this thing!  If there are holes in it, or we don’t know what the words mean for sure, then what is left to rely on?  How will we know what to believe?


It’s worth remembering that as helpful as the Bible is, we don’t worship the Bible.  Or rather, we shouldn’t worship the Bible– we worship God, and God, while very powerful and capable of anything, isn’t the Bible. If you find yourself confusing the two, you’re doing it wrong.


God inspired the Bible, but what God inspired was people.  A bunch of people who were as enmeshed in their cultures and their biases and their histories and their issues as we are.  And those people took their Spirit-driven inspiration and wrote stuff, and then other people, also inspired, edited it, so still other people could read it.

So what we are left with is a record, not of God’s little instruction book on how to live in 2012, but a record of generations upon generations of faithful people struggling with how to live faithfully in varying circumstances.  Sometimes they got it right.  Sometimes they got it wrong.  But they tried, and each time, they left an example for the generations to come, to either emulate, or avoid emulating.


And sometimes, they left a blank.  Sometimes, they left a gap.  A made up word, or a textual hole.  Sometimes we don’t know what anyone was doing.

Those places, those gaps are reminders to us that we have a role to play.  We need to fill in the gaps ourselves.  That we can’t rely on any 2000 year old book to answer all our questions about a constantly living, constantly complicated God for us, that we need to keep struggling to live faithfully right now.  The Bible is sacred, not because it holds all the answers to every question ever asked, and not because it’s verbally inerrant.  It’s sacred because it’s here that we can let our story, and our struggle to be faithful intersect with the stories of those who have gone before.


So I have no idea what happened in Jericho 2,000 years ago.  And chances are, I’m not likely to find out. But what I do know is what happens in our communities, and in our lives.  What happens in your life, and moves you onward, on the road, to someplace new?  What causes you to ask Jesus for something?  What makes you jump up, and change your life?


Those things, that’s what’s important.  Because that’s where God still speaks to us. Even through the gaps. And that’s what we hold on to.









I know you are, but what am I?

On Wednesdays, my plucky Canterburians join with the Lutherans for a joint evening of discussion, fellowship, and food.  This semester, we’re discussing ‘Modern Saints:” people who have applied their Christian faith in very tangible ways in the not-so distant past (Archbp. Oscar Romero and the martyrs of El Salvador, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Edith Stein, the Berrigans, Archbp. Desmond Tutu and the leaders of South Africa, etc.)

I noticed something in the past few weeks, and it’s the same phenomenon I’ve noticed in every community I’ve ever served: rural or urban, Virginia or Arizona, young or old.
As the students described it, the problem was that ‘Christians’ had taken over everything.  These Christians they described were against gay marriage and civil unions, didn’t like people of other faiths, and also were not fans of contraception, or really women at all, as we had seen in recent weeks.  And this was pretty much why we should keep Christians out of politics.
This is not just a ‘kids these days!’ thing.  I have never served or attended a parish where I have ever heard a majority of the parishioners declare themselves Christian.  (“Christian” borders on an Other-ing term in the Episcopal Church; we are Episcopalian before we are anything.)
In some ways, it’s hard to argue with this.  When several of the candidates for presidents are claiming to speak for the entire Christian faith, it’s difficult not to take them at their word, when there’s no clear voice calling them on it.
But at the same time, those students speaking so articulately of their frustration with modern politics?  They are Christian too!  Those people who fill the pews in every church I’ve ever served?  Also Christians!  (And not the Satan-possessed kind, either.  Sorry, Rick Santorum.)
And if we’re all Christians, and we don’t agree with all that’s being done in the name of Christianity, then…we should probably, possibly, look at this, yes?  Because either there is a small group of zealots doing some crazy stuff in the hijacked name of our Lord and Savior with our tacit permission, or many of us have simultaneously decided to be open, tolerant, loving people on our own, in total opposition to this, the Gospel of Smiting (and two thousand years of received tradition, but who’s counting?)
See, this is what I think.
This is a theology problem as much as it is a PR problem.  The PR problem gets talked about all the time–how we need to reclaim the airwaves, use these here interwebz, LOLcats, we can haz Emerging!Churches, etc.  These things are absolutely true.  Mainline Protestatism lost the past few decades to the fundamentalist evangelicals the moment that first guy bought a new-fangled TV station for cheap in the early 1970s.
But it’s a theology problem too.  We’ve all heard the carefully-crafted theology around fundamentalist beliefs.  In fact, most people today know that theology so well that they can’t tell that not all Christians believe it.  Ask the average person walking down the street about where people go after they die, and they will probably spout something about the saved believers in heaven and the damned in hell and St. Peter at the gate.  Now, ask them about what might be involved in eventual universal redemption, and note their look of confusion and panic.
And that’s our fault.  There’s no answering, well-publicized and widely-taught cohesive theology to the really loud stuff.  (Unless you read Miroslav Volf, or Moltmann, AS YOU SHOULD, but I accept that not everyone has that sort of time.  Also, that stuff is sort of systemic, and not issue-based.)
So here’s my plan:  I am starting a Theology For the Rest of Us series here on the blog.  ::Sound of trumpets!::  It shall be theology that attempts to explain why progressive Christians believe the things we do.  Like: women as full moral agents!  Marriage as something other than Procreation-Station!  Stewardship and care of the earth!  And all other topics as may be assigned.
We, in the wider church, need to become better at talking about our faith in concrete, logical terms, in order to give an “accounting for the hope that is in us”, as the Bible, and my preaching prof both say.
“So, Come!  Let us reason together!”

Down by the water

I feel some sermons would be greatly enhanced by the selective use of music.

This sermon, for example, is fine.  I love the story of Naaman and the Downton Abbey-esque intrigue with the servants, and his meltdown over having to bathe in the (apparently really objectionable) Jordan River.

But I would like you to imagine the sermon as scored by the Decembrists and Gillian Welch:

See?  Epic sermon!!


February 12, 2012

Epiphany 6, Year B

2 Kings 5:1-14

In the Episcopal Church, there was no reading from the Old Testament in

the Eucharistic service until the 1979 prayer book, (otherwise known as the

‘new’ prayer book.)

Prior to this, Eucharist required only a reading from the Gospel, and a short

snippet of Paul’s letters, if you were lucky, or unlucky, depending on how

you felt about Paul.

The Old Testament really only got read during Morning Prayer…which was

fine, since Morning Prayer was what most people did most Sunday

mornings anyway. But as far as the Eucharist went, that primary form of

Christian worship, well, why on earth would need to read the Old

Testament then anyways? There’s no Jesus in that!


It’s been pointed out that in Christian history, we’ve tended to do one of two

things with the Old Testament: we’ve ignored it altogether, or we’ve just

crammed Jesus on in there, anyway he would fit, like that Marx Bros-

Night-at-the-Opera-stateroom-bit. Early Christian commentaries of this

reading talk about Namaan being cleansed by baptism! Though he didn’t

know it! And its a foreshadowing of John at the Jordan through faith!


One of the things I strongly believe is that, just as it is wrong to make an

idol of Scripture by freezing it in time, so it is wrong to entirely mangle a text

to death. Attempting to send Elisha and Naaman forward and back through

a time machine is a fascinating sort of violence, but it is equally impolite,

and destructive.

And what a great story we miss, if we reduce what’s happening here to



Naaman has been excelling in his job, as a general in the Aramean army,

when a minor inconvenience pops up: he gets leprosy. Now while you

might picture this as a dire circumstance in which pieces of Naaman start to

drop off suddenly as he’s on the battlefield one day– be not afraid.

Leprosy is basically a catch-all term in Hebrew for any rash, or

discoloration at all. “Leprosy” could come and go all the time. Much ink is

spilled in Leviticus on what to do in the event your house develops leprosy,

or what we would call–mold. So Naaman most likely has a rash. But even

so, it’s embarrassing for him, and throws a definite wrench into his army

career trajectory.

So he stews about it. Lucky for him, his wife’s plucky slave girl, lately

stolen from Israel on a raid, tells him all about this great prophet they have

back home who would definitely take care of that leprosy in a heart beat, no

problem, you bet.

And, it’s convoluted, but Elisha ends up hearing about Naaman from the

(defeated and annoyed) king of Israel and agrees to help the enemy

general. He sends word to go wash in the Jordan River.

And Naaman has a cow. An Ancient Near East equivalent of a temper


It’s a stupid, ugly river! He says, basically. And he couldn’t have come out

here himself? And I don’t have better rivers back in Syria?!?!

Naaman’s having a rough time.

Remember, Naaman is an Aramean, not an Israelite. Not Jewish. The fact

that he’s asking for help from a prophet of YHWH, and a king he’s just

finished defeating is very strange. This whole story is, in a sense, a death

spiral of shame for Naaman.

So far, he’s sought help from a slave girl, a defeated king, and a foreign

heathen prophet to cure his shameful skin ailment. Naaman has now hit

rock bottom, and to top it off, he’s being told to do something he finds

insultingly easy and beneath him.

As much as his skin disease is a problem– so is his conviction of his

specialness. So is his conviction that all these people who so far have

helped him, can have no real help he could possibly need.

The tipping point for Naaman comes when he has to acknowledge, in

however small a way, that help might come from foreigners, not from

himself. And healing might come from a really dirty foreign river.


Annoying as it seems to him, his salvation comes from the people he

dislikes, from the actions he considers beneath him. And it’s when he

finally admits the thing he’s been afraid of all along, that he’s healed.


Because, my hunch is– Naaman spends so much time in this story insisting on his

specialness, his high status, precisely because he’s petrified it isn’t actually

true at all. He’s a high-ranking general, but anyone with leprosy was an

immediate outcast, seen as cursed by the gods.

He’s not really special at all– if anything, he’s the reverse. And he’s trying

hard to cover it up his conviction by denigrating everyone else.


What is it that convinces us that worth is zero sum? That in order for me to

be right, everyone else has to be wrong. In order for me to be valuable,

everyone else has to be worthless.

It’s a sort of panicked mindset that blinds us to so much.

This story of Naaman is one that Jesus will tell when he preaches his first

sermon in Nazareth– how in the days of the prophets, Elisha was sent to

no one in Israel but a foreign general. His point is actually that the love of

God is not zero-sum at all, but all inclusive,

But the crowd listening to Jesus becomes enraged, and tries to throw him

off a cliff, because they don’t like the suggestion that their God could love

foreigners and heathens too.

And thirty five years or so ago, this isn’t even a story we would have read,

out of the conviction that the scriptures Jesus cited could have nothing to

say to us. Because if we were right as Christians, then we were special,

and the Hebrew Bible was only competition

But if we have faith in the infinite, and abiding love of God for everyone, like

we say, then we can’t compete for value and for truth like prizes. God loves

us, completely unconnected to our accomplishments, or intelligence or

wealth of sarcasm,much to my chagrin. And however much God loves us,

that’s precisely how much God loves everyone else. This is not a contest.

We have already won.

The prizes are here all around us, once we come to truly believe it and go

to the smelly old river, and

Finally take a bath.