The Pharisees and The Donald

One of the reasons Donald Trump is leading the race for the Republican presidential nomination is because of, as one observer put it, ‘his defiance of the prevailing culture of political correctness among the media and academia.’

In other words, Donald Trump may be bombastic, decadent, rude, and pompous, but, as another supporter put it, ‘he tells it like it is.’ Trump does not mince words, he’s not shaped by opinion polls or focus groups; what you see is what you get.

Love him or hate him (for there is little middle ground with Donald Trump) his popularity points a finger at something really important: Authenticity. Trump is perceived as authentic. And people today crave authenticity.

This Sunday’s gospel takes us to a fierce confrontation between Jesus and some religious authorities that finds its roots in authenticity. Clothed in their clerical robes and obsessed with their rituals, Jesus cuts through the hypocrisy to teach his disciples, and you and me, about how truly important it is to be who we are.

Why so many authorities, religious and otherwise, find comfort in suspicion, defense, and distrust (versus openness humility, and curiosity), makes us wonder if they are truly fearful of being found out – as if to reveal their real selves, motivations, foibles, and fears – would ruin them?

And this is the challenge for us all today: to be brave enough to be who we are.

When we choose not to be ourselves, the best we can be is a poor imitation of someone else, and the worst we can be is rule-obsessed judges who need to put others down so we can feel better about who we aren’t.

How do we hide? And why? Who are we beneath the public personas we painstakingly sculpt? How might God be calling us to shed the ill-fitting clothes of another and to become truly ourselves?


I spilled the puzzle pieces onto the table and asked my daughter to start putting them together.

“I can’t,” she said, “You’ve got to show me the picture on the puzzle box. I need to know what it’s supposed to look like.”

Tell me about it. As you and I look at the jumbled up puzzle pieces of our lives, we too scream out for an image of what it’s supposed to look like - the picture, the pattern, the map, the model, of how we’re supposed to make sense of it all.

And there’s no shortage of those. Family, friends, neighbors, celebrities, and athletes all vie for our attention and scream at us to use them as our model. Many of us grew up in homes that didn’t provide us with suitable models – or at least perfect ones  - and look where we are. That’s why so much of life is spent looking for them.

That’s where Jesus comes in. Jesus is the pattern. He tells us that the life worth living is the one that looks like his.

We do this by reading, studying, meditating, and, outlandishly, by consuming him. This is the mystery of the Eucharist. When we eat something we absorb its nutrients and turn it into the energy we need to live. Jesus asks us to eat him – to literally and metaphorically take him into ourselves not only for the energy it provides, but for the kind of person into which it makes us.

Consume Jesus. Be consumed by Jesus. This is how the puzzle pieces are meant to come together.

So What Is Eternal Life?

Southerners call it the ‘sweet by and by.’
Atheists call it a mythical delusion for the simple-minded.
Yet Jesus described eternal life much differently – as something far more expansive, engaging, even irresistible.

Perhaps most striking for Christians, is the idea that Jesus doesn’t talk about eternal life as something you’re going to get nearly as much as something you already have: ‘Whoever believes has eternal life’ (John 6).

But isn’t eternal life this joyful state of never-ending bliss? Yes and no. Eternal life is joy. It is our best, greatest, and highest experience of happiness. But this kind of joy doesn’t come from the cessation of pain, when we are in a state of total relaxation, or when we are passive. Psychologist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi says it’s just the opposite: our, “best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.”

The joy, then, that is eternal life is a byproduct of our activity, not the aim. A focus on happiness will never lead to happiness – a focus on deeply meaningful, important, challenging, and engaging work, does.

My most meaningful work stems from those things that fulfill the purpose for which I’ve been given life. When I do the creative, sacrificial, and hard work of a good father, priest, and neighbor I experience my deepest and most fulfilling joys.

As tempting as it is to believe that we’ve reached nirvana when we are lounging on a cloud surrounded by margaritas, cigars, the Chippendales, or 70 virgins, these moments do not provide our deepest fulfillment. It’s doing the hard work, pushing ourselves, stretching and straining our minds, bodies, and spirits in pursuit of the work God has called us to do, that offer the greatest personal satisfaction.

Sacrifice and Gratefulness

I ran a 5k last Saturday.

I can still feel it.

Mainly because, having not run at all for nearly 4 months I had no business putting my 53 year old body through it.

But I did it because racing, for me, is an icon. It is representative of something much bigger. Just like the icon on your computer represents Word or Chrome, for me running is about working my way through the pain and hurts of life as an integral part of getting to the finish line.

Most of us try to speed through hardship as quickly as possible. We loathe it. We curse it. I do all I can to banish it.

But I have found that obsessing over cessation is not the best way to handle pain. I do better to calm down, acknowledge its part in the race, then pull up a chair, sit at its feet, and say ‘Teach me.’

One of the grand lessons I learn and re-learn is that pain has never killed me - I can endure - and if that, then what else? I have found and that my continued perseverance through the pain has actually rewarded me. Like my 3rd place medal?

So I ask in what ways am I a student of hardship? What are our trials teaching us? The Book of James tells us to ‘rejoice’ and be grateful in our difficulties for just this reason: hardship is a classroom outside of which many important lessons go unlearned.

Real Worship

One of the most entertaining aspects of having a 4 year old daughter of a certain make and model is her regular use of binary statements – such as, ‘This is the best day ever!’ or ‘You are the most wonderfullest daddy in the world!’ While I have, more than once, found solace and joy in these compliments, I am often reminded that there is another side that comes out when she is angry or being punished: ‘You are the worst daddy in the world!’ or ‘I’m never going to talk to you ever again!’

While talk may be cheap, it is certainly on sale quiet regularly with preschool girls.

The fact is, cheap talk surrounds us – especially in churches. I am routinely reminded of the cut-rate value of my words when singing hymns I don’t like or praying prayers that are too long. Sure, I try to pay attention and mean them, but I don’t always do so.

This is why I think the best praise we give God doesn’t come from what we sing or say, but what we do.

I think God is most deeply praised by the things we do for others. I think the hymn of hard work so many in our congregation do for the South Oakland Shelter, Haiti Outreach Mission, and God’s Garden, just to name a few, is a fragrant offering of love to a God who is love.

As far as we know, Jesus lived a life of perfect praise to God. This Sunday we will hear the story of him feeding 5,000 people. In fact, stories of healing and aid abound in the Gospels compared to the number of times we hear of Jesus singing songs of praise. Jesus is offering his praise by doing the reconciling work of God.

If Jesus shows us that helping others is praise to God, how do you and I ‘Go and do likewise?’

The Tourist and the Traveler

It was GK Chesterton who famously said that a tourist sees what he has come to see but a traveler sees… what he sees.

This distinction is one of the key takeaways of my three months away from parish life and my beloved faith family at St. David’s. I am a quintessential tourist, having lists of things to accomplish, places to go, and people to meet. However when the first days of my sabbatical kicked in I found myself overcome by the repressed depression of some recent personal tragedies – and my to-do tourist list quickly went unattended – and lay on the counter for a very long time.

Most of us have experienced depression – dark nights of the soul – periods in which we were not ourselves. In its grips we are not only sad, but disheartened and lonely. If you’re like me you wonder where God is. And you wish, more than anything, for the clouds to pass.

However, I have come to discover that this is tourist behavior. Tourists are not interested in unpleasantness, they long for its end. They crave the destination. They speed to get to places. They long for arrival. They do not understand that God has much for us to see and learn not only in the pleasant, but in the unpleasant.

This is why it is better to be a traveler. Travelers are not in a hurry. Travelers live in the journey. Travelers know that they have already arrived. As a wise monk once said, ‘the goal is not to wash the dishes, but to be present in the washing of the dishes.’

In what ways are you a tourist? Or a traveler? How do you long to ‘get there’ - to speed your way out of the mundane, to finally ‘arrive?’ I think God calls us to live more authentically – more in line with the Creation we’ve been given and with the path that’s before us. In what ways might traveler behavior resonate with you? How might you savor the journey and not just the destination?

5 Things I Learned While Worshipping with the Mormons

Salt Lake City, UT - After an inspiring early Sunday morning march with Episcopal bishops and 1,000+ of their closest friends (Bishops against Gun Violence) it was time for church. Rather than be treated to yet another rich Episcopal Eucharistic celebration with our wonderful General Convention Family, I chose to take seriously this gathering’s call to mission. So I Googled and found, quite easily, the 9a Mormon Meeting at a ‘church’ nearby, (the Wilford Ward on Highland Avenue) and entered the sanctuary carrying a stone in each pocket, one called Humility the other, Curiosity. Here’s what I found inspiring and perhaps helpful to us Episcopalians who have come together to be sent out.

1. Liberate the Laity – Mormon ‘clergy’ are not only ‘regular’ folk, who are not formally trained at accredited seminaries, but appear to hold down secular jobs, are unpaid, and rotate regularly from leadership. During the 70-minute worship service the opening and closing prayers were led by lay people who walked up from the congregation and appeared to pray extemporaneously for the congregation. Ushers, preachers, and other participants engaged in a truly shared, ‘liturgy’ – aka work of the people. How might we re-think elements of our worship, usually reserved for paid clergy, to be shared with our wardens and other lay leaders?

2. Let the Children Lead – Not only were children ‘tolerated’ – they were noisy, squirmy, and abundant - but they distributed, in a very ritualistic manner, Communion (whole wheat Wonder Bread and water (!)), helped the ushers, and one was featured as the main speaker of the service (more on that later). How might Episcopalians re-think the presence and participation of children in our worship services as it relates to the roles we reserve for their elders?

3. It’s about Love and Connection – The message most repeated during the service was that God loves you. God is love. God loves you. Heavenly Father (their term) is gladdened by our own happiness. Families were routinely commended for their presence and participation. How might we include and communicate more clearly and often this central message of the Gospel – to remind people they are precious and loved?

4. It’s About Mission – The highlight of the service, and the activity which took the most time, was a 19-year-old’s tearful ‘testimony’ about his upcoming mission. He spoke about his apprehension about leaving family and friends as well as his fear of learning a new language (Japanese!) and communicating only by weekly letter to his beloved mother for the next two years. He was mature beyond his years and clearly connecting his theology with the daunting task ahead. His congregation had challenged him, and he was accepting the mantle with fear and trembling. How much and how well do we challenge our youth, and support them in their work?

5. Mission is about Converting You – Following the new missionary’s testimony, was an older gentleman’s sermon (maybe he was 28) in which he unpacked what the Mormon missionary endeavor was all about. ‘It’s clear that sending 19 year olds into the foreign mission field is probably not the most effective way Heavenly Father can go about mission. That’s why our mission trips are not about converting others, you probably won’t convert anyone; it’s about converting you, the missionary.’ Wow. How might mission be re-imagined through this lens - that conversion is mainly God’s business, God’s work through our hands?  How might we be more attentive to what God is up to in our lives – and how we are being converted in the process?

Episcopalians Taking Evangelism Seriously

In the hallowed and dusty library of flagrant transgressions of which churches can hang their heads in sadness and shame, the Episcopal Church stands particularly guilty of Jesus' admonition to let our light shine before others - inasmuch as we do an awfully good job of hiding our light under a bushel basket.

As a rector I have, not infrequently, heard our new members remark, 'Where have you been? I never knew the Episcopal Church was out there, and I'm so glad I found it.' Yes, there are people looking for us.

This summer, we have a terrific opportunity to change this - with a dynamic new plan to reach those who are looking for us via a well-organized, somewhat expensive, but brilliant idea that uses clever and honest marketing and advertising to help locate those who are searching for us and connecting them to a local parish.

Details are laid out on a website in hopes that those voting during the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in Salt Lake City in June and July might find the funding to move this initiative forward. To read more about this, click here, and lobby those whom you know to seriously consider this. It's new, innovative (for us) and a really keen way to take the bushel basket off of the light of Christ our tradition has been blessed with bearing.

Why We Don't Trust Jesus

“God Really Doesn’t Like Me”

On the surface it’s an absurd statement that won’t get many ‘Amen’s.  But deep inside it lies at the heart of what keeps you and me from going deeper with God.

This Sunday you and I will hear the familiar story of Doubting Thomas, who appears three times in the Gospel of John - each time expressing skepticism and misgiving about Jesus and his plans.

Thomas shares his mistrust with you and me who, deep down, fear that if we trust God, God will lead us to places we don’t want to go.

We fear that God might have plans for us that wouldn’t be anything we would ever actually want or enjoy – things that will feel more like ‘duty’ than living life. So we can feel like we’re just tools in some, far off cosmic plan – not beloved humans whom God treasures and adores.

A key, then, to going deeper with God, is getting a more realistic picture of how much God actually loves us. When we see that God loves us, we are more apt to trust him with our future – knowing that he really does have our best interest at heart.

The more convinced we are that God loves us, the less we will doubt, the more we will trust, and the better off we will be – and the world that God adores.

This Changes Everything

A few years ago a guy in Texas won the Powerball lottery.

A trucker. An instant millionaire.

He’d bought the morning paper, took it home, and matched his ticket to the winning numbers while sitting at the kitchen table.

Where he stayed. All morning. Speechless. Thinking: ‘This changes everything.’

No aspect of his life would be unaffected. Work. Family. Friends. Home. Possessions: ‘This changes everything.’

Worries melted. No more mortgage, car leases, college loans. Possibilities emerged, Mom’s retirement center, a vacation home, kids’ braces, dream car, invitations to the Governor’s Ball: ‘This changes everything.’

On Sunday, you and I are invited into the very same euphoria. We will witness this among the first to discover Jesus’ empty tomb – as we too will stare into the wonder and mystery of the resurrection. After all Easter is simply God’s assurance that we will never be alone, forgotten, or uncared for. Easter is the Almighty’s writ large statement that all things are possible through Christ. God can do it. Things will work out. We will be strengthened for our victories and comforted in our losses. Easter is better than any lottery win (after all, a somewhat substantial percentage of these folk eventually lose their money, marriages, and their souls as a result). For Easter is the day that God wins. Love wins. Humanity wins. Come to church, go to your quiet place, or simply sit at the kitchen table on Easter morning and let’s open our minds and delve into the supercharged notion that ‘this changes everything.’