retro: a sermon about Thomas, weeping, and resurrection from lil seminarian Alice

Baruch attah adonai elohenu melech ha-olam.

Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of eternity.  Amen.

*   *   *

we will begin on page 491 of the Book of Common Prayer

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to remember the life of our brother Jesus.

Our brother Jesus who once said:

“I am the Resurrection and I am the Life, whoever has faith in me shall have life, even though he die.  And everyone who has life, and has committed himself to me in faith, shall not die forever.

“As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives and that at the last he will stand upon the earth.  After my awaking, he will raise me up; and in my body I shall see God.  I myself shall see, and my eyes behold him who is my friend and not a stranger.”

Our brother Jesus     is dead.


I talked with brother Thomas yesterday and he said a curious thing to me—he said

“What’s it gonna take for you people to admit we were wrong?  He’s dead!  You’re all blind.”

We’re all grieving, maybe Thomas more than the rest

It’s easy to say that everyone’s got to go sometime—Moses died, Sarah and Rebekah, the Prophets, John the Baptizer, St. Ignatius, Julian of Norwich, Oscar Romero—we know this—but how do we deal with the pain?

We want to shut out what we’ve seen, the horror of Jesus’ execution

We want to fill in the hole that his death has left in our chests

Thomas has been weeping for days, angry, denying, he’s retreated into himself, refusing to eat or associate with us

For our part, our faces are beginning to ache from the false smiles we wear

pretending that everything is going according to plan
that we are not being hunted

that no one is hungry

that women and children are not still beaten by their husbands

and that Jesus absence is only temporary

he’s gone to get reinforcements

chin up…

We are blind—going through the motions of life, our eyes squeezed shut so we can’t see that he’s not here

A part of us is dead, gone—we closed his eyes and buried him



that day we were baptized—was it only a few weeks ago?—

we went down to the Jordan

the sun was bright, so bright we couldn’t see

But there was a cooling breeze

And we waded into the water to meet this Jesus

Not knowing what we were getting into

and one by one we went under the water

thinking it was a lark

and one by one we arose, our eyes wide and shining with love and tears, our hearts full


And where did that get us?

We didn’t know what was coming

Even then we were blind

How could he abandon us like that?

Was it all a dream?

Is Thomas right to ignore us?

Maybe he’s asking the same questions:

The things Jesus said…were they real and as powerful as they felt?  Or were they just clever?

This life he called us to

—this priesthood?—

is this really where we’re supposed to be?

This relationship we had—it was a living thing, greater than either of us         wasn’t it?

Did he ever really love me?


(Long pause)


Last night…I still don’t know about this…last night       we saw Jesus

I mean, we thought so—It’s all a little foggy, like we were watching through mist—I don’t know, the doors were locked and all—course he always used to surprise us with his comings and goings so…


And he blessed us and he looked at us all and he kind of sighed and (I don’t know) I kind of felt better, like some of the hole was gone

I don’t know—it’s crazy


But tonight—somehow we got Brother Thomas to stay with us

He wouldn’t listen to us when we told him about before

—and he was sitting in a corner, arms folded, eyes closed, looking like he’d gone to sleep angry


And suddenly, Jesus was there

And blessing us and we knew last night wasn’t a dream and he walked over to Thomas and he said

“I am the Resurrection, Thomas, I am the Life”

And Thomas    opened     hiseyes

And they were full of tears and love and so…so wide…

And Jesus said,

“Thomas—here are my wounds, touch them.”

And Thomas arose, shedding the layers of grief and doubt, letting the waters of his baptism flow down his cheeks

—and he remembered all he had seen and done with this Jesus, all the words


—and he didn’t touch him (not then anyway)

And he said,

“My Lord   and my God

I know that my redeemer lives

And my eyes behold him

Who is my friend and not a stranger

My Lord    and my God.”



sermon on Maundy Thursday and leaving

Baruch attah adonai elohenu melech ha-olam. Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of eternity. Amen.
*    *    *
A very long time ago,
a man and his friends sat down at a table for dinner.
They had been through a lot together, these friends.
They had given up a lot to be together—more than they knew.
They ate together most nights
and because it was the celebration of the Passover,
of course they would meet again
—nothing was out of the ordinary.
Something was coming—they all felt it—
but they didn’t know what.
The men and women around the table talked and joked
with the comfort of brothers and sisters.
They ate slowly,
savoring the plates of lamb, eggs, bitter herbs,
and unleavened bread they passed.
They drank wine and delighted in one another’s company.

And at the same time, even longer ago,
the people called the Israelites sat down for dinner.
In Egypt, in slavery.
They had been through a lot together already, these people.
They had given up a lot
—and had had a lot taken from them to be together—
more than they knew.
They ate together most nights, but this night was special.
They ate with their shoes and hats on,
their walking sticks in their hands,
their luggage packed for a journey. 
They ate quickly,
pausing only to pray to God for mercy.
They barely tasted the bread and wine and bitter herbs.
And they ate in both fear and excitement.

And at the same time, far in the future,
a group of brothers and sisters sat down at a table for dinner.
They had been through a lot together, these brothers and sisters.
They had given up a lot to be together—more than they knew.
They didn’t eat together very often any more, not as a whole group
at least not in one another’s houses.
But they did meet every week
to pass a plate of bread and a cup of wine.
They loved one another deeply
and yet didn’t quite know what to do about it
in the vast and changed world.
They talked and joked with the intimacy of family
and remembered all the times they’d eaten together,
every meal for 2,000 years.
They knew something was coming,
they knew what it was
—had heard the story, too, for 2,000 years—
yet they didn’t understand it, didn’t really know their part.
They ate, loving one another, loving God,
loving what they thought they knew.

*    *    *

The man and his friends, a very long time ago,
were about to depart:
the man would depart this life and he grieved to think about it;
his friends would depart from each other and from him,
running away in fear and grief.
Only Judas would have the courage of his convictions
and only the women would return.
    The man knew that this departure, this ending
would also be a beginning
        And he knew that beginning would not make the end less painful
    His friends knew something was ending
        Maybe they thought the rule of the Roman oppressors was ending
        Maybe they thought their poverty and directionlessness were ending
        They didn’t know that this would be their last dinner together
            That this was the last meal of a condemned man
            That this last supper would feed them in the wilderness

And at the same time, that people called the Israelites, even longer ago,
    Were about to depart:
        They would depart from Egypt and the slavery they had endured
        They would depart from the life they had known,
oppressive as it had been
and embark on a long journey into the wilderness
        but before they left, they covered their doorposts with blood
marking their homes
so that the angel of death would pass over them
they killed the lamb, and ate it in fear and joy
    grieving the loss of their old life,
ready to leave for a new life
terrified by what was happening outside their doors
    this people had a leader, a man named Moses
        Moses knew that this departure, this ending
            Would also be a beginning
        And he knew he would not survive this new story
He knew this beginning would not make the ending less painful

And at the same time, far in the future,
    The brothers and sisters gathered here were about to depart
    They didn’t know it
        They thought their weekly meal was comfort and beauty and joy
            And it was
        But it was also the last supper before the storm
    They would eat hastily, knowing something was coming
        They would pray to God to pass them over
            Marking their foreheads with ash
            And their hearts with regret
    These brothers and sisters are the ekklesia, the church
the gathering of people
the people, literally, “called out” of our normal lives.
We are that beloved community
    we will depart from the empire,
from mammon,
from the way we’ve always done things
we are always on the move, always at an ending and a beginning
        our weekly supper of bread and wine
will be food for the journey
        our love for one another will sustain us in the wilderness

*    *    *

This [gesture to table] is the end, brothers and sisters.
    We will eat our meal together hastily,
our shoes on our feet and our walking sticks in our hands,
our luggage packed
    For we have been called to witness to the world
    We have been called to an ending
    We will depart from this place like the Apostles—the ones Jesus sent out
    We will leave the expectations of the world like the Israelites left Egypt
        We will travel in circles where our calling is foolish
            Where we will look ridiculous
for insisting on love and compassion
            Where we will be insulted and misunderstood
            Where we will be desperately hungry for more than bread
    Every time we eat this meal together,
        We remember every other time we have eaten together for 4,000 years
        And every time we eat this meal together,
            God is present with us
            Jesus returns
    God is with us on this journey
        We are not alone

Yet, for now, it seems God has abandoned us
    We cannot see or feel God
    We feel battered and bruised
        By the Story we enact this week
        By its contradictions and problems
    The light is departing this world
        Jesus, our brother,
            Is betrayed into the hands of us poor sinners.

sermon on the slaughter of the innocents--yeah, it's rough

Baruch attah adonai elohenu melech ha-olam. Blessed are you Lord our God, ruler of all possibilities.
*          *          *
[begin with long silence and gaze at congregation]
“When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the magi, he was infuriated,
and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem
who were two years old or under,”
And Rachel wept, wailed, lamented for her children.
“She refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”

I don’t know, guys. I mean, it was Christmas just last week.
It was, you know, fun, and happy, and candlelit and,
I know giving birth in a stable isn’t easy
and it wasn’t as clean and pretty as we like to remember it.
But, good God, it’s so much worse this week.
[rub face]
I don’t really want to preach about this story.
I don’t want to think about it.
So Mary and Joseph and toddler Jesus
and maybe a brother or sister
(yeah, they had other kids—another day we’ll talk about that)
were living in Bethlehem and things were ok.
It’d been a couple years and the magi had come
and given them some embarrassingly expensive gifts
and they’d left only recently, kind of shiftily,
like they knew something was up.
And then Joseph had a dream where an angel told him,
“Dude, it’s bad. You gotta go. Now. NOW.”
So they grabbed what they could and ran.
I imagine they weren’t the only ones.
Maybe they had warning, but once the killing started,
there were families choking the road trying to get away.
They ran and ran and hid and all the while shook with fear,
maybe trying to be strong for the kids.
And what were they running away from?
Their king who was already terrifying,
their king who shifted loyalties to foreign powers to get his way,
who didn’t hesitate to kill off anyone who stood in his way
and who raised taxes to extortion levels
so he could build fancy new cities
and make himself feel immortal.
Their king was so threatened by the idea he heard from the magi
that there could be a new king,
that he had all the little boy babies and toddlers up to age 2
ripped from their mothers and fathers
and murdered in the street.
Or others say Herod knew he himself was dying
and also knew there wouldn’t be anyone mourning his death,
so his slaughter served a dual purpose of
not only keeping the throne to himself
but also creating a ready-made misery when he died.
Their king stopping at nothing to hold on to power,
willing to justify not just murder
but the destruction of the beauty and potential of young lives.
It’s called the Slaughter of the Innocents.
I’m not ready for this, liturgically or emotionally.
Scholars say this didn’t actually happen.
That, even if it did, there were only maybe 1000 people
living in Bethlehem at this point,
so it might only have been 20 children.
As though that makes it better.
Twenty or ten or even five means it’s not horrific.
But most scholars say this is a theological point, not an historical one.
Herod never had these babies killed.
Matthew is the only account,
either in the bible or in historical sources.
He wrote it in himself to make a theological point.
Matthew is big on tying Jesus’ story to the ancient Israelites’ stories—
remember the long genealogy
at the beginning of the gospel of Matthew?
That’s him tying Jesus definitively in to the family of David.
Remember the star that the magi followed?
Related to some passages in the book of Numbers.
The holy family runs off to Egypt? And warnings in dreams?
And massacre of children?
Totally the Exodus story. Jesus is a new Moses,
the one who will change everything
like Moses did but better.
Matthew’s all about bringing in these references
to give legitimacy but also holistic beauty
to the story he’s telling about Jesus.
And it works for him in general. But…but.
We don’t need this story to be factual for that historical time and place.
We don’t need it to have actually happened to tell the story.
We tell the story        because we know the story.
It happens over and over and we don’t know how to stop it.
On Christmas here at Good Shepherd it has become something of a tradition
for the praise team to offer the song “Christmas Eve Sarajevo” by TSO.
It’s fun and exciting and for the first time,
I wondered why it was called that.
I knew it was about the Bosnian War in the nineties—
ethnic cleansing between the Serbs and Croats in the former Yugoslavia.
It was atrocious.
And it looked a lot like the Rwandan conflict and Aleppo,
and so many other conflicts.
For three years they killed each other, both military and civilian.
Families and entire towns were annihilated.
The city Sarajevo took the worst of the damage.
And a cellist sat in the middle of the fighting
and played Christmas carols through the night for days.
The TSO song he inspired is beautiful but it is heartbreaking.
Sarajevo was a massacre
and so many of those massacred were innocent.
This story repeats throughout history.
In the middle ages, the Church sent several crusades
to take back the Holy Land from the infidels.
Leaving aside the seriously problematic nature of that whole cause,
one of them was called the Children’s Crusade.
Because they sent children.
Adults going on crusade often didn’t survive
the long, violent journey to Israel.
And they sent kids?
They didn’t make it. At all.
They all died in the cause of attaining more power
for the rulers, for the adults.
In America, we decided that the native peoples
from whom we’d taken the land needed to be more white.
You think I’m kidding or using modern understandings of racism.
I’m not.
European culture was considered the correct culture
so we took children from their families,
dressed them up like dolls,
refused to let them speak their languages or see their families,
and made them ready for polite society.
Where they wouldn’t be accepted anyway.
How many of them died of suicide or broken hearts?
I’m not being poetic here.
This was a different kind of massacre.
Four years ago a young man took guns into Sandy Hook Elementary
We don’t know why.
He wasn’t King Herod trying to keep power.
He wasn’t trying to reclaim the Holy Land with sacrificial victims.
Yet the result was the same.
Innocents sacrificed for an adult’s dream.
         For years some have thought they could change
a child’s sexual orientation from gay to straight
with prayer and psychology.
It’s called conversion therapy and is increasingly illegal
as scientists show us how damaging it is.
And I’m not talking about “oh, gosh, those kids feel bad
and we need to boost their self-esteem.”
I mean the suicide rates and self-harm rates
and psychological trauma from these programs
are unbelievably high.
I mean these kids have been massacred, in a sense,
for the adults to prove their righteousness.
And this year alone—2016 has a lot to answer for—
this year alone the number of unarmed black men shot by police,
the number of mass shootings in places like
Paris and Orlando and Dallas,
the uptick in gun violence in cities like Chicago,
the length of time Flint, Michigan has gone without drinkable water.
Matthew says Rachel weeps and laments and refuses to be consoled,
because they are no more.
These acts of violence we can’t seem to stop doing
are the slaughter of the innocents over and over.
Maybe we do know how to stop it, but we don’t. It’s too hard.
This is sin: humanity’s propensity to screw things up—
both that we actually can’t stop hurting each other
and that we don’t want to stop, not really.
Jesus the cute baby comes into this world, this sinful, R-rated world.
         And he lives in it, he sees it happening, he doesn’t hide from it,
he walks with us and experiences pain just as we do.
I think it’s important for us, intellectually and emotionally
to juxtapose sweet Christmas with horrible slaughter.
It’s hard but good to hold these different experiences together.
Ugh, but really, experientially?
If God is God, then God should do something.
And, also, shouldn’t we have something more uplifting
here on New Year’s weekend?
We’re always talking about how God is doing a new thing,
how there’s hope, how Jesus changed things.
Where is the good news in the slaughter of the innocents?
All good questions, but all predicated on a rather small God.
God who is entangled by our rules and our physics.
God who is entangled in our expectations of rightness and judgment.
God who isn’t actually as vast as the universe
and as tender and caring as nothing we’ve ever experienced.
God is so much bigger than we know, holding us in massive divine hands,
weaving the fabric of the universe together.
Years ago, I read this amazing and difficult book
Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis.
It’s very odd and heartbreaking, because his premise is
that the Holocaust makes absolutely no sense
unless it’s lived backwards. Do you get that?
There is no sense to be made of the slaughter of the innocents
during World War II as it is.
None. It’s atrocious. Period.
However, if we could live it backwards,
if we could see the smoke in the sky flowing together
into a chimney
and somehow creating bodies which awake and embrace
and are given clothing and handed children
whom they love so much they cry
and then sent on their way to lovely homes…
if we could live it that way,
the massacre of the Holocaust would be beautiful.
Matthew says Jesus is the new Moses
but he also says Jesus is not exempt from horror.
God’s presence doesn’t promise to take away the pain immediately—
         someday it will be gone, next year in Jerusalem, in the Kingdom.
God will wipe away every tear from our eyes
and there will be neither sorrowing nor sighing.
How do we make sense of this,
without being Pollyannaish,
without the science fiction of living it backwards,
without falling into infinite despair?
We don’t make sense of it,
we don’t justify it,
we simply see it, clearly and without argument.
It is a gift to have our eyes opened, to see the world as it is
—beautiful and broken—
and to know we are not alone.
2017 is filled with possibility—possibility of disaster, yes,
AND possibility in the new babies born even now,
possibility for all the generations before and after those new babies
to make different, compassionate choices,
possibility for God to do that new thing.

Happy New Year.

sermon on Reformation, repentance, and Susan Boyle

It’s hilarious you have the Episcopalian preaching on Reformation.

We were there for it, of course,

had our own version of scholars and lay folk saying,

“What the heck, Rome?”

but we went to the king and said,

“You can be in charge and get a divorce if you let us split, cool?”

So, it was less dramatic, theologically, anyway.

Our closest feast day to Reformation Day is the

Feast of the approval of the First Book of Common Prayer (1549)

It was written in English

which was pretty daring and thrilling for the time,

but still no hammer and nails.

It’s funny, as well, because,

much to the chagrin of one of my former Edge House students

and just massive Lutheran Pam Mills,

I don’t much care for “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”

Except maybe with a beer stein.

Which, come to think of it, Brother Martin would probably have enjoyed.

But I do really enjoy Reformation Sunday.

And I enjoy how much y’all enjoy it.

It’s like going to a part of town you’re not familiar with

and coming across a birthday party

—you don’t know about the family arguments

or the struggles individuals are having,

you only see the delight.

Everyone’s having so much fun being a part of this partying group,

and you want to join in.

From the outside, the red shirts

and the jokes about Minnesota are charming.

Of course it’s not just a party, it’s as serious as the business end of a .45.

Today is a party that celebrates a massive change

in the way the church did things.

It’s a kind of death and resurrection, really.

Do you remember the movie



It’s a brilliant parody as well as foretelling of how the news is made.

In it, the national news anchor gets fed up

with news becoming entertainment

and his and his coworkers’ being expendable.

On a live broadcast he snarls,

“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more.”

It becomes a rallying cry.

This is our Brother Martin Luther and his 95 Theses.

The church needed reforming in Martin Luther’s time.

He and others were right to point out the sins of the church and say,

“Friends, no, this is no good. Let’s try again.”

But it wasn’t that easy.

His 95 Theses read as a dry topic sentences for academic discussion.

What he was saying was,

“we are hurting each other the way we’re doing things now.

We’ve lost our way.”

But as the internet tells us in its infinite wisdom,

“When you have power, equality looks like a threat.”

Even though the reformers spoke truth,

those in power felt threatened.

Change the way we operate on a daily basis?

Change our theology about Purgatory and really eternity itself?

Consent to the people hearing scripture in their own languages

and being involved in its interpretation?

This is terrifying. It means we in power lose the power we had.

It means we’re not in control any more.

It’s not like the Pope and the Magisterium

held that power for evil purposes, mostly.

They, like so many others, understood themselves

as helping, as upholding sacred practices

and understandings of God.

It’s not that they were caught out in intentional greed,

but that they understood themselves as righteous,

like the people Jesus was talking to in last week’s gospel.

It says he spoke to

“some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.”

This may be the lasting lesson of the Reformation.

Not the party but the invitation to examine ourselves.

Do we trust in ourselves that we are righteous?

Maybe we’re not selling indulgences any more,

but what do we hold tightly in our fists,

thinking we’re doing good

and in reality hurting each other and the message of love

Jesus came to give us?

The lasting lesson of the Reformation, what we’re celebrating today,

is of repentance.



in Greek, is a turning away from the thing.

My dad used to say to us as kids,

“I don’t want your sorrow, I want your repentance.”

He meant, he didn’t just want us to regret the thing we’d done,

because regret isn’t transformative.

It just sits there making us miserable.

Repentance is a change in posture, a change in direction.

Repentance may indeed happen often,

like the process of getting sober

or the way we need reminding to be kind to someone.

Turning away from something hurtful may happen so many times

that it looks like we’re spinning in circles,

but it’s a real change each time.

Maybe a better word for it is a practice,

something we do regularly that shapes us,

something that in trying over and over we get better at.

I practice forgiving and having patience

with one of my husband’s childhood friends

over and over and over.

I think I’m better at it now than I once was.

And I think I have to keep practicing, keep reforming.


Pastor Larry was all about that version of the word,

do you remember?

He understood it to be about re-shaping ourselves

in a different image,

or, more likely, God re-shaping us into the image of God.

Imago dei

, our original state.

We can’t ever get there by ourselves, not really,

but we can continue to turn towards it.

I did something like this the other week.

I’ve been miserable about how we speak to one another any more.

Maybe it’s not different now then it ever was,

maybe I’m just newly aware of it.

But so much of the conversations online, in speeches,

even between church members,

is so rude and ugly and hateful.

UC, like most college campuses,

has street preachers every few weeks

who carry signs and preach sermons over megaphones

about how we are all of us going straight to hell.

Sometimes they’re decent to talk to,

most times, it’s a mess of judgment.

So I invited some students and colleagues

and took the Edge House’s own megaphone onto campus

to do some positive street preaching.

The others in the group weren’t comfortable speaking yet.

I ended up confessing our sins. Our collective sins.

I didn’t plan anything particular to say and it was really hard,

but I began to confess the ways

that we ourselves need reforming.

How we have treated native peoples over the centuries.

How we have treated Jews and Africans.

How we have treated each other

when our beliefs were deemed heresy.

How we have consistently chosen to see

our brothers and sisters of whatever

orientation or gender or color or status

as less than because it is politically expedient.

Afterwards, because I stumbled over my words and thoughts,

I asked on Facebook “what are the sins of the church

you would like to hear confessed/apologized for?”

I got so, so many responses. Pages and pages of them.

Friends, we are absolutely justified by faith,

we are absolutely saints and saved and living in the Kingdom.

And also we are still sinners, needing to turn back to God.

What needs reforming now?

What is the theme about which we could write 95 theses?

Probably we can think of lots of things out there that need reforming,

but what in here needs reforming?

What is the speck in our own eyes that needs to be removed?

Within the ELCA?

Within Good Shepherd?

Within each of us individually?

We participate in the world, in voting, in civic pride,

but do we put our faith in those systems and leaders?

Do we think that if we put enough money and energy

into the process the country will become Christian again?

As though it was better 50 or 200 years ago?

Perhaps our reformation involves intentionally listening

to the voices of the marginalized

—whether by race, sexuality, youth, status.

Whose voices do we discount?

Or is it simply that we have arrived at this point in history

without meaning to,

doing what we’ve always done because we’ve always done it?

This is what the Reformation is about

—seeing God’s desires for unfettered, active love,

and naming the ways that we block that love.

And we are not about a single Reformation

as much as a call to constant reformation.


Whether we know it’s happening or not.

Martin Luther didn’t intend to start a new church.

He didn’t want to destroy the church but to call it to account.

He leaned into his challenge to the church because he loved it so much,

because of his respect for the institution

and the people and for Jesus himself.

Whatever we do now to identify the truth of things,

to name our own privilege and to sacrifice power

is because of our love and respect for the church and for people.

We don’t do it because our works will bring the Kingdom here

but because when we repent, when we open our arms in love,



the Kingdom here.

I'll close with a video from Britain’s Got Talent. At the beginning, look for the judgment. Then look for the moments of turning. As they see what they've done, look for the Kingdom of God on their faces. Look how beautiful, how loving it is to repent.

Watch: Susan Boyle

apocalypse 2016

This is the apocalypse.

Not the actual date, not a specific event, but this experience we are living through in 2016 America.

Rather, I should say this is an apocalypse, because this is not the first one and it won't be the last.

"Apocalypse" is almost always misunderstood. It means a pulling back of the curtain, a revealing. It's a metaphor for seeing things as they truly are. It's not an asteroid-related disaster or trippy, judgmental poetry. It's not even the end of the world as most people understand it. It is scary. Seeing the world as it is rather than as we want it to be is terrifying. Which, now I think about it, is kind of like the end of the world. The end of the world we thought was real.

Before the curtain was pulled back, we had thought, perhaps, that things were getting better. Or, at any rate, they weren't getting worse. But that "we" was the people it wasn't happening to. "We" felt comfortable and unthreatened, but now we can see what our brothers and sisters knew all along.

It's not getting worse, it's already really bad. There are news stories all the time about yet another mass shooting, yet another unarmed black man being shot by police, yet another execrable statement by Mr. Trump, yet another scandal in the life of someone we thought we could trust. But I'm not convinced that things are getting worse. We've always had people doing shitty things to each other. In the post-internet world, what's scary is not our propensity for evil but our ability to see it happening.

Mr. Trump's anti-everyone-but-rich-white-guys screeds aren't just about him, they reveal the same thoughts in our fellow Americans that have been there all along. They reveal a deep hurt and insecurity that folks attribute to immigrants or PC culture, but the hurt is there nonetheless. A few police officers shooting unarmed black men aren't themselves horrible racists, they reveal a culture that has not valued black bodies. They reveal a world in which we have only made surface attempts at reconciliation. Mass shootings aren't just about the mental state of the shooter and his political leanings, they reveal our inability as a culture to deal with difference.

The most famous apocalypse--the Book of Revelation in the Christian Bible--isn't about a literal beast or a literal whore of Babylon, it's a long metaphor for hope. It says this misery we see won't last forever. But the New Jerusalem and the wiping away of our tears doesn't happen until the world sees itself for what it is: violently self-interested. We have to experience the death of the world we thought was real--literally or spiritually--before new life can come. Maybe that death is as simple as relaxing our grip on the ideologies we hold dear, maybe it's as extreme as confessing our individual and corporate sins and looking for ways to atone.

Maybe 2016 is heralding that death before new life. Will we allow ourselves to experience it? Will we open ourselves up to hearing other peoples' stories and pain, knowing that doing so will change us? Or will we pretend that everything's fine and we've done all we can and push the revealing back another year?

meditation after the Orlando massacre

Written for the vigil held at Below Zero Lounge.
(Unrelated, no idea what's going on with the font sizes here.)

I have two things to say tonight.
One is that we need to mourn.
A man went into the Pulse night club yesterday
and opened fire and in the end
there are 49 of our brothers and sisters dead on the floor,
another 53 wounded,
hundreds mourning their loved ones,
and tens of thousands more bearing the wounds of fear.
This is bullshit.
This is not how we care for one another as human beings.
This is the time for anger and pain and misery.
We don’t want to go over the events of yesterday again, but we must.
It’s important to name the evil and the pain and the anger we feel.
When even a single person dies of natural causes, we should be sad,
we should mourn.
How much more should we mourn when so many die,
when their deaths are caused by hate and fear,
when their deaths are used as political ammunition.
It is important for us to feel sad and angry
and confused and numb and violated and unsafe
and infuriated and vulnerable.
I imagine that many of us here remember other times when we have been hurt,
when someone has tried to destroy us.
Maybe it was being beaten because of who you were holding hands with
or because of how you walked.
Maybe you’re remembering someone who was dressed like me,
a clergy person, or some other flavor of religion
that made you feel that you were wrong in your very existence.
Maybe it was harsh words, spoken low but intended for you to hear.
Maybe you’re remembering the AIDS epidemic of the 70s and 80s
or Stonewall or chemical castration and hard labor camps.
People the world has called queer for centuries
have many, many reasons to mourn today.
But…and this is one of my favorite words in the English language…but…
This is not the end of the story.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the author of the book of Psalms says,
“Weeping will endure the night but joy comes with the morning.” Weeping will endure the night but joy comes with the morning.
This one little word tells us something huge.
It’s a hinge where everything changes.
You are weeping now, of course you are,
BUT that’s not the whole of reality.
We are overwhelmed by repeated acts of violence
against the LGBTQ community and against just humans
all over the world
BUT there’s something else happening,
love and love and love and love.
My experience of the world is that God is present in that one tiny word,
calling to us in our misery and showing us what else is happening.
I need to hear this so much that I had it tattooed on my body.
Well, something similar.
It says “Everything will be okay in the end.
If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
This is the second thing I want to tell you.
Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.
This is what my faith tells me, and this is what my experience tells me.
When my college friend Ed was diagnosed with HIV, we wept.
And when new drugs helped his T-cells, we rejoiced.
When Leelah took her own life, we wept.
And we came together and rejoiced
over the Cincinnati trans community.
It’s not okay right now, so it’s not the end.
Bad news is not the end of the story.
As a nation, we are fumbling our way out of homophobia
—it’s not done, but it’s happening.
Forty years ago at Stonewall, the police raided the bar
as they had for decades, arresting and beating the people in the bar.
Yesterday, the police did the hard work
of breaking through the wall into the Pulse,
taking out the shooter,
saving so many people.
It’s different now. They’re outside now protecting us tonight.
And we here tonight,
and others in the LGBTQ community and allies,
all across Cincinnati and beyond,
we stand up for each other,
not hiding and hoping it will all go away.
We love, all of us, deeply, openly,
in ways that may leave us open to hurt.
This community isn’t perfect—we have our own brokenness to atone for.
But—(there’s that word again)—but we will go on,
we will make art and love
and live our lives more intensely, more beautifully,
more devotedly than before.
Last night, watching the Tony’s,
I met the musical Bright Star for the first time.
Carmen Cusak sang these words that made me cry:
If you knew my story
You’d have a good story to tell
Me I’m not alone
Tell me I’m not alone
Even though I’ll stumble
Even though I’ll fall
You’ll never see me crumble
You’ll never see me crawl
If you knew my story

Your story, our story, is hard and beautiful and not over yet.

sermon on Psalm 1, privilege, and racism

Psalm 1, has a lot of meat. It reads:
1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.
3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
On a first reading, it’s fairly innocuous.
Yes, we’re happier when we’re not terrible to each other.
We’re more fulfilled and connected to God
when we participate in what God is doing.
We are more fruitful when we pay attention to God’s desire for love.
I’m into it.
And wickedness—or sinfulness,
we often experience as that rootlessness,
that powerlessness over our wrongdoing
that the psalm describes as chaff that the wind blows away.
We get bandied about by our desires.
And we crave justice—“those wicked people need to be punished,”
maybe even “I’m so wicked I need punishment.”
We long for a just universe where good is rewarded and evil punished.
I’m still into it.
Maybe we just end the sermon here?
Maybe not.
There’s a thread in modern theology that says
this psalm and many other bits of scripture
are about something more concrete.
It’s about the haves and the have nots.
Certainly those who “have” God, as it were, and those who don’t.
But also about those who have prosperity and lots of stuff
and those who do not.
As though those things are entirely related to whether you have God.
The righteous have much, are blessed, succeed.
The wicked have little, are miserable, and fail.
So, it follows from this simple reading that
those who have little, are miserable, or fail must be wicked. And those who have much, are blessed, and succeed
are righteous.
Don’t we say God helps those who help themselves?
Sure, it’s not in the Bible, but it’s true, right?
And look at statistics: look how closely crime and poverty line up.
But this reading is from a place of privilege.
Let me complexify this for us.
A number of years ago,
I took my diocese’s required Racism Awareness workshop.
There was a mix of folks from across the diocese there.
As a conversation-starter,
we were given an envelope with 26 notecards inside.
On each notecard was a question
and we were asked to put those cards into two piles:
“this does apply to me” and “this doesn’t apply to me.”
Let me share with you some of the statements on the cards.
Maybe you can keep a tally of where you’d put them:
“I can be pretty sure that if I ask to talk to the person in charge,
I will be facing a person of my race.”
“I can turn on the television or open the front page of the paper
and see people of my race widely-represented.”
“I am rarely asked to speak for all people of my racial group.”
“I can be sure that my children will be given curricular materials
that testify to the existence and contributions of their race.”
“I can worry about racism without being seen
as self-interested or self-seeking.”
“I can choose blemish cover or bandages in “flesh” color
and have them more or less match my skin.”
“Whether I use checks, credit cards, or cash,
I can count on my skin color not to work against
the appearance of financial responsibility.”
“If a traffic cop pulls me over, or if the IRS audits my tax return,
I can be sure I haven’t been singled out because of my color.”
Hearing where each person put their notecards was
—and I cannot put this dramatically enough—
earth-shaking for me.
I had put 25 of the 26 cards in the “it does apply to me” pile.
And the white folks around me were similar.
All of the people of color in the workshop
had put a majority of the notecards
in the “it doesn’t apply to me” pile.
In this moment, I had a sudden, intense, clear vision
of the privilege that I enjoy as a white person.
Just recently I read an article in which the author spoke
of grocery-shopping with her half-sister at their regular store.
Both of them are of mixed-race, but the author “passes” for white,
that is, she has more Caucasian features,
whereas her sister looks clearly black.
The sisters were in line to check out with their groceries.
The author was first in line, wrote a check, was not asked for ID,
and began bagging her groceries
while her sister’s were being scanned.
The sister then began writing a check as well
and the cashier immediately asked for ID
and looked intently, the author says “suspiciously,”
between the ID and the check.
The author called attention to this behavior,
asking what she was looking for.
The cashier replied it was policy to ask for ID.
The author asked why she herself hadn’t been asked for ID
moments before.
The store manager was called. It became a bit of an issue.
I’m aware that this is an anecdote,
but one which our black brothers and sisters
would not find surprising.
What is going on here?
I want to be clear that there are all kinds of privilege,
not just this example of embedded racism.
In this country there’s the privilege of being comfortable or even wealthy,
of being male, of being straight, of being educated.
And being privileged in some way doesn’t mean things haven’t been hard.
Of course wealthy people have depression and anxiety
and difficult family situations,
but they know they’re going to eat for the foreseeable future
and they’re going to be respected.
And of course a poor white family will have significant struggles
just as a poor black family will,
but that poor black family will have other struggles as well.
And an educated white woman might enjoy many privileges
in her hometown
but be targeted by rape and death threats in some online communities
because she is a woman.
Privilege changes and overlaps with lack-of privilege
—we call this intersectionality.
Now, I suspect that by my bringing this up in church,
some folks out there are tensing up.
If it’s because you disagree with me, I understand, but please hear me out.
I think scripture has something to speak into our lives here
that’s both difficult and freeing.
If it’s because we don’t talk about this kind of stuff in church,
I have to ask why not?
Why wouldn’t we talk about the ways in which
we Christians act like Pharisees, whether we know it or not?
Why wouldn’t we open our eyes to systems of oppression
and do what we can to make folks’ lives better?
Isn’t that basically what the prophets and Jesus were doing?
My point is this:
It is very easy to fall into the belief that something is not a problem
because it’s not a problem to us personally.
It’s so difficult to identify with this idea of privilege
because by its very nature, it’s invisible if you’ve got it.
And my second point is that
privilege isn’t a bad thing per se,
it’s a question of what we do with it once we see it.
How do I respond, for example, when I get pulled over for speeding,
and the officer literally backs away from me and says
“I can’t give a priest a ticket!”
Rejoice at my good fortune? Insist he give me a ticket?
Give him a lecture about privilege?
Ask some other officers about policy and practice and begin dialogue?
Our scriptures are rife with folks getting away with things
because they’re in charge or favored or pretty.
And those stories portray privilege sometimes as violent and terrible
like David’s sending the husband of the woman he lusted after
to the frontline to be killed.
And sometimes as the only way to save thousands of lives,
like Esther’s ability to speak to the king her husband
to spare the lives of the Jews.
And they’re rife with stories of people on the other side of things,
seeing the imbalance of power,
experiencing the oppression of invading forces
or economic pressures.
They’re rife with stories of the outsider and the rejected
pushing back against power and privilege.
This is Ruth. This is Tamar.
This is Moses in Egypt. This is Mary Magdalene and Peter.
This is too many people to list.
Looking back at my first description of Psalm 1,
I think we’re being called to awareness and compassion.
I said, “we are happier when we’re not terrible to each other.”
Which means we need to notice when we’re being terrible.
And when someone else is being hurt by our privilege.
How do we use that awareness to show that person love?
We are more fulfilled and connected to God
when we participate in what God is doing.
Maybe we ask what God is already doing in our community
rather than plowing forward with what we know needs to be done?
We are more fruitful when we pay attention to God’s desire for love.
Not productive, mind you, that’s our consumer culture speaking.
No, we make the fruit we were meant to
when we’re paying attention to love and forgiveness
and understanding and creativity.
How do we educate ourselves about issues
that don’t affect us personally?
And how do we learn to forgive?
This is where Psalm 1 gives us some beautiful grace.
It doesn’t say that the Lord watches over the righteous
but the wicked will perish.
It says “the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.”
The way. The way in which we do things.
The path we walk. The way of seeing the world.
God watches over and fosters and delights
in the path of love that each of us walks.
I even imagine God,
with one of those brooms they use in curling,
shuffling backwards in front of us,
sweeping the broom back and forth,
smoothing out the path when it gets rough…
And God will allow/is allowing the path of sin and misery
that each of us walks to fall into disrepair.
Psalm 1 is maybe foreshadowing Psalm 30,
“weeping may linger the night, but joy comes in the morning.”
In other words, everything will be okay in the end.
If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.
And God invites us to participate in making things okay.
It will be uncomfortable for us to face how we are complacent
in the face of suffering.
It will be hard to begin dismantling our individual and corporate sin.
But we don’t do it alone.
God is walking that path with us,
nudging us towards the one that’s been cleared,
raising us up when we fall,
and celebrating with us when we succeed.
This is one message of the cross:
in Jesus’ death and resurrection that we celebrate this Easter season,
it is not that Jesus reminds an angry God that we are God’s beloved,
we are reminded that we are created in God’s image,
that we are God’s beloved, that we were made for love.
God’s been there all the time, maintaining the universe,
shining love on all of us.
We just forgot.
On the cross, Jesus showed us
where all our grasping and violence and moralizing lead us.
And in the empty tomb, Jesus shows us
all the possibilities of creation.
We can be and are like trees planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
May it be so.