Sunday, May 31, 2009


"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."
-Romans 8:26-27

wrote a nice post about how ex-Pentecostals are sort of wary about today's feast day, understandably so. I'm sort of wary of the Holy Spirit myself. In many churches - but especially Mormonism in which I was raised - emotional responses are generated (even manipulated) and subsequently the participants are told that that is the Holy Spirit. Ours is no exception, because "smells and bells" can be a replacement "high" for repetitive jam sessions at a strip-mall Assemblies of God congregation. This is a dangerous error to make, because once the believer's "religious high" wears off (as it invariably does) he or she must seek ever-increasing forms of religio-emotional satisfaction, whether that means upping the amount of incense in the thurible or rolling around on the floor and crying.

In my experience, the Holy Spirit often works absent of emotionally charged experiences, and his presence can only be observed in retrospect. I can look back at times in my life when "the Spirit" guided my path with an unseen - perhaps even painful - hand. I did not recognize them until much later. God tells Moses that God can only show God's backside to mortals, that is, "where God has already been." In other words, hindsight is 20/20, right?

I didn't want to go to church today, and was generally grouchy and judgmental of everything and everyone while there. So many days I "do not know how to pray as [I] ought" but mercifully the Spirit intercedes with "inexpressible groanings." I like that. To know that we are saved by our hope of salvation. Not our imperfect belief.

"O God, from whom all good doth come: Grant that by thy inspiration we may think those things that are right, and by thy merciful guiding may perform the same; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen."

Friday, May 22, 2009


Yesterday was the feast of the Ascension.

The Ascension is supposed to be glorious, but it strikes me as sad. I know (and agree with) all the theological justifications for why Jesus can't hang around forever, but still.

So I walked into church already a bit gloomy and sat down with the other four parishioners. The number didn't help my mood.

Fr. Nicholas delivered his sermon. Which was excellent, of course. But his remarks on the attendance particularly stood out. He pointed out how thousands of people crossed the threshold on Easter, and only a handful remain; Yet the handful are as important as the thousands, and the thousands as important as the handful.

Besides, he said, the church is full of angels - if only we could see them.

Monday, May 18, 2009


This is a crucifix. It is arresting in its depth and features, and truth be told, it makes me uncomfortable. It's sort of like the real world.

Some are bothered by the notion that Christ's blood was shed for the sins of the world, regarding such theology as primitive and violent. But consider the extraordinary - the idea that the Creator of all that is and was...even has blood. That the omnipotent Divinity has plasma and cardiovascular chambers and a nervous system. What an incredible thought.

"No one else holds or has held the place in the heart of the world which Jesus holds. Other gods have been as devoutly worshiped; no other man has been so devoutly loved." -John Knox
Americans - and presumably other countries - are locked in a debate about what is/is not torture (if you have to ask...) and whether or not it "works" (who cares if it "works!") and Religion Dispatches has a thought-provoking piece about the intersection of military abuse and Evangelical atonement theology. Here is an excerpt:

"Even one of the soldiers engaged in the abuse thought the detainees looked like Jesus. In a letter written home while she was stationed at Abu Ghraib, Private Sabrina Harman wrote, 'I cant [sic] get it out of my head. I walk down the stairs after blowing the whistle and beating on the cells with a [baton] to find ‘The taxicab driver’ handcuffed backwards to his window naked with his underwear over his head and face. He looked like Jesus Christ.'"

Read it here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Ego of God

A few months ago I had the privilege of giving the homily for the Province VIII gathering of Episcopal college students in Tempe, Arizona. A few people asked for copies, so I thought I would share. The Gospel reading was from John 6:60-71.

Uploading the PDF wasn't working for everyone, so I will just post it. (Apologies for the stiffness of the text - I can assure you I didn't read it word-for-word!) I hope it isn't too long!

Jesus always seems to be up to something, doesn't he? Here we find him in the synagogue, the house of prayer, among his disciples and followers, and surely a few curious newcomers. The landscape outside is not unlike the one found outside these walls.

At this point, Jesus' fame and notoriety have been growing for some time. Just previous to this story, we hear the tale of Jesus feeding 5,000 people with a small bit of fish and bread – a story involving faith. The faith that allowed all the hungry people to be filled and fed. In fact, some of these people hunt Jesus down, pleading with him to perform the miracle again. He says, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

And this sets the stage for the conversation that follows.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink [...He goes on...] “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

Many preachers will take this opportunity to pontificate about the nature of the Eucharist. It is literally the Flesh and the Blood of Jesus. That's what his followers have difficulty with, it's so obvious! It is a symbol of the Flesh and Blood of Jesus. That's what his followers have difficulty with, it's so obvious!

Fortunately, we are the Episcopal church – and it is not an either/or question. It simply Is. However, we must admit that Jesus says an odd thing – “eat my flesh” – then immediately follows this by saying, “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

The Greek word that we translate as “flesh” is sarx. (Apparently. This insight is obviously not mine, since I do not speak Greek and have never set foot in a Seminary!) Soma is the Greek word most often translated as “body”; sarx here is translated as flesh. Soma is used more often to refer to the physical body of bones and sinews. However, St. John uses sarx not so much to indicate material things as to indicate those patterns of behavior that arise from within us that are opposed to the will of God. Envy. Pride. Anger. Lust.

The “body” is the created physical thing with arms and legs; the “flesh” is that ego which would place itself above the creator. This distinction is important. We hear that Jesus' words drove many away. Because the deserter is not just interested in bodily things; he is more interested in putting his own priorities over God’s.

Many of these people would – in fact - have been more than willing to sacrifice their physical bodies to bring about a political kingdom with Jesus as the head. But Jesus’ priority was to magnify his Father’s love.

One of the things Jesus says to drive them away is “Does this offend you? Then, what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” In other words, "How much more offensive it will be to you when I am lifted up, crucified! When your Messiah, the prophesied Holy One of Israel - hangs naked and bloody and pitiful - gasping for breath on a cross."

Yes, Jesus' priority was to magnify his Father's love, upwards and outwards, until this love resounded throughout the whole world. No exceptions. This will turn hierarchies upside down, topple earthly kingdoms and liberate the oppressed, both spiritually and otherwise. If there is a theme to be found among Jesus' followers – us included – it is that of surprise. Certainly, this was not the kind of “change” the disciples had been looking for.

These are people who had followed Jesus for quite some time. Certainly after the mountaintop experience of feeding 5,000 people, this desertion must seem like a letdown to the remaining disciples.

And so, Jesus turns to his twelve apostles and says, “Do you also wish to go away?” They respond, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

There seems to be an air of finality in those words. They have decided. They know the end is coming. A conclusion to Jesus' earthly ministry is being foreshadowed. “Lord, to whom can we go?”


We have decided to follow Jesus, in one capacity or another. We have allowed Christ to show us the way to God. We walk by faith, not by sight.

And yet.

And yet I often wonder if my faith is genuine. Do I really believe in God? Do I really believe that Jesus is God? Some days, the answer is nowhere to be found. Doubt and question hang over us like a dark cloud.

Reading this, I asked myself, do I believe that Jesus has, as Peter says, the "words of eternal life?" Or am I ready to desert him?

Napoleon...wrote about Jesus. Napoleon Bonaparte – a man with many admirers and many critics. If nothing else, his relationship with the Church (let alone the peaceful teachings of Jesus) was complicated. And yet he says, “I know men and will I tell you that Jesus Christ is no mere man. Between Him and every other person in the world there is no possible term of comparison. Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and I have founded empires. But on what did we rest the creation of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ founded His empire upon love; and at this hour millions of men would die for Him.”

Our physical lives are not enough – we must surrender not our bodies, but our flesh. We try to love as Christ loved. Genuine faith cannot walk away. Eventually, we come back. The Bible is full of characters with this peculiar genuine faith. Jonah, for instance.

Or the parable of the Prodigal Son, whose broken heart and sincere repentance was rewarded above that of his brother. Even – perhaps, in the end - Judas.

Jesus demands much more than our physical bodies. He wants our flesh – our passions, our urges, our desires, our egos. He tells us to eat of his flesh – his passion. God's passion.

J. Sidlow Baxter, an Australian theologian, writes this: “Fundamentally, our Lord's message was Himself. He did not come merely to preach a Gospel; He himself is that Gospel. He did not come merely to give bread; He said, "I am the bread." He did not come merely to shed light; He said, "I am the light." He did not come merely to show the door; He said, "I am the door." He did not come merely to name a shepherd; He said, "I am the shepherd." He did not come merely to point the way; He said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."


Saturday, May 09, 2009

St. Monica

St. Monica is one of my favorite Saints. Her story involves no angels or incorruptible bodies, but is one of quiet miracles and persistent faith. It seems at once mundane and holy, and reads a bit like an episode of The View. Admittedly, my family reminds me of hers. There have been no Christians for several generations. I wish I had the dedication to pray for them as much as St. Monica did.

Monica was married by arrangement to a pagan official in North Africa, who was much older than she, and although generous, was also violent tempered. His mother lived with them and was equally difficult, which proved a constant challenge to Monica. She had three children; Augustine, Navigius, and Perpetua.

Through her patience and prayers, she was able to convert her husband and his mother to the catholic faith in 370· He died a year later. Perpetua and Navigius entered the religious Life.

Augustine was much more difficult, and Monica prayed for him for 17 years, begging the prayers of priests who, for a while, tried to avoid her because of her persistence at this seemingly hopeless endeavor. One priest consoled her by saying, "it is not possible that the son of so many tears should perish." This thought, coupled with a vision that she had received, strengthened her. Augustine was baptized by St. Ambrose in 387. Monica died later that same year, on the way back to Africa from Rome in the Italian town of Ostia.

Monica is the patroness of abuse victims, converts, mothers, and all women.

"O Lord, who through spiritual discipline didst strengthen thy servant Monica to persevere in offering her love and prayers and tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine their son: Deepen our devotion, we beseech thee, and use us in accordance with thy will to bring others, even our own kindred, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; who with thee and theHoly Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Saturday, May 02, 2009

St. Teresa of Avila

"About the injunction of the Apostle Paul that women should keep silent in church? Don't go by one text only."
-St. Teresa of Avila

"O God, who by the Holy Spirit didst move Teresa of Avila to manifest to thy Church the way of perfection: Grant us, we beseech thee, to be nourished by her excellent teaching, and enkindle within us a lively and unquenchable longing for true holiness; through Jesus Christ, the joy of loving hearts, who with thee and the same Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."