Tuesday, May 28, 2013


The last few days I have been reading about the virtue of humility.

Humility is vexing. Seriously.

Ever hear someone say that he or she is great at humility? Being ‘great’ at humility is something of an oxymoron. If we get very proud of our ability to be humble it seems to defeat the purpose or be at odds with what humility actually is all about.

Humility is at odds with our sense of the world. I was reading that psychologists state that the leading issue they deal with is the issue of narcissism. Indeed, we are a society that says celebrates individualism and celebrates the “I” to the point of absurdity. We have lost a sense of community and with it, humility.

I’ve been pondering humility a big and here are some thoughts.

First, in terms of being a people of faith, we need to recognize that we aspire to the ways of God as opposed to the other way around. The idea of ‘God’s will” is rarely about God but about our will and blaming God for our will. The will of God gets translated into how we live our lives, how we vote, and often our ideology. God becomes a Democrat or a Republican, all based on our viewpoint.

I was fascinated most recently about people debating if Jesus would have approved food stamps or the Affordable Healthcare Law. I’ve read two sides of this and when people talk about there being two sides to every story, they miss this one entirely. Jesus fed people and never charged them a penny. Jesus healed people and never charged them a penny. If we aspire to do exactly what Jesus did then we’d say we need to feed everyone for free and provide totally free healthcare. Would Jesus approve of food stamps? Probably not, but not because of the reasons people usually give. He’d just feed everyone.

Am I saying this is a good idea? Not really as it would devastate the economy and destroy people’s livelihoods in farming, stores, etc. Conversely, he would probably object to charging people for food stamps. The argument becomes circular. My point is that, ultimately, bringing Jesus into the debate is more about us than it is about Jesus. We often lack the humility to see that our will and God’s will aren’t always very comparable.

Secondly, I’ve been thinking in terms of John the Baptist in the Gospel of John. John steps aside when he sees Jesus and quietly says that “he, (John) must decrease so that Jesus could increase.”

If you have ever ventured up to Mount Saint Francis in the Knobs, that locale is run by the Conventual Franciscan Friars. The Franciscans have had their own ecumenical issues and there are a variety of types of Franciscans. Francis of Assisi’s followers called themselves the Ordo Fratrum Minorum, or, in English the Orders of Friars Minor. The translation of Friars Minor, however, is actually something of a distortion of the Latin phrase, fratrum minorum which means, literally, ‘lesser brothers.’ Built into their understanding was that they were humble servants of God.

The Franciscans have had varying degrees of success with this concept and often, ironically, they compete with one another in terms of humility and poverty and try to outdo each other in terms of being great at humility and poverty. Like everyone else, they often fall into the trap of failing at humility.

My prevailing philosophy of ministry is that our role as clergy is to serve God and serve God’s people. Ministry and discipleship ought to be sans agenda other than serving God and serving God’s people. Anything else and we fall victim to hubris.

I wish I could say that I’ve never been guilty of this. I wish I could say that I’ve never had an agenda and that I’ve never twisted God’s will into my will and blaming God for it. I wish I could say that I’ve always been great at humility….

But, alas, that oxymoron lives on.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

God in Relationship to God


Today is Trinity Sunday in the Christian Church and the Trinity is something that defies a really good definition. I had an entire graduate level course on the Trinity and we all finished the course just as flummoxed as we began. The Trinity, God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer. God is one, but three. God is three but one.

God is…

I keep thinking this is also a narrative of God in relationship to God.

One thing the Bible keeps reminding us is that God is always in relationships with people. God never seems to move (except in the instance of creation) without human partners. God’s existence is revealed by Abraham. God’s Law is revealed by Moses. God’s will is revealed by prophets. God’s love is revealed by Jesus as Jesus redeems humanity. Jesus himself chooses partners. The Holy Spirit comes and lays herself down on Christianity to sustain and nurture the Christian Church.

In an era of individualism the whole concept of God in relationship to God seems, somehow wrong. An age of individualism should be telling us that God is God and in no need of relationship with anyone, least of all God with God. In an age of individualism, it would seem that we should be talking about an autonomous God who lives and moves and breathes with really no interest in others.

Yet, here it is, Trinity Sunday. God in relationship to God, defying and denying any sense of a world of individualism.

Who does God think God is? God?

Saturday, May 25, 2013

The Christian Church is the Body of Christ

America Magazine, a Jesuit, Roman Catholic publication, has an article entitled, Pursuing the Truth in Love. Something the author put in the article struck me:

America understands the church as the body of Christ, not as the body politic. Liberal, conservative, moderate are words that describe factions in a polis, not members of a communion.”

(The word ‘polis’ comes from Greek for city and we derive the word ‘politics’ from ‘polis.’)

What is fascinating is that in the comments section several people expressed distress and asked, “How will we know what we agree with or disagree with unless someone tells us if it is a liberal or conservative statement?”

Have we come to this? Have we come to the point of using labels so much, so often, and so freely we cannot determine if an argument is good or bad, valid or bogus, meaningful or worthless unless it has a label attached?

The Christian Church is the Body of Christ.

St. Paul wrote:

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

I played with it and wrote:

There is no longer conservative or liberal or moderate, there is no longer Democrat or Republican, there is no longer Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, or Evangelical, there is no longer male or female. All are one in Christ Jesus.

The words are a variant but the meaning isn’t. The Christian Church is the Body of Christ. We often forget Jesus’ prayer:

"I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me”. John 17:20-21

“That they may all be one.” My denomination, the United Church of Christ, has those words as a motto. They are words that remind us that the Christian Church is the Body of Christ.

Take note of what Jesus doesn’t say: “That they may all be the same.”

Ecumenism, churches working together, does not imply that churches all need to be the same and agree on everything. People come to God in a variety of ways. There are people who find Christ in very liturgical denominations with great structure and hierarchy. God bless them when they do. There are people who find Christ in free church traditions with less liturgy. There are people who find Christ in Sacraments; others find Christ in the Word. Many find Christ in both. Some people find Christ in traditional hymns; others find Christ in praise music. Some people find Christ in holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Others find Christ in Latin liturgies.

Who is right?

Perhaps this question is the very problem and miss’s one little thing; the Christian Church is the Body of Christ.

St. Paul writes in 1st Corinthians that the church is a body with many parts. We are all gifted spiritually and differently. The sad reality is that we truly don’t like ‘different’ all that much. Often, as much as we like to celebrate diversity, we like diversity more in theory than in practice. Often our idea of diversity is having a lot of people like ourselves with slight variations of opinion. It is rare to find people who truly love great diversity. Lest I sound self-righteous about this I say this about myself as well. I always claim to love diversity, but, down deep, too much diversity gets on my nerves!

Sometimes I read blogs and I read a lot of apologetics that speak mostly to denominational and theological traditions. Very often the premise is why the blogger and his or her church or tradition is right, and why other people who disagree are wrong. I do understand the desire to be right. Most of us who belong to churches tend to mostly agree with many of the premises and styles of our faith tradition. This does not make is right.

The truth of God is far greater and far richer than any one of us can possible know and understand. My sense is there is truth and fallacy in every tradition. There are enough ‘one true churches’ in existence that pretty much assures us that no one has cornered the market on truth and the totality of God’s truth. We simply cannot.

It is a reminder that the Christian Church is the Body of Christ. All of us. We are sisters and brothers in Christ. Our challenge is to embrace our family members as fully as we can.

Friday, May 24, 2013


My Sabbatical is in its final month and I am currently spending the last month at the beach with my wife, Janet. It has been a time of renewal for us enjoying the beach and one another’s company.

The theme of my Sabbatical was learning and experiencing spirituality and hospitality from a Benedictine perspective. The hope, of course, is to integrate this into my life and find ways to integrate it into the life of my congregation. The people at St. Marks are reading and learning about Benedictine spirituality as well and have a retreat opportunity to experience it more fully. I hope everyone takes advantage of this.

Benedictine spirituality is remarkable ecumenical. There are non-Roman Catholic Benedictine monasteries and the majority of clergy who are Benedictine Oblates at monasteries are not Roman Catholic. Many of the Benedictine fit very nicely into the prayer life and spirituality of Protestant clergy.

There is much to this. One is praying the Psalms every day and one is reading and reflecting on Scripture. There is always one word, however, that keeps cropping up. The word is listen.

As the pastor of a church I have preached a lot of sermons over the years. I figure I’ve probably preached over 1400 sermons over the years. That is a lot of preaching and a lot of talking. Right not, however, I haven’t preached since the beginning of March. Often, on retreats, I would write sermons and get myself ahead. I have not written any sermons while on Sabbatical----though it has been tempting. The reason I haven’t written any sermons is that even sermon writing is ‘talking.’ This has been a time for listening.

Listening is difficult for me. I like to have opinions and share my opinion. Often when someone else is speaking, I am thinking of what I’m going to say in response more than I am actually listening to what the person has to say. I doubt I am the only one like this. We are a society that likes to talk first, listen second.

A significant amount of my time has been spent largely alone. I have had large amounts of time with no one to talk to. It has made me sit and listen. Not preaching has compelled me to pray the Psalms and actually listen to the words. Not preaching has compelled me to read Scripture and listen to the words rather than preach about it. Listening to God, who is still speaking, has become an interesting journey for me. A good one.

My hope and prayer is that I learn to maintain some sacred silence for myself and continue to listen.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Random Thoughts


We have a wonderful oceanfront balcony at our condo. Every morning I pray looking at the sun dancing on the ocean; at night, I sit in darkness and listen to the waves not seeing very much while praying. I find, to me, the ocean reminds me to be in awe of God. We often like to make God portable and small so we can understand and almost control God. The reality is God is neither portable, fully understandable, and certainly not controlled. The ocean reminds me of this in amazing ways. I am learning to fully appreciate being in awe of God.

In watching the devastation from Oklahoma my heart breaks. There were so many lives lost and so many lives devastated. Many people lost children and loved ones. Many more lost their homes, their cars, and everything they owned. Sadly, among things people owned were precious, precious memories of time together. It is so amazingly sad.

Another story out of Oklahoma has also been the heroism of a group that always seems to rise to the level of heroism and that happens to be teachers. So many educators lost their lives and saved lives in Newtown and, again, we are hearing stories of teachers lying on children to protect them. I spent a short time as a teacher and my daughter is a teacher, but one thing is for sure. I really did not appreciate my teachers growing up the way I should have. These people serve us with honor and courage and wisdom each day.

I read a bit about Jodi Arias’ defense today in seeking life imprisonment instead of death. I do not believe in the death penalty. I do not believe the state, any state, has the right to kill its citizens. There are times, in law enforcement, and war, where it becomes necessary. Many lives have been saved by law enforcement shooting an armed criminal and saving the day. That is, sadly, necessary. Is society protected when we take a person out of a prison cell, march them down the hallway, and kill them? It isn’t and we delude ourselves into thinking it is. We are simply giving citizens the right to kill other citizens----for what?

Often it is about revenge. It isn’t about justice. What Jodi Arias did was barbaric and she has earned the right to be locked away for the next 50-60 years, never to walk in freedom and never to see the sun rise or set. She murdered her boyfriend and justice entails she be locked away for the rest of her life. We have no right to kill her.

Often people lament that it is wrong that we have to pay for this person to be in prison for their entire life. We do. We have no right to kill people because they are too expensive to keep around. We live in a culture of death and, at some point, we need to recognize that killing one another improves nothing. It makes is the same as those we kill.

There is been a lot of joking about Jodi Arias and this is not funny. This is a tragic story from beginning to end. Period.

Lastly there have been many poignant Facebook posts about the last day of school in New Albany and Floyd County. There are children hitting milestones. Kids are moving from grade school to middle school; middle school to high school; high school to college. For some, this is entering their senior year and for parents of seniors preparation for major changes is taking place. It is amazing to see our children grow up and move on. It is a good thing I’ve experienced this and now have adult children who I love and appreciate for what they have grown into. I continue, however, to miss the little children who used to live with me. I celebrate with folks as they see their children grow into wonderful adults; but I share the sadness of the long gone memories of little ones.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


In a small Congregational Church in South Butler, New York, a church that is a predecessor church of the United Church of Christ, something amazing happened on September 15, 1853. A young woman named Antoinette Brown was ordained into the Christian ministry. A church had done something people weren’t even talking about doing very much. They had ordained a woman into the ministry.

The Spirit had moved.

A couple of years ago I heard a minister, not from my own denomination, refer to the Holy Spirit as ‘He,’ and I sat wondering what planet this man had come from.

The Hebrew word for spirit is Ruah which is definitely a feminine noun. The coming of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, is very distinctly a remarkable instance of the coming of the divine feminine.

The Hebrew word for God is YHWH, literally translated as “I am.” We use the pronoun “He” in reference to God Abba, literally, “Daddy,” and gives us a sense of God as a Heavenly Father. For me, who had a loving Dad, there is no real problem with this. For people who struggled with their fathers, this can be a major issue. Sadly, for many, being a father is a biological thing and they never get around to being Dad.

Jesus, of course, was a male. We refer to Jesus as ‘He’ and do so appropriately.

But the Holy Spirit is ‘She.’ The Holy Spirit moves in our midst and reveals the feminine side of God in creative, imaginative, and amazing loving ways. The Holy Spirit inspires, sustains, and nurtures us in amazingly profound ways each and every day.

Today is Pentecost and the Spirit moves in the church, often in scary ways. The Holy Spirit, not unlike a loving mother, teaches us to walk, talks to us, and challenges us each day. The Holy Spirit is the nurturing presence in our lives each and every day. The Holy Spirit also terrifies the organized church! When the Holy Spirit comes through things change and things get disrupted.

Things happen like they happened in September of 1853. People listen and do something profound and different.

As people gather to Worship as Christians today, let’s be mindful of the coming of the Holy Spirit in unique ways; and when we celebrate with those women who have followed the same path as Antoinette Brown let us celebrate and be glad. They are proof the Holy Spirit is alive and well and in our midst; and some are still listening!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Partisan Outrage


Here is my crude take on some things happening in our nation’s capital. There is a great deal of partisan outrage and, in one instance, it’s two sides of the same coin that people ought to be concerned about.

First, Benghazi. No one is happy about what took place in Benghazi. People lost their lives to terrorists in a high risk location. The outrage over the event, to me, have been overblown. It took time to ascertain the correct facts and, in a day and age of instant news cycles, some of the initial facts are wrong. It cost the very capable Susan Rice an opportunity to be the Secretary of State and we are stuck, and I mean STUCK with John Kerry, Mr. Equivocation. Funny thing about equivocation is that the other Mr. Equivocation is Mitt Romney. Must be something in the water in Massachusetts… My sense is that much of the outrage was election driven and is currently, “Hillary Driven.” I get it. The Democrats would do the same thing.

There is a bigger issue of a coin with two sides in terms of freedom of the press and expression.

Tea Party folks are stating, correctly, that they were targeted by the IRS. This came in reference to extreme scrutiny in terms of tax exempt status. They feel their rights were trampled unjustly and they do have a point.

I am not a fan of the Tea Party. They like to call themselves patriots and I tend to see them more as nihilists, but my opinion of who and what they are is of no consequence. I may profoundly disagree with them but I also believe they have every right in the universe, at least in our nation, to express themselves. If they are eligible for tax exempt status, they ought to receive exactly the same scrutiny as everyone else, no more, no less. Anything else is denying them their rights.

Additionally, Associated Press was forced to turn over source documentation to the Justice Department. The AP is the major source of information in journalism. Every major news outlet depends on the AP. If the AP is crippled, the freedom of the press is crippled. Source material will dry up immediately.

The Right is angry about the Tea Party but pretty indifferent to the AP issue; the Left is angry about the AP issue but pretty indifferent to the Tea Party concerns. This is one instance when they should both be concerned about both things.

Currently, the President can’t pass any legislation through Congress. To call Congress inept is to make it sound better than it actually is. On a rainy day one party carries umbrellas and one party wears sunglasses; on a sunny day, they flip. It’s that bad.

Freedom of expression is a big deal. Without a free press and without citizens having a right to speak untethered is vital to the health and well-being of the nation. This is a time for responsible adults to step forward and assure the rights of all citizens, not just the ones they agree with.

The scary thing is two-fold. We have an ‘all powerful’ government reaching out and violating rights; but that all-powerful government is incompetent and inept. It is a dangerous combination and, as I said, it’s time for responsible adults in leadership to step forward and do their jobs. I just hope there are some responsible adults left in our nation’s capital.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Do You Believe in the Holy Spirit?


Sunday is Pentecost, the day the Christian Church celebrates the coming  of the Holy Spirit.

At Baptism and Confirmation we always ask the question: “Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?” Everyone always says ‘yes.’ I wonder how often we really wonder what, exactly, that question entails.

The Holy Spirit is, in many ways, the natural enemy of organized religion. If we believe in the Holy Spirit, we believe that the Holy Spirit moves us where God is moving, or trying to move us. Often that movement is out of our comfort zones and often out of the structures we live within and often love. The Holy Spirit moves us away from the known, often into the unknown.

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?

We in organized religion say we do, but often don’t particularly care for the Holy Spirit moving in our midst. I know when I lead Worship I structure a Liturgy and the Liturgy is printed in the bulletin. When I preach the sermon has come after hours of preparation. The prayers were written or chosen and the hymns were selected with a sense of theme and style and concern as to how well everyone knows them. If someone were to stand up and say they needed to preach or ‘say a few words’ and it wasn’t in the bulletin, I’d be miffed. If someone were to stand up and say, “That prayer didn’t work for me, do a different one,” or “Hey, let’s sing this hymn instead of the hymn you selected,” I would not be happy.

Additionally, over lunch that day people who were attendance would probably say, “Can you believe the nerve of that person? Who do they think they are standing up in Worship and demanding a change?”

What happens, however, when this rabble rouser of sorts was right and was actually moved by the Holy Spirit?

One of the most troubling stories in the Bible is when Jesus overturns the tables of the money changers in the courtyard of the Temple. In reality, they were not doing anything wrong. People were forced to use Roman money in their day to day lives. Their little rebellion was being able to use Jewish money at the Temple. This meant that people had to change their currency from Roman money to Jewish money at the Temple. The moneychangers were doing their job.

I went to college in Ogdensburg, New York. If you look on a map of New York State and find Ogdensburg, you’ll find that it is on the St. Lawrence River. People who live in New Albany, Indiana understand this. We, in New Albany, live on the Ohio River. Directly across the river is Louisville, Kentucky. Directly across the river from Ogdensburg was Prescott, Ontario.

If we were going to spend the day in Ottawa, or go to Montreal, or spend any time in Canada, we’d often head to the bank to change money. One time my parents, my sister, and my Grandmother came up for Parent’s Weekend and stayed at a hotel in Prescott. My Grandmother put money in the Coke machine and it went right through. I told her she needed Canadian money. She looked at me and said, “Everyone knows you can’t use Canadian money in a Coke machine.” I told her, “True, unless you are in Canada….”

The moneychangers at the Temple were merely doing their job. Jesus disrupted them. The presence of the living God was moving in the midst of the Temple courtyard, disrupting things, and people were miffed.

We believe God is a living God, moving in our midst, through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

United Church of Christ Has My Heart


I have been a minister in the United Church of Christ for almost 30 years and have been a member two years longer. I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church and spent 8 years in a Roman Catholic seminary. I am at a point where I have been a part of the United Church of Christ for longer than I was Roman Catholic.

During my Sabbatical journey I spent time in three Roman Catholic monasteries where I benefited from wonderful Benedictine hospitality and spirituality. It was shared in a caring, loving, and nurturing way. It was also a journey back into the church of my youth. There is much that I benefited from my growing up in that tradition and in my journey of late. I learned, however, more and more deeply, that I love being a part of the United Church of Christ. The United Church of Christ has my heart as a faith family.

During my time away I worshiped at two different United Church of Christ congregations.

The first was in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the United Church of Santa Fe, pastored by Rev. Talitha Arnold and Rev. Brandon Johnson. The United Church of Santa Fe was founded in 1979 and is in a very comfortable, modern building. The Worship Service was delightful and the welcome was amazing.

The congregation has grown exponentially over the years. It is in a great location and the pastors obviously love the congregation and the congregation loves their pastors. Talitha has a way of leading Worship that is warm and inviting and Brandon’s sermon on the Sunday I was present was excellent.

I was coming off a difficult experience at the Monastery of Christ in the Desert. In hindsight I was not a good match for visiting that monastery and the experience was, in a word, rough. I went to Worship that Sunday morning in need of some healing refreshment and I certainly received it.

After having an excellent experience at St. Mary’s Abbey in Morristown, New Jersey, I visited with an old and dear friend, Rev. Mark Dewald who is the pastor of First United Church of Christ in Reading, Pennsylvania. I had an opportunity to experience Worship at First Church and it was outstanding.

First United Church of Christ was founded in 1753 and the building is an old, magnificent structure in the heart of the downtown. The Sanctuary is beautiful and, frankly, breathtaking in a way old, magnificent churches often are. The Worship Service was wonderful and the welcome I received from the people in the church was great. It was obvious that Mark is beloved by the congregation and that he loves them as well.

In many ways, the two churches are studies in contrasts. United Church is in a very modern building and, while liturgical, it is a very modern type of liturgy. They use the current United Church of Christ hymnal (The New Century Hymnal) and there is no organ. They have an excellent pianist (she is amazing!) and the choir dressed in ‘civies.’

First Church is very liturgical and uses their liturgy very much from the old Evangelical and Reformed Hymnal. The music was often very responsive, using very classic and traditional responses that have been used in that church for decades. The choir is up high in the choir loft and in cassocks and surplices. Their organ is huge and magnificent and they have an outstanding organist/choir director.

Whereas Santa Fe is a vibrant city with many tourists, and United Church has a new facility with abundant parking, downtown Reading has fallen on difficult times. The people at First Church park in a parking garage almost two blocks from the church. Through amazing work my Mark, they have been able to hobble together a dedicated group of people each week.

They are both, despite looking and appearing to be so different, very much a part of the United Church of Christ. Interestingly enough, my congregation, St. Marks United Church of Christ in New Albany, Indiana, is different from both in many ways, and also very much the same.

In the United Church of Christ we don’t ascribe to the belief that we are the ‘one true church.’ We see truth and folly in all churches and all traditions, including our own. We don’t ascribe the ‘one true church’ status on anyone else. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that there are a number of ‘one true churches’ and they all differ from each other greatly, with the main common trait being the myth that they are the ‘one.’

There are things I love about the United Church of Christ.

First, I love the diversity. Churches and the people in the churches can be different. There is not only not a stigma attached to being different, but there is a joy and celebration in those differences. We are not a homogeneous group and nor do we have an aspiration to be one. There is something rich and refreshing in the boldness of difference.

Secondly, United Church of Christ people truly do embrace ‘no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.’ When that statement came out several years ago on television commercials people in congregations felt their hearts beating faster. Someone ‘understood’ them! This welcoming is clear in so many ways.

Thirdly, the United Church of Christ tends to push envelopes. It is honestly maddening at times, but it is also amazing. A Roman Catholic friend asked me about the ordination of women in our tradition and where we stood on it. She knew we had female clergy but didn’t know how recently we had ordained the first woman. She was shocked when I told her that Antoinette Brown was ordained in 1853.

Lastly, the United Church of Christ does not demand perfection. I am imperfect and I serve as the pastor to an imperfect church filled with imperfect people. What’s not to love about that?

I’ve learned much, experienced much, and grown a great deal. One thing is for sure, however. The United Church of Christ has my heart.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Rush to Keep People Out


In a Salon interview in 2006, recently recalled in Business Insider, Mike Jeffries, the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch said about looks:

It’s almost everything. That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that. In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely."

Abercrombie & Fitch does not stock clothing for women sized XL or XXL. They simply do not want these women in their stores. They do stock these sizes for men as Jeffries acknowledges there are bulked up athletes who need the larger sizes. Abercrombie & Fitch is there to serve consumers who are good looking, popular, and hopefully buff. Business Insider wrote this piece because Abercrombie & Fitch is rapidly losing market share to other companies that are more expansive in their client base.

As of now, however, Abercrombie & Fitch leads the rush to keep people out.

In Jesus’ day there was a rush to keep people out.

Sinners were rejected by society. People who were sinful in any way, shape, or form, were given the boot.

Tax-collectors were seen as the worst of sinners. They received the boot.

Lepers were people considered to have been cursed by God. They received the compassion of a size 10 boot.

And better than half the population, women, were excluded. They were marginalized, used, and abused and had no rights and no voice. For many of them, the boot would have been better than what they received.

Mike Jeffries was born in the wrong era. He is a bully in the classic sense of the word.

People who are the least bit overweight are left out.

The unpopular kids in high school and college are left out. These are the kids who are the head of the Science Club or the Computer Club. They are the main characters of The Big Bang Theory, but Mike Jeffries does not really want them in his stores. The kids in the band? Give us all a break. Mike Jeffries wants the football players and the cheerleaders only. Of course, the football players and the cheerleaders SHOULD be welcome as should everyone else.

I cannot shop at Abercrombie & Fitch. Jeffries has made that perfectly clear. Frankly, I never could shop there. Even when I could fit into his clothing (I can’t now) I was never cool. During study hall in high school instead of hanging out in the cafeteria with the cool kids, I tended to read in the library with the rest of the nerds. I do not believe any of us actually wore Abercrombie & Fitch as we were never cool enough to go there.

I keep thinking that Jesus was all inclusive. Are all churches? I’m happy to know that my church, like most churches in the United Church of Christ, welcomes everyone, no matter what. We are the opposite of Abercrombie & Fitch. We have no rush to keep people out.

Frankly, sometimes this makes us odd. Frankly, however, the odd folks are always the most fun. And none of us actually can shop at Abercrombie & Fitch.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Be Still My Bleeding Heart


People who read this are going to say I have a bleeding heart. Perhaps they are right. My sense is that we are looking into the face of tragedy.

Yesterday Jodi Arias was convicted of first degree murder in the killing of her boyfriend, or ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander. She claimed self-defense but the evidence against her was overwhelming. In observing her on the witness stand her constantly changing story did not help her cause in the least. Additionally, he was found naked in the shower, a bullet wound to the face with 25 stab wounds and his throat slit from ear to ear. There were obvious signs of someone trying to cover their tracks at the scene as well. The claim of self-defense seemed far-fetched, at best. It was difficult to imagine that the jury would find anything other than convicting Ms. Arias of anything other than first degree murder.

Travis Alexander died at the age of 30. His life was mostly ahead of him. He’d had a fling with an attractive young woman and it ended horribly for both of them. Mr. Alexander lost his life and Ms. Arias is facing either the death penalty or life in prison with no hope of parole.

Jodi Arias told a reporter yesterday that she is hoping for the death penalty as longevity runs in her family. The idea of a long life in prison is worse, in her mind, than dying sooner rather than later. She is only 32 years old.

Switch to Boston. Two brothers, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev. They set off a bomb at the end of the Boston Marathon and later killed a police officer. Four people are dead and many are wounded. The nation was turned upside down for their act of terror. Tamerlan died of gunshot wounds in a battle with police and was run over by his brother who escaped. Dzhokhar, all of 19 years old was later captured and was badly wounded. He is now in prison, recovering from his wounds and awaiting his fate. With Federal charges looming, he is facing either the death penalty of life in prison without parole.

Two young people are dead and two young people are facing either execution or life in prison without parole. I am ethically opposed to the death penalty. I do not believe we have the right to take lives of others and so my hope, for both of them, is that they receive life without parole. Life in prison without parole is a harsh sentence. Imagine being young, as both Jodi and Dzhokhar happen to be. They are both facing 50-60-70 years in prison. They will not be seeing sunrises or sunsets. They will not be around smiling children. The change of seasons will mean nothing for them. Holidays will mean nothing for them. The people around them will all be people convicted of terrible crimes. Privacy will no longer be theirs and the many routine pleasures of life we all take so much for granted will be denied them forever.

Sadly, this is their fate and they deserve it.

I feel badly for them as they are so incredibly young. My heart breaks for Travis as he was young and innocent of any crimes. He fell in love, one would imagine, with the wrong woman. Tamerlan was so young, so angry and so hateful that he sought to kill. Their lives were so short.

Jodi is only 32. Instead of moving on and letting go of a relationship, she sought to kill. Dzhokhar joined his brother in murderous mayhem. My heart breaks for them. It is not that I don’t believe they should be punished. Their taking of innocent lives screams out for that. Justice screams out for that. It is just that they are so young… It breaks my heart that life as they should have known it and could have known it is over for them because they chose to kill. It is so sad and so tragic. Such a waste! It is such a waste of life for them as a consequence of wasting away the lives of others.

A man on the news this morning, a man who was close to Travis was reflecting that he hopes Jodi receives the death penalty as a deterrent to others. I disagree with him, but fine. He then went on to say, however, that he KNEW, in the end, that when Jodi’s life was over, God’s justice would prevail and that was his hope.

I guess that is where I fervently disagree with him. My hope and prayer is that Dzhokhar and Jodi, as they sit for many years, no matter what their sentence happens to be, they open their hearts up to God and seek and receive God’s forgiveness. To me, God’s great justice is always God’s mercy and God’s mercy is one that is filled with love and forgiveness.

My hope and great prayer is that despite their grievous acts of murder, they find peace with God and are able to, one day, live in God’s peace and love. To me, the ultimate justice is God’s love.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The Journey Continues


It’s Tuesday and the last time I actually used my laptop was early Saturday morning. My journey took me from St. Mary’s Abbey to Reading, Pennsylvania. I spent an amazing weekend with my friend Mark Dewald and has wife, Nancy, who were gracious enough to host me for the weekend. Mark and I served close to one another in Pennsylvania and have been friends for almost 30 years.

Mark has served as the pastor of First United Church of Christ in Reading for 25 years. First Church is located in downtown Reading which is a city that is enduring difficult times. First Church is not in a residential neighborhood and members have to park a block or so down the street in a parking garage. Mark has done an amazing job doing three Worship Services a week in order to get as many people in the door as possible. The Sanctuary is old and magnificent. The Worship Service was very traditional and, in many ways, very much the old German Reformed Worship. Mark’s sermon was great and I really enjoyed meeting the people who were there.

From Reading I drove to West Point and visited my friend Gabe Costa, a Roman Catholic priest and math professor at the United State Military Academy. I had been to West Point as a child on a class trip and, frankly, didn’t remember very much. It is really set away from everything else and occupies an amazing view of a bend in the Hudson River. It is a very quiet, tranquil place. Well, tranquil for the most part….when they raise the flag in the morning they fire a cannon. In fairness, one early morning cannon shot was far better than 30 minutes of howling coyotes…

Today I ventured to a hotel where I’m spending the next two nights. I’m meeting another old friend tomorrow. Today I drove to my old home town and saw the school I attended from 1960-1966 and the house we lived in. Then I drove to Fort Lee, NJ to Hiram’s for hot dogs and birch beer. This was another North Jersey venture. My trip has been filled with nostalgia and seeing so many beloved people from my life. I am richly blessed!

Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Morristown Green

I have been staying at a monastery just outside of Morristown, New Jersey.

Morristown is a historic community in New Jersey with a long and fine history. Many places claim that ‘Washington slept here,’ but he really did sleep many nights in Morristown. It was the most common location for the Colonial Army to spend the winter. While Valley Forge is the most famous, the most used was actually Morristown. On the edge of the community is the house where Washington actually lived during those winters and a park in the community is where the rest of the army stayed. It is said that many of the campaigns the Colonial Army would engage in were actually planned in Morristown.

Morristown is a town of a bit more than 18,000 people and is around 3 square miles. It is actually something of a doughnut hole to Morris Township that surrounds it. Morristown serves as the County Seat to Morris County. When I was in middle school we moved to Morris County and I spent my high school years in that region. My parents lived in Morris County for almost 30 years and my Mom worked at the county courthouse in Morristown for a number of years. I lived in Morristown from May, 1980 to May of 1981, so it’s not unfamiliar to me.

In over 30 years it has changed. Businesses and moved in and out and while still familiar in many ways, the occupants of many places have changed. One formerly dreadful area is all gone and replaced with newer and gleaming businesses, and some formerly prosperous areas are no longer very nice. The population in 1980 was largely Caucasian and African American, and now there is a large Hispanic and Middle Eastern population. Morristown is the home to a Rabbinic Seminary and Seeing Eye, which trains seeing eye dogs.

Morristown also has a landmark of sorts. In the center of the community is the Morristown Green. It is something of a small park (very small park) with grass and trees that sits in the center of town. It is also here that several main roads converge. Surrounding the Green is something of a New Jersey tradition, a traffic circle of these main roads converging around this tranquil green and traversing themselves around it to continue on their journeys.

In 1980 the Green was something of a nightmare. It was referred to fondly as the $#%$@# Morristown Green. Traffic would converge into something of a mess and people would cut in and out, foaming at the mouth, swearing in their cars, opening their car windows and extending the ‘real’ state bird of New Jersey. Officially the state bird of the Garden State is the Eastern Goldfinch that no one has actually ever seen. If one is from New Jersey one is aware of what the ‘real’ state bird happens to be and the ‘real’ bird has no feathers. People would say that they really needed to do something about the $#%$@# Morristown Green.

I was really tired last night and decided to sleep a bit longer today. This meant that instead of joining the monks at prayer at 6:30AM I decided to pray on my own, sleep till 7:30AM and head into town for breakfast. I had seen a Panera Bread and determined it would be a good place to have some coffee and a scone. It also meant I had to traverse the Morristown Green.

As much as things have changed in Morristown the Green has not. It is still referred to as the $#%$@# Morristown Green and now MORE cars converge on it and road rage, the official state hobby, is still in effect. It was also heartwarming to see that the real state bird is in effect. The big difference is that in the past, most people had to manually roll down their windows in order to extend this gesture; now most people have automatic windows allowing them to have a more fluid motion in extending this greeting to one another.

It also reminded me of something else. New Jersey is an amazingly small state. Panera Bread is around 3.5 miles from where I am staying. It took me 20 minutes to get there and 20 minutes to get back. This morning I was greeted with honking horns, the state bird, and swearing. I did something no self-respecting New Jersey driver would ever do. A woman had her turn signal on to get into her driveway and I stopped and let her in.

As for Panera Bread, they have the same menu as the one back home. It is different here, however.

In this Panera Bread I must have heard three different languages being spoken. The young woman who waited on me didn’t call me ‘sweetie’ or ‘honey.’ There was one thing, however that made me laugh. One man said to another, “They really need to do something about the $#%$@# Morristown Green.”

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

The Journey Continues

Over the past weeks I have prayed Psalms, done Lectio Divina, read about hospitality, and prayed a lot. I’ve also read The Rule of St. Benedict at least three times and read Joan Chittester’s amazing commentary companion to it.

Some musings.

My first musing is about my own weakness. Like everyone else I am often a weak and fragile person who grapples with my own weaknesses and sins. One thing I have begun doing is carrying a small wooden cross in my pocket. I found it in the gift shop at Christ in the Desert and have been carrying it around for a bit.

I was sitting in the Abbey Church the other day and holding it in my hand and something clicked. As Christians sin and the cross walk together. Our sings are forgiven when Jesus dies on the cross for those sins. The cross seems to be a place to bring sin. As I was sitting there I was praying to God for forgiveness of my own faults and I began to clutch the cross tighter and tighter and I realized the connection. I also realized that this cross in my pocket is a constant reminder to me and a huge piece of strength for me. As I was getting angry about something and seeking to judge I took the cross out of my pocket and prayed that judgment to the cross. Somehow I began to change my feelings. This cross is going to remain a constant companion to me.

Secondly, in reading Henry Brinton’s book, The Welcoming Congregation, he makes a very profound point. He cites a rabbi who says that the ultimate Jewish Law seems to be “Love your neighbor,” which is stated once of twice in the Hebrew Scriptures. The rabbi said, however, that “Loving the stranger,” is stated many more times. The greatest challenge is not loving our neighbor, the person we know, but loving those we do not know.

Brinton makes the observation that at church we should stop viewing strangers who come as our ‘visitors’ but see them as our guests. This is not just at meals or for clothing, but at Worship. People who come into the doors of a church for the first time are guests.

St. Benedict has a foundational principle that underlies everything in this. He says, “Let all guests be received as Christ.”

Talk about challenges…

I was thinking about this as sometimes these guests disrupt our lives. They force us out of our comfort zones and sometimes force us to change the way we do things. Often these guests make us resentful. We were happy before these guests came along and disrupted everything. Perhaps that is the point, however. The guests disrupt us because Jesus disrupts us.

Anyone who follows Jesus as a disciple and not just as a ‘fan’ knows something. Jesus disrupts. Jesus is not a comfortable Savior. Jesus is not a comfortable Lord. Jesus disrupted the people of his day to the point they put him to death. Jesus continues to disrupt us to this day.

Often Christianity likes to suppress Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit as when the Holy Spirit gets loose, things really get disrupted.

Guests often bring about this disruption; but receiving them as Christ…

St. Benedict ends his rule by saying it is a ‘rule for beginners...’ I have found it provocative and profound and if I’ve learned anything, it’s this. In following Christ, we are all beginners.