Sunday’s Sermon on Saturday Night – Embracing the Cross

Jesus gives four commandments in tomorrow’s gospel:  “Get behind me,” and “If anyone wants to be my disciple, deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me.” [I have modified them from a strict translation to make the point.]  Take away the Satan bit for a second.  I am all for it, and think there is much to learn there, but right now Jesus is making a point, let’s follow him.

Get behind me.  How often do we get out in front of God or Jesus, deciding what we know God should do: for us with us and for the world and other people?  How do we get behind Jesus?  You can’t follow someone you are leading.  This is Discipleship 101.  Get behind Jesus and listen to him.  Follow his teachings and follow his directions.  Seems like that would be pretty much what being a disciple is, but we don’t always do that.  I once heard a priest say that Jesus didn’t want him to give up his Mercedes.  It was a foolish comment in a sermon, meant in jest I hoped, yet over the next three years, he lost everything and became a much better priest and human being.  He got behind Jesus.

Take up your cross.  What is your cross?  We often allegorize this saying to death.  We translate it to mean that our cross is our little brother Timmy or weight gain or bad credit or cancer.  Jesus does not mean any of this.  You may have to go through it, but it isn’t what he seems to mean here.  Get behind him, again.

What has he told us to do?  Love our neighbor.  Love our enemies.  Serve our brothers and sisters.  Love knowing we won’t get loved back.  Love knowing the cost.  Forgive others.  We are to take up the cross of salvation, the world’s salvation.  We are to suffer and even be willing to die for other people and the sake of the world.  That is taking up the cross.  To be a full human being is to suffer and to die.  And being a human being is what literally being a Son of Humanity means.

Embrace the Suck.  This little phrase, that I have written about on this blog, is really key here.  To do anything great, you have to embrace the work that is required.  So many of us want to be Christian, a Jesus follower, a good person, but we don’t want to face the work that requires.  Jesus saves us by grace.  He died for us before we even knew what was going on, while we were still sinners, as Paul says.  But we are called now into his new covenant to be his body and to be the bearers of the Holy Spirit like Jesus replaced the temple.  We are to be the people of his forgiveness, grace, and healing.  And that sucks.  Really it does. Yes, his yoke is easier than the nitpicky rules and death-dealing score-keeping of religion.  But it is also a much more tremendous demand of our very selves.

Deny yourself.  How do you define your self?  I am a lot of things, none of which is me, and yet all of which are somewhat me.  I have this persona, these hobbies, this sweater, this watch, these kids, this church, this wife, this cool reclaimed English hardwood table, and a rich devotional life, an old Bible.  Whatever we define ourselves by, we have to deny.  In Jesus’ day your self was your social and familial identities.  Deny those.  These days we are more shallow.  Deny all that.  Give away the watch, paint the table, and define your self first and foremost as God’s child.  Start in prayer and remembrance.  Find some places in your life to give things up and learn how to pray with open hands.  Lent is a good time for this.

Embrace the call of the radical love and discipline it demands, and follow Jesus.  We know where that road leads, and I am a little bit terrified.  But it is also my hope and my purpose, my very salvation.  Because like Abraham, I trust that God will provide and care for me along the way.  I know the way will be hard, but it will ultimately be the very road to life and the New Jerusalem, the city of God, where we will see the day finally break and everyone bowing before the One who made us, loved us, and wanted us home so much that he came to find us, and sent us out to bring others to the feast.

Pretty amazing stuff!  I mean, we are a part of what God is doing in Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, just like he was, to save the world.  So embrace the suck, it is worth it.

This Rule is Only a Beginning of Perfection

The reason we have written this rule is that, by observing it in monasteries, we can show that we have some degree of virtue and the beginning of monastic life.  Ch. 73 of the Rule of Benedict

Where would we begin a Rule for the local church?  I think this question is vital for our time.  Benedict begins his prologue with “Listen, my son, to the instructions of a master . . . ” but his first chapter begins with a description of the kinds of monks and so what kind of life he is addressing.  What equivalent place would we begin?

I think I would begin the instruction to any church with a basic orientation to the Rule of God revealed in Christ.  But again, so large a thing must be taken in bites.  I would begin the Rule with God, who is this God revealed in Christ?  I have written about that here on Hidden Habits several times.  But I think with that basic theological statement must come the two anthropological statements of Scripture, that God loves humanity and that we have a calling in the world to be God’s image, God’s children, emissaries.

In the Christianity of our day, those two statements seem most important for unity and clarity.  Unity because, whatever else we may define ourselves by, we are all claiming by the name that we are following Jesus.  Clarity because we must define carefully who we are talking to and what we assume behind our talking.

Christians are baptized into the body of Christ, into the Spirit of God, given new life, new humanity, and new covenant.  But we are called into the world that God loves and that Christ died for, that the Spirit created and will someday renew completely.  We are not enemies of the world.  If the world does not love us, it is because it does not love Christ, but that doesn’t change that Christ died for it and rose again.  We are to love the world doggedly, relentlessly, because we belong to Christ, because we have faith in God, because we trust the Spirit to provide all we need.

Our Rule is only an agreement of how we will work together, how we will give flesh and goals to this way of living.  It does not guarantee perfection, in deed it cannot.  We will fail.  That is okay.  The love of God is not dependent on our ability to meet expectations, thank God.  What else could be meant by,  “. . . while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  But we are not to remain as we are, but rather to be transformed by the Spirit at work within us, and the Rule at work without.

So with these parameters, let us begin our Rule:

There is one God, the Creator who made us and who is made known to us in Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.  God loves the world and has set us free in Christ and is renewing us in his Spirit to be a royal priesthood, a people set apart to bear God’s image of love, grace, forgiveness, justice and peace in the world.  We are to be a people of prayer who know and love God and serve the world calling the whole creation back to the Creator, living in the resurrection that has begun in our Lord.

There are seven activities for every one who would follow this Rule with us as we seek to live into the Rule of God as revealed in Jesus and held by the church.  We are to be a people of witness and stewardship, who welcome, worship, study and serve in the name of Christ, living not for ourselves alone but for him who died and rose for us.

Here at Grace, we are a congregation within the Episcopal branch of that great mustard plant of the church.  We are shaped by its worship, doctrine, and discipline, and we hold that this church is and must be in continuity with the root stock of God in Christ and the teachings and fellowship of the apostles.  We affirm baptism in water and the Holy Spirit as the only entrance into the church and the eucharist meal as the sign and seal of our life and discipleship in Jesus the Christ.

So what do you think?  What would you change?  How would you begin a Rule for a community in our day and age?

Find Forward – Life after Salvation, Life after Secularism

The great shift for many of us who are finding our way in a post-evangelical/post-liberal world is moving away from the dichotomy between salvation and social justice to a whole view of the Christian life. Okay, that wasn’t a sexy opening, but it is true. We live in the ruins of two great traditions. In American politics you could say post-Bush and post-Obama who represent, not just a religious versus a secular worldview, but two sides of American Christianity. Neither really represents Pentecostalism or real-apocalypticism, nor truly Catholicism, though Obama’s liberal Christianity seems deeply connected to social justice Roman Catholicism. But these two worldviews have held the sway within the United States for a hundred years.

They have deeply hated each other, and they have held hands and worked together. They often have courted other political and social partners, and they have both held each other in check, but they have also pushed each other deeply apart. And they have succeeded and failed at many times and at many points in history. I am not here to retell Caesar’s story but to bury him.

We live after these two, grandchildren coming into real adulthood, taking responsibility for the house finally, and what are we to do? Rob Bell is on television making pronouncements about how the church that doesn’t get on with the secular world is dead, and Bishop N. T. Wright is calling the mainline churches back into an un-secular world. But what are we to do?

I had a goatee once and left the evangelical world. My glasses aren’t quite as square as Bell’s and my credentials are nowhere near as rich as Tom Wright’s. I admire and am frustrated by them both. But how do we find forward?

I am not sold that the church should whole-heartedly follow the secular world. That way is known to us, and it does not lead to heaven. I am not willing to abandon it either. I am with Wright in going back to the New Testament for a vision of our life in Christ and therefore relationship to the world.

We are made new in our baptism, made a resurrection people, harbingers of God’s Rule to come. This spiritual truth is given by God and our faithful response is nothing to brag about, primarily because we are just beginning to make this spiritual truth physically true, emotionally true, mentally true. We have to grow up, repent, into this Rule of God that is at hand. We are saved by Christ, but our call is not to be saved, it is rather to save the world working in and through Christ.

And we don’t have to spend very much time with history to see how often that vision to save the world has often gone off the rails into another power trip and violence and control, just like the Satan’s wilderness traps for Jesus.

We have to always keep the image of God revealed in the vision of Christ before us, that loving, caring, compassionate father who is slow to anger, of great kindness, forgiving and merciful. We have to keep love before us in both our goal and our methods. This means we will face losses. We saw that in Selma, just like in Jerusalem. If we are to love the world knowing that the world does not love us, we are going to need some better ways of being in the world than we currently have.

We have to go back to the teachings and look at what Jesus calls us to do and be. Discipleship to Jesus rather than to Reagan or Neihbur is going to be more deeply costly than most of us have known. It is for me, and I have the ideal job to try this thing out. Everybody loves a pastor, right?

We have to begin with Jesus at growing up, forgiving sins, loving our neighbor, greeting the stranger, seeking forgiveness, loving our enemies, not hating, not murdering, not calling names, greeting strangers in the marketplace, giving freely and not being attached to our stuff. Translating all of that into our lives means we have to do some thinking and praying, and we have to write a rule.

The Rule of Benedict has become over the last millennium and more the sort of primary example. It has served as a short form prescription for the Christian life in community. I still use it to help me find my ways in ministry today. But it was written in a very different time for people in a very different culture. What would a Rule of Benedict for the Rule of God people look like for today?

As we discover this, I think we begin to trace a way forward out of the ashes of the Christianities of our time into the Rule of God being born always in this moment. This new Rule will have to keep before us God’s call to love and forgiveness in our post-salvation, post-secular world. I am hopeful, but then what else is there to be? We are God’s and God’s alone.

How would you begin?

Whitby Sonnet


The poetry of the arches along the aisle and nave
Fingers rise and fall along the remembrances and memorials
Hollow before the enacted memory of the Body and Blood
Held in Latin prose above the Northumbrian dead and reborn

Caedmon and ungulate early English above the houses of Whitby
Clinging to the cliffs above the wild and dancing sea like words
Spoken by a brazen God who would lift such a psalm of Grace
From the roiling chaos of the island peoples

Among the hills and bays walks Hilda and her sisters and her brothers
Like a law like a warm sun’s light like the fragrance of Hyperion clover
Come up over the Norman tides from softer hills and harder rules
Shaped by Aiden’s hopes and Adrian’s failures along the northern wall

The Abbey stands in ruin now and the waves break still futile
Unable to accomplish what debt did in no time


Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent on Saturday

Sunday’s Readings – On Saturday

Tomorrow’s Gospel basically begins with Jesus’s ministry beginning: baptism, temptation in the wilderness, and gospel.  So know that you are God’s beloved, be filled with the Holy Spirit, face down Satan, trust the tending of angels among the wild, and go out into the world to proclaim that the new reality of God has come and people should finally grow up.

That is a pretty straight forward sermon, right?  I had good friends who asked me where I would start if I was to form someone as a new Christian, and my answer was that I would want them to know that they are loved by God, beloved of God, God’s own child.  That sounds really liberal, but the reality with that is to see your self as you are called to be means immediately to see how far you are from God’s reality.  I am a failure in that regard, seeing myself in the mirror of God’s image; the technical term I grew up with was “total depravity” or “sin.”  The problem is you cannot start with breaking someone down.

God is Abba, or so Jesus says and compares God the Father with a loving parent, not a psychopathic rage-monkey.   I might hate some of the things my kids do, but I don’t set about reforming them by beating them down.  Not if my goal is to have healthy loving children in the end.  Neither does God.  Jesus begins at the river being baptized, a humble act of obedience and submission to God, and the heavens are opened, the Spirit descends on him, and calls him “my son, beloved.”

Identity is crucial to self-understanding.  If you begin understanding your defeated, worthless, nothing, a source of rage, then you have already set a course of failure.  But if you begin in submission to something larger, to a larger identity that has a claim on you, you begin a quest, a journey toward wholeness, a search for vision.  That comes by the Spirit.

You can, and some do, read this story as the incarnation moment of Mark’s Gospel.  Rather than the reality of his birth to Mary by the Spirit, Mark emphasizes that this is when Jesus is God’s son.  This also points toward something that shows up in the Gospel pictures of John and Jesus: John’s baptism is about forgiveness of sins whereas Jesus’ is about the baptism of the Holy Spirit.  As Christians we are not baptized merely for the cleansing of sin, though we believe that our sins are forgiven.  We are baptized into the life of the Holy Spirit.  We become God’s children at baptism through the power of the Spirit, though we continue to grow into that reality.  We also use the language of the body of Christ, dead to sin and alive in Christ.

Take a moment and let that sink in.  We don’t really focus on the ontological difference between the unbaptized and the baptized because we live in a pluralistic world where we like to emphasize the work of God in the whole world and God’s relationship with all humanity.  The question becomes for us, “What does our baptism into the Spirit mean for us?”

This is vital.  We will face temptation and are to have a mission and purpose, but none of that means much without knowing who we are in Christ.  I believe that the message of the Gospels is rooted in several images, but one of the central ones is that Jesus replaces the temple as the location of God’s incarnation and inbreaking into the world.  He takes upon himself the failure of the sacrifice system and becomes the whole system (this is clearest in John’s Gospel).  In various ways they also show that we become Christ’s body in the world, bringing his presence, gospel, and healing to others.  We are the incarnation of the Holy Spirit in this realm, whereas Jesus has gone to heaven bodily and is no longer here, in the flesh, except through us.

Writing out this cosmology is cool, but it also shows how far away our theology often is from the Bible.  Our sin is a pretty small part in all of this, important, defining of us as we begin, but put into its proper place as we take our place in the body of Christ.  We are supposed to be agents of God’s forgiveness and grace.

Now, I know that.  I teach that.  I believe that.  I trust that.  And I fail at that really often.  I am supposed to see others as God’s beloved children and treat them the way that God has treated me.  I am to provide from God’s bounty for them, offering peace, healing, and aid whenever I can.  That sounds nice, no?  But I am not so great at that, and I try.

My life often feels like a wilderness, and I find it easier to believe that the wild animals are God’s beloved more than many people.  I struggle to give my wife and children the benefit of a doubt and easy grace and forgiveness.  I grasp after what I need and cling to old things that I probably never really needed.  I want to be appreciated, respected, adored.  (None of which actually is possible to work for.) I want to have power.  Those three temptations of Jesus I know well at home and at work, though I have to interpret a little.  I haven’t wanted to be a third world dictator in a while.

But temptations come, and they usually pull me away from my identity in God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit.  They definitely pull me away from any sense of purpose and mission.  My ego is surely one of the devil’s primary tools.  But I am not a victim, really, and haven’t been in my life for any length of time.  That isn’t my trap.  I have learned that many people who have experienced victimhood, real or imagined, have what I can only call a shadow ego that doesn’t suffer from my temptations, but other ones.  Whereas we can often see the desire for power and control, it is often harder to see our powerless passivity as a temptation to sin that just as much takes us out of the mission and purpose of God.

Do you know that you are God’s beloved? I had this moment years ago on a hike.  I was several days out away from the city in the Sonoran desert along the cliff of a small hill where I had set down my pack and just sat on a rock in despair.  It was a red desert day when the colors take on the ochre shades of shadow and the shadows overlay the land in strips of blue as the sun began to enter its last watch of the day.  I was tired in a way that went far deeper than my bones, and my stomach rolled over my belt buckle and I could feel every grain of sand from every step I had taken for five years.  My pack was too big and my burdens I had packed myself.  I was alone and I was afraid that at any moment everyone around me would see that I was a fraud.  My depravity had become a companion to replace all others, and he held my hand all the time.

But then, in that ochre landscape among the chaos and beauty of the cacti and the blue sky darkening into pinks and purples, my companion was obliterated as a light shone from somewhere above me.  I won’t say that the heavens were opened, but the Spirit certainly descended that evening.  I was alone with God, and my fears and my sins were taken away again as I sat with God in the desert’s breath and the symphony of lights that is the Arizona sunset.  I knew God in that moment, and I saw that God knew me, and he called me beloved.  Not because I had done anything other than be born.

I wish I could tell you some magical formula for knowing God.  Baptism, yes, and wilderness, and waiting, perhaps.  But I also join old Paul in saying that it really is a mystery, this righteousness of God, the turning aside and stooping down to smile with unearned favor among the rocks and cacti.  So what is the gospel that I came out of the wildernesses of my life with?

Grow up.  The Rule of God is at your fingertips.  It dances just outside your willingness to sit down and be still.  Set down your baggage and face your reality.  And know God, God knows you and loves you right now.

The other side is that God loves the people around you too, even me with my various kinds of bloat.  God wants you to be baptized and join the body, bringing his Spirit, grace and forgiveness to a world that still needs the incarnation of Christ in you.

eastersunday – a poem a sermon before lent sneaks up on us again

from Norwich Cathedral

from Norwich Cathedral

easter sunday – a sermon a poem
By Daniel P. Richards

we walk when we can to the tomb
knowing that life is the way we always suspected

our hope in pools beneath the executioner’s wood
our grief has turned numb and we do what we probably should

take care of the details

so we mix our spices and oils
and go as we have always gone

it was (according to luke) the traditional way
of preparing bodies after the sabbath day

the state (it is said) always wins in the end
so here we go again

the state of things are as they have always been
there is war somewhere and losses here at home

justified killings and innocent people sacrificed to a greater good
we live lives of collateral damage

the environment ruined for a comfortable drive to work
someone somewhere is working her 1000th day in a row

so that i can have affordable tennis shoes or cheap lettuce
a child this morning is watching television alone (again)

what can we do?

we try to take care of the details
and sit is the reality that consumes us

the pragmatic pessimism that sighs
and says once again this is the way things are

we go to war because we are supposed to
when someone wrongs us we have to hit them back

we have to have these betternewerbigger weapons or suv’s
or borders or vaccinations to keep danger at bay

but it doesn’t work does it?
we load the gun and the child finds it

we buy organic and still get cancer
we love our children and they walk away


eastersunday is the ultimate proof
that the way things are is an illusion

the grief that numbs us is confused
by the emptiness of the tomb

and the way things are is underthrown
by a god who works in death to do the new

the thing we did not expect and cannot explain
the moment of death has become the moment of life

god meets us where we felt most abandoned
crying out my god my god why have you forsaken me?

the answer did not come when we wanted it
(when all the world would see

and they would know that we were right
that we were on the winning team)

but rather in whispers and bleached clothes to some women
whom not even peter and john quite believed

and yet here we are still scratching our heads
and asking exactly what it means

i don’t know
but i hope towards this

that god is here with us

the god that didn’t fix the way things are
didn’t soften the religious leaders hearts or overthrow rome

that didn’t go searching in the dark sabbath for revenge
or mount up an army to go after (them)

but that god the creator comes quietly after the storm
and whispers tabitha cum to the little girl

and takes us by the hand
leads us out into a new light

maybe too bright or too dim to quite see everything
and the soldiers are still standing guard at the comer

but somehow it all seems new

and the people around us are no longer enemies or even strangers (now)
but they wear the smile of family and friend

someone breaks a fresh loaf of bread and says (this)
and we take it and become

someone gets out the bottle of wine and says (remember)
and we do

we remember who we are gathered in this quiet room
the unsuspected and somewhat surprised family of god

no god hasn’t made us perfect
nor did we win

but god told us even in the worst of what we could do
that we are still god’s own and loved (beloved)

and god tell us now in this festal laugh
that the way things are is new

the reign the household jesus proclaimed exists
and always has

the whole world over our family is waking up
and slowly getting it as though at dawn

the light of a new day shines and all are one

how then do we live in our cheap tennis shoes
and believe the woman who sewed them is our sister?

that the people in the mosque are redeemed somehow
and that our soldiers are more than killing machines?

i don’t know

but i get up every morning and i sit
alone in a blue room with a candle and an icon

and i remember who i am
and then when i go to the store

i think about who else has touched these things
and i remember that they are loved too

and that they deserve what i do
and instead they get the way things are

so i put my hands into the clay of my tiny corner of the world
and i get to work building this new jerusalem

where the way things are is the way i know them to be
soaked in the light of this eastersunday morning

a world made new and being made new by christ (yes)
and by the christ in us (yes)

today we will baptize children
and we will say with them the words we say about who we are

let us not say them only but remember them in our clay
and not come to this table lulled to sleep by the way things appear to be

but let us come to this table awake to the new day
hands dirty and ready to work

let us hand them a world with fewer crosses and more empty tombs
with more justice and a greater peace

and when jesus comes again in glory
he’ll find a house he recognizes

and their familiar faces
already getting out the bread and wine

for the greatest party ever thrown
and everyone will be welcome

daniel p. richards


Stagger Down the Stories, an old sermon only mildly offensive

stories that define us:

Sermon for The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

Proper 9, Year C

 Daniel P. Richards

the stories we tell define us as human beings

as communities as nations

what stories do we tell when we want to introduce ourselves

on a first date?

on our daughter¹s first date?

to explain why we go to war?

to explain why we go hunting?

i am convinced that we should tell this story more often

the sending of the seventy

we could all use the self-making of this story

no purse

no bag

no extra sandals

eat what is set before you

i’ve been around phoenix

you don’t greet anyone on the road

what strikes me is that this story is about trust

and how to be a disciple is to live in the world with open hands

i need this story

i overpack for everything

can you really live on the kindness of others?

this is not just a should do could do maybe think about question

this is a question that should lie at the heart of what we mean

when we toss around the word faith

this is also a story about equanimity

if they receive you into a town say

“the kingdom has come near to you”

and if they reject you so that even the dust of the town is odious

wipe it off

but still say

“the kingdom of god has come near to you”

this is about living in the eternal life

participating in the life of god

jesus tells the disciples that they have been given the power of creation


even “evil things” will be subject to you

will work with you

the reign of god

when we live the open handed life

the life of the wise

open to blessing and giving

living lightly in the world

trusting in the goodness of others

while remaining shrewd

we find that the creation meets us

that the reign is there

or here rather in our midst

“i have seen satan fall from the sky like lightning”

the power of creation

and yet we feel like we have only two options

hate evil and do nothing or launch ourselves against the wheel of violence

with violence

an example:

i am convinced that the life of competition

and the values of greed are killing us

that we don¹t tell this story because it goads us too much

and i tell you that i think suv¹s are the prime example

so i have a choice

i can attack them with violence

which some have done

i could keep eggs in my car for “spottings”

and so take revenge for the increased pollution and risk of death

that we all face and call it justice

but when i act in violence i keep the wheels of violence

(and retribution and oppression and anger and hatred and fear and ignorance)


i could set out to conquer them through the media

which is owned by  people who rely on them for existence

i could give up and shake my fist at them when i get a chance

but i don’t

instead i talk to people about christ-based ethics and values

meaning wise and real decision making

about how we are to be a people of just enough

and trust in god for daily bread and for protection

and a people who love others as well as ourselves

who love jesus and the world-family as much my own relatives

my own children even

we underthrow

we subvert

with all the power of creation

with all the power the creator has

it does no good to continue the violence and hatred

that has gotten us here

paul is right in galations when he writes

you will reap what you sow

one of the most haunting lines of history is from malcolm x

after the death of the kennedy he said

“i am an old farm boy and on the farm we knew

that the chickens we sent out in the morning

returned to roost at night

it wasn’t somebody else¹s chickens

it was our own chickens

you ask me if i am sad

i tell you that we have sent out chickens of violence and oppression

into the world

and now they have come home to roost

chickens coming home to roost has never made me sad”

do not sow to the flesh paul wrote

but sow to the spirit of god

how do we do that ?

in kindness gentleness self-control

when someone has trangressed lead them back in gentleness

bear one another¹s burdens

judge your own work and not your neighbors

work for the good of all

my religiosity is nothing

but this new creation is everything!

paul says

this new creation

the reign of god among us


in the synoptic gospels jesus quotes isaiah

today this scripture he says has been fulfilled

the spirit of god is upon me

to proclaim release to the captive

redemption to the poor/oppressed

give sight to the blind

and to proclaim the year of the lord’s favor

but he leaves out one of isaiah’s phrases

“and to proclaim the day of the lord’s vengeance”

it isn’t there

it isn¹t  jesus’s job nor ours

just because we’ve been adding it all these years

to explain god’snotfixingit or stoppingus

doesn’t mean it’s of god

so i vomit up the poison of my days

and eat the fresh fruit of a new land

flowing with milk and honey

where there is enough for all

somehow beyond my struggling to fixit

or hoard my undue share

and we sit by the river jordan

watching the snake crawl to the water and drink

and maybe even he is part of the peace that comes

when the defending and destroying has stopped

even our worst selves are welcomed

and transformed

i told the boy who had lost two fathers

that pain is like a two rocks in our chest

that we carry around

and that our job is not to get rid of them

but to know that they are there

and part of us

and to recognize them as our own

then i told him to sit with his father’s memory

(thankfully they are good)

and  to simply be with him and love him

and to take his pain into his love

and there it will be transformed

from a rock that is ugly and destructive

to a statue of remembering

and honoring

a marker of remembrance

that his pain is a marker of his love

and that is okay

and to love others as well

taking them in and transforming them

to a new family

and he is ten and he laughed

and said that’s what grandma does

(he is older than he should be

but blessed

and already part of the revolution)

i welcome you to any table i sit at

or stand at as my own sister my own brother

welcome to the revolution

oh you are so much a part of it

the other thing i want to tell you

is what i told a good friend who is begining

his own spiritual life after great healing

after great abuse and death

that eventually our job as christ in the world

is to be able to take unto ourselves

the whole world

to take all into our love

as surely as we are part of it all

o conscious dirt! or spiritual mud!

even bin laden even bush even ourselves

even earthworms and sharks and sparrows

even someday the raven

rumi said

there are a thousand ways to bow and kiss the ground!

may the rain in you be a baptism

and the spirit breathe through the tree of life

which grows at your feet

a word about violence

the scriptures – even ours

the recorded human experiences of god

the bible is holy in its humanity

the stories of faith that we stand in and study

but they are told from our side

and we are human

even moses bathsheba david mary paul

and we are hurting and angry and broken

even as we are holy and tender and compassionate

even as we are conscious we are dirt

and we are learning

so we justify our killing with god

and in anger we cry out for vengeance

for our pains

it is not enough to hope to attain to the bible

to reach the holiness of our ancestors in the story

seek not the masters

seek what the masters sought

so said hi my first teacher

don’t simply seek to find jesus

seek the world that jesus sought

don’t think that because isaiah made it

into the spiritual top 40

he wrote the perfect song for your life

we begin in the story already going on

but it is still going on we are living it

today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing

and amended

always we begin again

god is god of the present

of the living as jesus said

not of the dead

we aim our arrow at heaven

but i think it’s meant for us

here and now

i am always struggling with my vocation

loathe the traps of teaching the tradition

getting beyond the bible as textbook

or worse science book

or perfect

i hate perfect

there is a great example that i never get to use in church

women in la a few years ago were getting plastic surgery

to correct their ummmm . . . junk – too big too small too whatever

and the writer a beautifulstrong woman herself

admitted to being taken in by the selfdoubt about perfection

until she saw the before and after photos

and the women themselves

before they were different

individual unique and interesting

after they were same

bland boring perfect

give me a creek over a canal

a human being struggling with god

pissed and compassionate and imperfect

and loving and forgetful a lover of dubious taste

smelling of the body and the good earth

over the religious man dressed up and clean

and virtuous and smiling without laughter

give me a priest with tears broken on love

a thousand times before the correct one

don’t struggle too much

with being at the margins

only be ready for the moment

when the weaver needs your bending

even to the center of the mandala

that the present becomes


i think you cultivate gratitude like a child

like adam in the garden

by naming

i think poetry becomes my practice of gratitude

because i name my world through it

and the thousand moves of it

so i want to read you a poem

my credo is this  little poem by e.e. cummings

that i want to end with

may my heart always be open to little

birds who are the secrets of living

whatever they sing is better than to know

and if men should not hear them men are old

may my mind stroll about hungry

and fearless and thirsty and supple

and even if it’s sunday may i be wrong

for whenever men are right they are not young

and may myself do nothing usefully

and love yourself so more than truly

there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail

pulling all the sky over him with one smile

Addicted to the Apple – Theology as Addiction Treatment

Okay, so I am not the first person to notice this, but the Apple on my Mac has a bite taken out of it.  This little observation always haunts me a little bit whenever I see it, which is often.  I write on a Macbook, text and talk on a iPhone.  I did sell my iPod, iPad mini 2, and the older Mac at home is a half-frozen antiquity from 2008.  I am addicted.

Okay, so I don’t really mean addicted, nor am I really talking about my preference for an operating system on my computer.  I am addicted to this world, the world of the apple.  The world of the knowledge of good and evil, post-garden of eden, clothing world.  I am an addict to the world of sin.  And I bet you are too, even if you use a PC or Chromebook or nothing.  We are addicted.

I was reminded of my state by a conversation with a recovery rockstar locally, Thomas Gilbert.  He was talking about what makes effective recovery and laying the groundwork for a sober house and retreat center here in Traverse City.  I am all about people in recovery.  They are models of new creation living in the most brutal and honest way.

We Christians should be major supporters of recovery because of what it is, what it says, and what it means.  As sober Christians we are really passive about love for people in recovery generally.   As an Episcopal church, we host AA and have treatment available for clergy, but I am talking about local Christians understanding and rejoicing and celebrating recovery as a model of embracing new life.

The Navy Seals have a saying, Embrace the Suck.  I love that saying because it means to accept the suffering of this moment in order to do your job and do it well.  It is going to suck, and if you want to get where you want to go, you are going to have to embrace it.  I want the solitude of desert solitude and survive, so I carry water.  In recovery, I understand that we have to embrace the suck of life.  We, all of us human beings, embrace opiation, medication, numbing agents, until we are no more fully alive.  We avoid real life.

This is the essence of addiction as I understand it.  Our minds become shaped, rutted, preset to the addicted substance instead of real life.  We prefer the addiction object instead of life and loved ones and even food and water.  These objects usually have a numbing effect, an opiate of some sort.  We, of course, prefer to be numb rather than deal with the world.  Being sober means embracing the suck of real life.  It is hard and will be if we want to get where we want to go.

Have you ever heard someone who was so addicted to their beliefs that they no longer embraced real life?  The NRA member who cannot deal with the realities of handgun deaths of children, or rich people who cannot look long at poverty?  I think the allegation that faith is an opiate is fair when our faith is a way of avoiding the world, of numbing ourselves to reality.  That does not mean that ecstatic realities are not real, but rather that they can lead toward or away from real life, just like a glass of wine can lubricate conversation and allow people to be real or be a numbing agent that avoids the difficulties of conversation.

Doing theology is difficult, but it is one of the ways that we get a new mind, that we learn to think as a mature engaged human beings.  I need a new mind.  Yes, Jesus can just give me one, but that is not the way God always works.  We are given freedom and then have to learn to live in freedom and responsibility.  We have to metanoia, or repent, to get a new mind in Christ Jesus. The word metanoia is the Greek word for repent, and it means to have a new way of knowing, a larger mind, a more mature understanding or view.  Learning theology, alongside learning to concentrate, contemplate, and meditate, alongside learning to submit and pray are the practices of getting a new mind.  All of these practices are rooted in and soaked by the Bible and especially the life and teachings of Jesus.

When we get a new mind, the questions we ask change as well as the answers we have.  Can we ever go back to not knowing that we are naked?  Is it possible to go back to a state of purity?  I don’t think so.  The addicts we have, our recovery heroes, are always going to have addictions, just like us.  We should celebrate their work and their successes, and we should be patient when they fall off the wagon and return to the object of their addictions; after all, who could understand that better than us?  We should embrace their suck and embrace them as they wrestle with real lives and the complications and convictions of their lives under the apple.  After all, they are us.

The faith and love of the Episcopal Church will be tested by our ability to love the Rt. Rev. Heather Cook and hold her close and visit her while being honest about the atrocity and sin and brokenness of her addiction.  Can we let her be human and still love her, honor her, uphold her dignity, while admitting the depths and realities of her sin?  Can we do that while honoring and upholding and embracing the dignity of her victim, a family man who was bicycling through his own complicated and beautiful life? Can we hold the contradictions and complications of this story and not neglect the human being involved?  Can we embrace the suck here?

This is the test we face right now, or at least one of them.  I know that if I am going to embrace the suck of real life and work for an even more real life of Christ and the Rule of God, where every human being is loved by God and has justice and peace and where sins are forgiven and justice done, I am going to need a new mind.

So I lean into the Daily Office, and I sit in meditation and prayer, and I read theology, even though none of these is easy today.  I need a new mind, and a community that loves me, and I need the close and constant work of the Holy Spirit breathing in me, speaking the Word and his Way into being in me, and I need the God of all creation who is bringing the whole back one day.

Until then, I love you even when it sucks, because Christ embraced the manger and the cross, and on my way out of the Garden still picking my teeth, God made me something to wear, and the Breath that moved over the waters of Creation still move and even darkness is not dark to God.