To Give or Not To Give: On Helping the Homeless

I don’t know who Reed Sandridge is nor did I know anything about him until I heard him being interviewed recently on a “Your Story Matters” podcast from 2010. It seems that on December 15, 2009, Mr. Sandridge began a project where he was going to give away $10 to someone every day for a year. He called it: “The Year of Giving.” Sandridge didn’t just give the money away, but he would also ask the person’s name, have a conversation with them about their life, and learn what they intended to do with the money. Sometimes they were poor, sometimes not. Then after returning home, he would blog about that day’s person. Even in the rain, snow and bitter cold, Sandridge did this day in and day out for the whole year. Oh, by the way, Sandridge himself was unemployed at the time, after being laid off as a manager from a local non-profit. One can imagine the impact this daily account of a person in need receiving an unexpected $10 had on people who followed the story—and “The Year of Giving” became a bit of a media event. During the podcast interview, Sandridge shared the data of his recipient’s stated goals for the $10. The top uses: 30% on food and non-alcoholic beverages; 16% give it to someone else; 11% transportation. The website shares further uses: 9% alcoholic beverages; 7% rent/utilities; 7% bought something for others; 7% church; 5% bought something for self. Who knows how the money actually got spent, but I like the idea of taking people at their word.

“What’s the most someone’s ever given you?”

From time to time, Sandridge would ask, ‘What’s the most you’ve ever received? What’s the most someone’s ever given you?’ and the most interesting answer he ever got was from a homeless guy in Washington, D.C.: “The most I’ve ever been given was conversation” he replied. Sandridge continues, “…it wasn’t about the money. But here is a guy who sits there by himself all day, and the fact that I took time to listen to his story and to talk with him, he said, was just amazing. He said he had certain people that would do that regularly, you know, stop and talk to him. He said he needs the money, that’s for sure, but he goes, ‘The conversation is something that–you really can’t put a value on that.’” What comes to my mind today is how this affects my spontaneous decisions whether to give money to anyone who might have the courage to ask a complete stranger for assistance. I have wrestled with this dilemma mightily: To give or not to give.  Jesus seems to be pretty clear about this in Matthew 5.42:

“Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.”

Once I had a man scream at me for assuming he might need money. I offered money for him to buy breakfast if he hadn’t eaten and he was indignant, even though he was pushing a shopping cart filled with his worldly possessions. You know what they say about assumptions. Another time, a guy screamed at me for not giving him money when he could see that I was dressed as a priest and therefore ought to give him something. This fellow then began to berate me to the drivers lined up behind me at the intersection, mocking me because a priest hadn’t given him anything when he asked. Garrison Keillor is right: Guilt is the gift that keeps on giving.

I Have To See This As An Opportunity

The gap between the “haves” and “have not’s” is ever widening in this country, that’s for sure. Homelessness is not going away, and most likely continues to grow nationwide. As a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, the Crucified and Risen One, I have to see this as an opportunity, not only for the church, but for me, my spiritual development, my growth into the image of Christ. Reed Sandridge modeled one way we can respond, and it’s something I have done as a parish priest: engage in conversation with people. Ask their name, ask how they came to be here and now. Listen to their story. When you open this door, offering the amazing gift of conversation, you often see a visible change in the person in front of you—they become more relaxed, once they realize you see them, and that you’re not in a hurry to move them on. Just that acknowledgment of one’s humanity is often more valuable than money itself. And then, if you have money, you might feel more inclined to give it.

One of my mentor priests when I was in seminary, the Rev. John Graham (who was then rector of Church of the Advent/Nuestra Señora de las Americas, in Logan Square on the near west side of Chicago), always told me that if he had money he gave it, and if he didn’t have money he said so. Fr. Graham was a firm practitioner of Matthew 5.42a: “Give to everyone who begs from you.” My darling, wonderful wife, Beth, who possesses a social justice streak in her that few people have and is admirable and holy to me, prefers to feed the homeless, sometimes buying a meal for someone who asks, or looks like they needed one (clearly she is harder to scream at than I am). Occasionally, she’ll eat with the person whose meal she bought and learn their story. This is truly worth making the time to do, because I believe we in some mystical way spend time with Jesus in situations like these (see Matt. 25:35-40).

What If It’s A Hungry Jesus?

I have no final answer for this dilemma, no pat advice, no “Do this, and all shall be well” kind of resolve. We all kind of have to figure this out on our own. But between Reed Sandridge’s “Year of Giving” and my own experiences, one thing I know: we are blessed when we risk seeing others and being seen by homeless and poor people and getting to know their story. They may need money, and most likely will use it for food, give it away or travel on it. We have money to spare, if we really dig down and admit it.

Give if you feel led to give. Because I would hate to miss the opportunity to actually do something for Jesus when he is standing right in front of me and staring me in the face as a homeless or indigent person. Especially if he or she is a hungry Jesus. My only hope is that I get it right more often than I get it wrong–even if I’m only one person over a .500 average in helping, so help me, God. Literally.

So, help me, God.

People with Disabilities

My Most Wonderful Teacher — A Reflection for Father’s Day

“You’ve been given a wonderful teacher,” his note said, and in that moment I knew exactly what he meant. Let me back up first and explain.

After completing my first year at seminary, Beth and I got married at St. John’s Episcopal Church, in Melbourne, FL. That was twenty-four years ago on June 9. Beth had never lived north of Orlando. Then here I come along, moving her to Evanston, IL, the first suburb north of Chicago, into student housing in the middle of the Northwestern University campus and into real winters. Real, cold winters.

For the next two years, while I finished my M. Div., we enjoyed the life of newlyweds and wanted to start a family. Surprisingly, that took longer than we had anticipated. We were both in our 30’s, and it took us more time to conceive than we would have thought. Not until we had moved to Dallas, where I began my curacy at Church of the Transfiguration, did we finally have success. In the spring of 1993, Beth got pregnant.

After a textbook smooth pregnancy, when Jonathan finally came into the world we discovered that he had Down Syndrome and pulmonary hypertension, the latter of which landed him in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Medical City in Dallas for a month. Our heads swirled with all this news and the shock of what had transpired in our little guy’s life from the moment he was born. In serious condition, his survival was not certain early on. We wanted to keep him so badly that we came to accept his having Down syndrome rather quickly.

“Just let us keep him,” we prayed. While he settled in at the NICU, we had to break the news of his birth, and what had transpired since, to our family and friends. So I wrote a generic letter, filled with apologies for its impersonal nature, and quickly sent it to all our family and friends. People felt anxious and called our house. Our answering machine filled daily with people’s thoughts and concerns.

One person I sent Jonathan’s birth announcement to had served as Chaplain to our seminary community that first year of mine at Seabury-Western, while Beth remained in Florida teaching elementary school and planning our wedding. Recently retired from serving as Abbot at St. Gregory’s Abbey in Three Rivers, MI, for umpteen years, Fr. Benedict Reid listened to us seminarians and loved us. He  guided us spiritually through the challenges of transition and seminary life and formation for ordination. He taught us to walk a spiritual path with habits that will shape us.

One of his mantras, no doubt gleaned from years and years of contemplative prayer and reflection, he repeated regularly until we began to fully understand its meaning: Everything is your teacher. “Everything is your teacher,” he would say, meaning that for one who sits in silence and listens and pays attention, we can see the events of our life as “teachable moments” for ourselves. This is completely counter-cultural to life in these United States, and in most branches of Christendom. Silence? Reflection? Contemplation? More reflection? Understanding? Perhaps.

So when Fr. Benedict got our one page announcement of Jonathan’s birth with pulmonary hypertension and Down syndrome, he wrote one of his little postcards and sent it to me from Palm Desert, CA, where he lived then. “You’ve been given a wonderful teacher,” his note said, and in that moment I knew exactly what he meant. That simple reframe, even before Jonathan had left the hospital, made all the difference for us.

For me, the prospect of being a parent seemed frightening and exhilarating at the same time. Little did I know during Beth’s pregnancy just how becoming a father would change me fundamentally, as it changes all parents. Yet, being the parent of a child with a disability magnifies those parenting highs and lows in unique ways. That is, for those parents who are paying attention and those who choose to engage with their child’s disability, living with it always. Not all parents choose to stay together and deal with it when a child is born with a disbility—sad, but true.

Being the youngest of six sons in my family of origin, I never really spent any significant time around infants or small kids. I didn’t know what to expect developmentally as Jonathan grew. I simply loved him for himself, as himself, Down syndrome and all. I didn’t know when he “should” start walking, didn’t know at what point he “should” be talking—I figured Jonathan would do what he could when he could do it. I really didn’t think about what or where he should be on the child  development scale. I just got into him and loved him, played with him, laughed with him, and held no expectations to be any better or different than who he was. And he did the same for me, as his father, and for Beth, as his mother. His love is still as unconditional today as in those very early days of his infancy and childhood. What an incredible gift.

Jonathan helped to change my image of God. The church I grew up in certainly espoused God’s grace and unconditional love, but it also implied conditions and expectations of behavior and belief that, without words, undermined a true understanding and teaching of God’s unconditional love. Maybe you have had a similar experience or upbringing.

Only later, as an adult, did I ever come to recognize the dissonance the teaching of the church of my childhood created in me, in my life of faith, and in my relationship with God. In essence they believed “Even though you don’t deserve it, God’s willing to save you anyway, because God is so nice and great. But he still doesn’t care for the way you behave and you should feel guilty for what you’re becoming,” which to me meant that God didn’t unconditionally love me. Then God gave us Jonathan.

“You’ve been given a wonderful teacher,” Fr. Reid told me. What can a child with Down syndrome teach me? How much God loves me, and then some. Jonathan has taught me that love really is just that: Love. Love doesn’t keep marks or grudges (see 1 Corinthians 13). He taught me that joy should be the natural setting of daily life (Jonathan has got a lot of happy going on throughout his day).

Most of all, he has taught me that love requires presence. We  Americans don’t always get this one right. Sometimes after a long day, it’s easier to veg out in front of the television than to sit down and talk or play a game or read a book at bedtime. But when we make the effort to connect intentionally, boy is Jonathan willing to connect, and laugh, and play—and surprise us with his words sometimes.

Jonathan’s biggest delay is his speech, but every now and then he lets out an utterance that is so profound, or spot on, or funny, you had to be there to appreciate it. And being there requires presence and a willingness to listen. Jonathan has a way of drawing you into his presence, though rarely insistent.

You can already see how my relationship with Jonathan is analogous to and can possibly reframe one’s relationship with God: That God’s love for us truly is without keeping marks or grudges; that joy should be the natural, daily setting in our lives; that love requires mutual presence. God desires our daily presence, just sitting in silence, or contemplative prayer, or in active speech to God. That’s right. Got a beef with God? God already knows how we feel, but God wants us to say it anyway, so God knows WE KNOW what’s going on with us (you may want to do this last bit in private, but say it out loud just the same). God has a way of drawing us into God’s presence, though rarely insistent.

Then there’s his eyes. In Jonathan’s eyes I believe I see an inkling of the deep, profound love God has for me. We could never love another as fully as God loves us, and since I know that Jonathan loves me so deeply, so profoundly, then God must love me in ways I am only beginning to understand.

Likewise, Jonathan has beautiful eyes when he looks at you—at me. Surely God’s eyes for me are no less loving, no less beautiful. Only in profound love does God look upon us, or so I feel.

Yes, in my son, I have indeed been given a wonderful teacher. Thank you, Fr. Abbot.

However, couldn’t the same be said for any child of ours? Any sibling of ours? Our spouse or partner or significant other? Our neighbor? The hungry, the homeless? The least, the last, and the lost? Maybe this way of looking at God’s love reveals to us the true meaning of that line in the Baptismal Covenant: “Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?” That in seeking and serving Christ in them, seeing their eyes, we get a glimpse of God’s love for us? Maybe so. We should sit with that for a while.

For me, that is just one lesson I have learned from my most wonderful teacher, my son, Jonathan.

“Everything is your teacher.” Look around you, friend: We all stand surrounded by wonderful teachers.



Remembering Andrew, Who Loved Us So…

It’s 4:00am, and I’ve been awake for about ninety minutes, my mind replaying the news of twelve hours ago and thinking a lot about Andrew Quattlebaum, who lost his battle with depression on Tuesday. He was 30 years old. Andrew was a former student of mine at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, in Columbia, SC, where between 1996 and 2000 I had the distinct pleasure of serving as school chaplain, and getting to know Andrew and so many other fine young people.

I last heard from Andrew in a Facebook message exchange in December 2013. In fact, as I looked through the history of our messages, he often messaged me around Christmas time. While I haven’t been his chaplain in years, apparently I never left that role for him—he told me as much in his note. So, since I cannot be at the Trustus Theatre on February 22, in Columbia, this is what I would say at his memorial if given the chance:

A reading from the Gospel According to John                                            [15:9-10, 12]

9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love… 12‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

A reading from the Gospel According to Matthew                                    [21:28-31]

28[Jesus said,] ‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” 29He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’

Like many of you, when I received the news of Andrew’s death on Thursday, February 13, it simply didn’t seem possible to me that he could be gone at such a young age, with so much left for him to do, to give, to love.  “What happened? How does this happen?” my unbelieving mind wanted to know.

Through messages with several of you and a phone call with Kent Ureda, I felt heart-broken to learn of his struggles over the past several years, and his battle with the depression that ultimately ended his life. Depression is an illness no less fatal at times than other terminal or inoperable diseases. My heart went out to him—still goes out to him—when I think of the loneliness he must have struggled with these last few months. It simply does not reconcile with the Andrew I knew, that we all knew and loved.

Andrew entered my life as a high school student at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School, as he did for many of his friends. What made him such a memorable and remarkable young man was his demeanor, the way he carried himself. One could see that he truly cared for his classmates and their well-being. He simply loved others, his friends and those whom he met.

Never did I hear him say an unkind word about anyone else; he gave others the benefit of the doubt. He looked for the good in other people, and shared that good with them. His praise for and acceptance of others was genuine and sincere. He had an intellectual curiosity about him that made him a joy to have in the classroom; he also possessed a wicked sense of humor that made him a good friend among his peers. Everybody loved Andrew. We still do.

The thing about students is they graduate, and leave the halls and rooms and chapel that was once under a teacher’s care, under a chaplain’s “cure of souls,” as we in the church used to call our positions of service.  Fortunately for us these days, social media helps us keep in touch more easily with people who have moved or moved on. That is how I stayed in touch with Andrew, and he with me.

This past December, on the day after Christmas, my wife and son and I traveled to Tucson to meet a family whose son was born with Down syndrome in August. Because of certain medical complications, he was still in the hospital, awaiting surgery to attach his esophagus to his stomach. Later that day, I posted a photo of my son Jonathan, a 20-year-old young man with Down syndrome, reading “Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?” to this other little guy with Down syndrome. Jonathan had given him a few children’s books for Christmas, and wanted to read one to him in the hospital. That night, in the comments on the photo, Andrew wrote:

Hope you guys had a great Christmas – you and your family were very much brought up and discussed with my family. Trending topics were, “the true nature of gratitude” and “how much Fr. Dombek” was both a friend and influence. Much love and Merry Christmas.

It was the last I heard from him. But there was Andrew always giving love to others, always seeking a higher place of the heart—I mean, how many 30-year-old men do you know who want to discuss “the true nature of gratitude”? Yet that is totally something Andrew would have wanted to discuss when I knew him in our Columbia days.

When I think of the loneliness Andrew must have struggled with his last few months, I think he would be amazed at the outpouring of grief and love for him that we have shared with one another since news of his death. In a text exchange with Jonathan Raymond, one of Andrew’s high school friends, I wrote

“I don’t think [Andrew] realized how much people loved him… Do any of us really understand that? Isn’t that really [George Bailey’s] dilemma in “It’s A Wonderful Life”? Andrew didn’t realize how much he touched others…”

It’s really true; he loved us so well. His life touched so many. We are all here because we were touched by that love… and to think of him gone, it hurts us so. Did he know how much we loved him? Would that have made a difference? Would he still be here had he known?

This is a hard path to travel, because it presumes we know his struggles. It is easy for us to say, “Maybe he wouldn’t have died if he knew how much we loved him.” But I believe he did know we loved him. I know that I told him how much I admired and loved him, how blessed I was to have him as a student, and now a friend as an adult. I’m sure I’m not unique in that. Over the years, you, too, have said your love for him; expressed your love to him. His death was not because of not being loved by us or knowing that love; his death came as a result of a darkness and inner struggles that we can only imagine.

Not being in his skin, in his circumstances, in his head, I can make no judgments on Andrew’s choices. None of us truly know the pain he struggled with or how it affected him, or what it robbed him of.  This is what death does: it interrupts, disrupts, and breaks our hearts. But death cannot kill love. It can take away a body, but it cannot separate us from love. This is the true power that love has, and it is a power that Andrew practiced. By show of hands, how many of you have a memory wherein Andrew said he loved you? Yes, that’s what I thought. In that love, Andrew has defeated his demons. Love always wins over death.

I began this reflection with two short stories from the Gospels of John and Matthew.  In the John story, Jesus is at the Last Supper with his disciples. He knows his own death is approaching—it seems that a life dedicated to love has a way of being unwelcome in this world. People do not like what Jesus has done and said, and they want to get rid of him. Seeing that his own death is near, what does he do at his final meal with his followers? He asks them to love.

9As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love… 12‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.

This is the kind of life that Andrew lived: a life of love for people, his friends, those whom Andrew just met, and those whom God brought into Andrew’s life so that he could love them. Andrew had unconditional love for others. There was purity about it. In his love, we see how God loves, and that is a holy gift we received from Andrew.

The second story I share for a specific reason: to assure you of Andrew’s acceptance by God. Like always, Jesus told a story to make a point:

‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’

Andrew’s life of faith may not have looked like ours, but it would be unwise for us to say he had no life of faith because of that. Just because Andrew didn’t “do the will of the Father” how others did—worship God the way they worship, express his beliefs they way they express their beliefs—doesn’t mean he didn’t labor in the vineyard. Anyone who loved as unconditionally and wholly as Andrew did certainly labored in this vineyard we call “Life.” In that respect, Andrew did the will of the Father.

In the way that he loved, Andrew kept the new commandment that Jesus gave: “Love one another as I have loved you;” and I believe that will not be taken away from him. God’s grace covers Andrew, and all of us, of this we can be certain. We can all learn from Andrew what it means to live that grace out in one’s life: Death may try to say, “You lose,” but God’s love and grace always says, “No, you win.” By God’s love and grace, Andrew has scored a victory over depression and death.

Years ago, a friend I made when I moved to Greenville, SC, shared a quote with me that I believe speaks to this moment. It comes from the pen of Henri Frédéric Amiel, who was a Swiss philosopher, poet and critic of the 19th century. He wrote:

“Life is short and we have never too much time for gladdening the hearts of those who are traveling the dark journey with us. Oh, be swift to love, make haste to be kind!”

I don’t know if Andrew knew this Amiel quote, but I believed he lived it.  I think he would say, “Yes, that’s what I was doing. That was my experience.”  And all of us who knew him, we tasted that love. We drank deeply from his face, his kind eyes, and his welcoming smile. And wasn’t it sweet while it lasted?

And so, in “the true nature of gratitude,” we give thanks today.  We give thanks for the gift of knowing Andrew as a friend and companion on this journey we have shared. We give thanks for Andrew’s victory over this mortal life, dark journey at times that it is; and we pray that in God’s good time, and by God’s unconditional love and grace, Andrew’s victory may be our victory, as well.


Christ The King sermon–A Soldier’s Story

In the fall of 2001, I attended the College of Preachers at National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  The instructor for our class was the inimitable Rev. Herbert O’Driscoll, of the Anglican Church of Canada, accomplished writer, speaker, and preacher par excellence within the worldwide Church. Sadly, the College of Preachers closed in 2009, a victim of the economic meltdown.

Just arriving in Washington for the event that November Monday was memorable; it was the first day flights were being allowed to land at Regan International airport following the attack on the Pentagon on 9/11, just two months prior. The halls of the terminal were eerily quiet; few shops were open, and soldiers bearing huge weapons were posted every fifty yards of so.

As part of the sessions that week, we participants were to prepare a sermon for an upcoming Sunday, and practice preaching it to our cohort—I chose Christ the King, because then it would be done and I wouldn’t have to worry about it later.

One of O’Driscoll’s sermon styles is that of the “storytelling” type sermon. You simply tell a story, and let the audience discern their own meaning. Someone very famous made a career out of this once. Using some of what we learned, I wrote the following sermon.

I was thrilled when Fr. O’Driscoll agreed to hear it privately in the library early on our last morning together and offer his feedback.  His first words were “I was moved.” He offered other valuable feedback, resulting in what follows.

Though it makes for a rather long post, I offer it to you, too, this Christ the King weekend. Remember, it’s a sermon, nothing more. But even as a story, it is a proclamation, nonetheless. God be with you.

A Sermon from St. James Episcopal Church, Greenville, SC

Christ the King~Year C  25 November 2001
Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46
Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:35-43

A long, long time ago, in a place far, far away, a soldier—in his mid-20’s, and in another country—writes home to his family:

To my most blessed and honorable Father: Peace, good health and prosperity to you, to my beloved mother and sisters, to your brothers and their families who live near you, and to your entire household, whom I miss dearly.

Greetings, from what at times seems like the ends of the earth, both in location and culture. I write to you from Jerusalem, the ancient and holy city of the Hebrew people, the Judeans.

Our company of soldiers set out for Judea nine months ago, just after the summer solstice, on orders of his majesty, the emperor. We have been sent to help keep the peace and to suppress the constant threat of insurrection or open rebellion in this region. It is a miserable assignment, even dangerous in some respects.

For the most part, the Judeans are a peace loving, god-fearing people. They worship one god; a god whom they say has known them since the foundation of the world. Others of their people see us as evil barbarians, occupiers, and attack us in isolated, violent acts. If we are not careful, one can get his throat slit by a bandit. (We have lost three in our company since arriving.)

As you might guess, I’ve already learned a bit of their language. And I have begun to read a little in their sacred writings. I find them fascinating. I know you would, too, father. I also possess your love for knowledge about God and the pursuit of Truth. It is out of that shared love and pursuit that I write you today. I’m sorry I haven’t written sooner. However, I must tell you about something extraordinary that has happened.

I have just now returned to our quarters from an execution—our seventh in as many weeks. I hate this detail. I can’t wait for it to end in just over a month. But this particular execution was unlike any other I have seen, or probably ever will see.

Just before noon today, we crucified three Judeans, two bandits (a murderer and his accomplice), and a most unusual man: a wandering wonder worker from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. Three is a decent number for a crucifixion, easy to handle, usually not too big of a crowd—although the Nazarene attracted a large number of the religious leaders from the local Temple. It seems that many of the people of Jerusalem and the region surrounding Judea had considered this man a prophet of their god.

I first heard about this Nazarene from our kinsman, your nephew Justus, while visiting him on holiday in Capernaum last year. You recall that Justus oversees tax collection in that region. Well, I heard one of his collectors speak often about this certain prophet and his message. At times, this one collector would take a leave of absence and follow the prophet around as he taught and went about doing good.

Father, Justus told me—and he swears it’s true—that this man healed the slave of his neighbor, a centurion in our division. Apparently, the slave was near death with no hope of a cure. The centurion sent word to the prophet saying, “While I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, if you only said the word, even from a distance, I know my slave would be healed.” So he did it; he said the word. Justus said the slave was healed the very hour this man spoke his incantation.

As you can imagine, father, many of the Judean people have followed this wonder working prophet for some time. He traveled and taught throughout Galilee, including both sides of the lake located there. Apparently the people considered him to be someone called Messiah, the “Anointed” or “Chosen One” of their god. I myself have read in their writings that this Messiah would deliver the Judeans from their oppression, that he would bring them into their own kingdom to possess.

However, it seems the religious leaders of the Judeans did not believe that a Nazarene could be god’s chosen one at all. I do not fully understand their reasons for this. It all gets very complicated. Apparently these religious leaders saw this minor prophet as a major threat to their power. I know for a fact that they bribed one of his own followers to betray him. We had heard rumors they wanted us to execute him for treason. And in fact, he was arrested just last night. So much has happened since then; I am still thinking it all through.

This morning, Pontius Pilate, his majesty’s governor here, stated publicly that he could find no reason to crucify him. But to satisfy the crowds (and perhaps gain favor with these Judean religious leaders), Pilate condemned him anyway. You should have heard the crowds, shouting in madness that they wanted him dead. And so, he was brought to us straightway to be crucified.

As I have already told you, a large crowd came out to see it. Some were his followers—mostly women, for the men of his group feared arrest and similar punishment. Some in the crowd were the religious leaders themselves, and others, just curious bystanders, the kind we always get who like to come to crucifixions. In an unusual move, the whole of our company mustered out to Golgotha, a hill just outside the city wall of Jerusalem. Pilate sent us all to keep the peace if a riot broke out, or in case of a rescue attempt. But that really wasn’t a possibility.

I hate to put it like this, but I think that most of the human refuse that we kill or crucify makes the empire a better place in the long run—at least we hope it does. But this man, he was different. He was truly a good man.

It’s dangerous for me to say it, father, but I believe he was an innocent man—innocent of the charges brought against him, at least. And while I could get in trouble for thinking this, I also don’t believe he deserved to die. He spoke and acted like no other man that I have ever seen in any temple or religious shrine or school. And you, of all people, know that I have attended or visited countless houses of worship and shrines and schools all across the Roman Empire.

You would have loved him, father. And I know that you would have loved to hear him speak. I hesitate to admit this, but on my off days over the past few weeks I would attempt to disguise myself and go out to the nearby villages and towns to hear him teach and speak. It was dangerous for me to do that, but I found him irresistible, and likeable; and so loving and wise. He could really tell a great story. He taught by telling stories, leaving the listener to discern his meaning. It was brilliant, really. He was amazing.

Well, the time came for his crucifixion. Once we got his cross piece settled on the upright, the crowd started its usual scene. Every crowd does it: they deride and mock the condemned. For this one, they taunted, “He saved others, let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the chosen one!”

Governor Pilate then did something I had never seen before. He usually stays out of these things, and lets us go about our business unfettered; but for the Nazarene he placed a plaque above his head. And the plaque said, “This is the King of the Jews.”

Some of our own company of soldiers also mocked him, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” they cried. I felt so ashamed of their behavior, for they did not know him like I knew him. If only they had known him, I think they wouldn’t have said those things. I remained silent.

Then a truly remarkable thing happened—I have never seen anything like this! One of the two bandits being executed beside him, one of these filthy, guilty swine, he started to mock him. This murderer of Roman soldiers yells at him, “If you are the Messiah, save yourself and us!”—as if he had done nothing wrong, and the prophet was the guilty one being crucified!

But then, from the other side of him, for the Nazarene was crucified between the two, the other bandit begins to defend him. We can’t believe our eyes, or our ears!  Out of his own anguish, this second bandit says to the other, “Shut up, you! We have been justly condemned, and are getting what we deserve; but this man”—and he nods towards the Nazarene—“this man has done nothing wrong!”

Then this second bandit said a strange thing, father, an eerie thing. Turning his head to the center cross, looking at him, he spoke—quietly, pleadingly—“Jesus,” for that was his name, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Somehow, in his final moments of life, this bandit saw something in this man that changed him, his outlook, even while death by suffocation beckoned him. He—how do I say it?—he placed his hope on this mystical stranger, whom he only just met, I presume.

After a long silence (for he was beginning to slip away), with a very great effort, and while in unimaginable pain, he answered the second bandit, saying, “I swear to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” And in a moment, his chin dropped to his chest, and he died.  When all three were finally dead, our detachment left. The birds and wild animals take care of the corpses, if no one clams them. It’s rare that anyone does, the shame of such a death.

For the past many hours, I have been thinking about all this, trying to understand what I witnessed. I’m especially trying to figure out what changed in this bandit for him to say what he did. And sitting here, recalling all that happened before our eyes on that horrible hill overlooking the city, I remembered it—I remembered something else the Nazarene had said.

It occurred while we were nailing his hands to the wooden cross piece. Usually the condemned scream out at this point and utter all manner of curses and blasphemies. But not him. While we were holding him and driving in the nails (I say we, but I was actually doing it, I wanted it done as cleanly and swiftly as possible), he muttered something. I shall never forget it. I don’t think anyone else heard it, just those of us around him at the time.

He kept on repeating—“Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they’re doing. Father, forgive them, they don’t know…Father, forgive them…” over and over again until he was firmly fastened to the beam. Then he stopped saying it.

Even now it comes to me as I write it. I remember looking up and seeing the second bandit—in silence, and terror, and disbelief, he had watched us do this, but he had also heard that prayer of forgiveness from the prophet. It must have profoundly affected him—somehow, something in that absolution pronounced on us also gave him hope.

At the time, I felt terrified, father, unsure of what I had just done and seen. Yet looking back on it now, I think I am beginning to understand what the bandit saw in the Nazarene when he looked over at that center cross.

We soldiers can take life from a man, and do it, often; but we cannot touch the life that dwells within someone. In some strange way, I believe this Jesus gave people—a life within. Yes, that’s how to say it. Jesus gave people a life. It is a life that surpasses social and economic barriers, religious and national allegiances. It is a life that can only come from this God of his, a life that changes one from within.

This death was the most disturbing and fascinating death that I have ever seen, father, and I shall never forget it.

I’ve gone on too long. There is much more about this man that I wish to discuss with you, but will save it for when I see you again face to face this winter. And we should talk more about it later, after you get your letter from your nephew, my cousin, Luke. I told him all that I have told you now, and he has been very quietly documenting many other things for you concerning this prophet and teacher. He knows of your great interest in matters like these, and also he sends his greetings to you.

I must close now. May God, this God of Jesus, bring peace to you, father, and to mother and my sisters. And may the God of Jesus bring peace to all those who follow and believe in him and have his life in them. Even though he is now dead, in a way, he is not really dead at all. He’s not dead in my memory, anyway.

Blessings from your son, who proudly bears your name,


Ps.  One last thing, which only comes to me now: In that paradise which he promised the bandit—in some way—I believe Jesus now, indeed, reigns as a king, far outside the reach of the Roman Empire. It is the Kingdom of God that he spoke of often, which, somehow, in itself begins in and exists in the hearts of human beings, the manifestation of this life he instills within his followers.

And while I thought I was going to another routine execution—which it was—in some strange way, and I can’t quite explain it, I believe it also turned out to be… a coronation.


Have You Seen My Invisible Son?

Like many men and women of my generation, I grew up nurturing my funny bone on the brilliant comedy of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. In pre-cable television times Monty Python aired late weekend nights mostly on public TV channels. I remember one routine in particular: “Interesting People” a sketch that featured an ingratiating and oily talk show host, played by Michael Palin. Guests on this particular episode of “Interesting People” included a boringly dressed man who spoke only in a monotone, droning voice (played by Eric Idle) who claims he is totally invisible. That’s right. Invisible.

During the sketch, as his very visible guest speaks, Michael Palin, the show’s host, begins to fidget nervously realizing that he’s invited the most boring man ever on a program entitled “Interesting People.” Panicked, Palin tries to bring on the next guest, but Eric Idle drones on, boringly, plodding, tone unchanged, and thereby, he becomes invisible, in that, eventually, no one sees him or notices him any more: not the talk show host, the studio audience, nor the viewers. He has disappeared! and is heard only as a droning voice now, having become invisible to the television camera eye, as well.

You may see this as only a skit from one of the most popular British comedy troupes of all time. However, I have seen this happen with my own eyes, more than once, on many, many occasions, because my son, too, is invisible. You see, my son’s a great guy, a really sharp young man who happens to have Down syndrome.

Those of you who know our son, Jonathan, may object because you do see him: When he acolytes at church; when he bobs and weaves while walking with us, big smiling face as he walks; whenever we go out and about with him. But for much of his life it is as if he is invisible because few people—if any—interact with him for any length of time, for anything more than polite pleasantries.

True, when people greet Jonathan he usually says “hello” back, and usually it ends right there. After that, not too much conversation with him takes place. He sits or stands with us, near us, wherever we may go. But few people actually converse with him spontaneously as they would you or me. Not enough people, anyway.

Of course, it’s his fault. I mean, he doesn’t speak clearly enough to be heard or understood, really.  And it’s his fault because he doesn’t make much of an effort, either, because he can’t help it. He cannot easily talk. It’s tempting to say: “You’ve got to speak up if you want to be heard, to be noticed, to make friends. A person’s got to put themselves out there to make a mark, make a name for themselves.”

But what if that’s exactly what you cannot do because of a disability? Many, many people with Down syndrome are talkative, out-going, and Down-right funny—pun fully intended. I personally know two young men with Down syndrome who could talk your ears off if you got them started, and you’d enjoy having that conversation for all the ground you would cover. Some people, however, do not have that gift, or in the case of Jonathan, that ability.

Speech has been Jonathan’s biggest delay in life.  Jonathan has had some form of speech therapy all of his years, and we have seen him make good improvements. Yet even those improvements leave him way behind his peers. The gap is huge. It is a struggle for him to verbally compose sentences. You see, he knows that he can get his meaning across to us, his parents, with a word or two. Yet we are constantly saying to him, “How about a sentence?” Only then will he come up with one. You can easily see the impact that this type of speech delay would have on his socialization with peers.

Most young people Jonathan’s age simply do not want to work that hard at communicating with someone if they’re going to be friends with that person, they just don’t. Quick judgments get made and kids don’t have the desire or interest in making an effort to get to know Jonathan; “What possible benefit is going to come to me if I do that?” Unfortunately, most all of Jonathan’s peers—at school and at church—have chosen not to make that effort, either consciously or unconsciously, in a fraction of a second. They see him, see what’s going on with him, and decide against knowing him. Snap. Just like that, in a second or less—with very few exceptions, Jonathan has become invisible.

Since moving to Phoenix, Jonathan has one peer-aged friend—to all others in his life, Jonathan is the invisible man. He enjoys older adults and their company, because usually they’re hanging out with Beth and me, and they make the effort and take the time to talk to him. His speech therapist gets a lot of speech out of him, but he’s paid to do that. Respite caregivers have the training and skill set and interest to talk with him. But again, they’re paid to do that. Recently we read in a Kathie Snow newsletter that the number one need parents of children with disabilities have is genuine friends—peers—for their children. Too often the only or best friends our kids have are people who are paid to be with them. How would you like that?

It hasn’t always been this way for Jonathan. When we lived in Greenville, SC, one family in our congregation had two girls, one on either side age-wise of Jonathan. These girls didn’t care that Jonathan had Down syndrome; they didn’t care that Jonathan didn’t talk much or was hard to understand. They didn’t care what their friends thought of them for having Jonathan as their friend. They wanted to be Jonathan’s friend. He was for them the brother they were never going to have, and they just loved loving on him and his loving them back. Wonder of wonders.

Sure, sometimes it was “your guess is as good as mine” as to what Jonathan might have been saying, but those times lessened and finally disappeared. It’s amazing how the human brain can pull meaning out of difficult speech if we make an effort, if we listen with the heart first, if we just look at someone’s eyes and listen deep within. And let me tell you, Jonathan has beautiful eyes. And those eyes open up into a beautiful soul, a person with deep love and caring, who is fun and funny and delightful to be around. Krysta and Anna knew that Jonathan. No one has known him like that since we left for Arizona.

Jonathan is not the only invisible person in this world, or even near you. I promise that if you begin to look around you, you will see others. The best way to spot invisible people is first by growing silent within yourself, and then in that silence, start to look around you in all areas of your life: Work or near where you work; in the place where you shop, or entertain yourself, or near where you live, your neighborhood; your school, your church. Trust me, you will see others. They may not have a disability like Jonathan does, but they are invisible, nonetheless.

Jesus always saw invisible people and reached out to them. He touched them, often making himself ritually unclean in the process: the woman with the twelve-year flow of blood; Zacchaeus; the Syrophoenician woman; the blind man whom he healed with spittle made mud; the Samaritan woman at the well; the Gerasene demoniac. This is an incomplete list. He saw these men and women, whom their neighbors did not see or chose not to see, and in seeing them he touched their deepest humanity, their sense of self. He touched them because he saw their humanity bound up with his humanity, and honoring their humanity broadened his own humanity, his heart, his compassion, his love of neighbor. This kind of loving action towards others still expands each of us as it did Jesus and countless others. It is the road less traveled.

It is risky to do this. You will have to enter your uncomfortable zone for a while, but only a while. The more you do something you’re not used to doing, the easier it becomes. Seneca once said, “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.” The rewards that await you far outweigh the risks involved. The other risk is that being friends with people whom society treats as “invisible” might change you in ways unexpected, surprising and holy. What a gift.

So what about you? Monty Python’s Flying Circus aside, tell me: Have you seen an Invisible One? Have you seen—truly seen—my invisible son?

Detour Company Theatre

One Way To Do It, Among Others

[This post also appeared as an ePistle of The Episcopal Diocese of Arizona, May 25, 2012]

Last Sunday, May 20, 2012, the Sunday after the Ascension, in the Gospel reading from John, Jesus prayed for his disciples—us included—acknowledging that while “they are in the world… they do not belong to the world.”  In our weekly staff meeting on Wednesday mornings at diocesan house, Bishop Smith always challenges those of us who will be preaching the following Sunday to not only talk about “what” the Gospel calls us to do, but to answer the silent question that pervades the minds of people in the pews: “Tell me ‘how’ I am to go about doing what the Gospel calls me to do? Give me an example of how.”

Taking this to heart, last Sunday I was honored to be the guest preacher at Trinity Cathedral in Portland, OR, and I felt called to preach about being “in the world… but not of the world.” Rather than offer a list of moral imperatives, “Do this… Don’t do that,” figuring that would not be useful, I opted instead to tell a story, a story of one way we can be in the world, but not of the world. In my sermon last Sunday, I told the story of a friend of mine (and of so many others in this diocese) who does just that, by the way she lives and serves from her strengths and passion, the way Jesus calls us to serve.

Sam is a mom, widowed about a year ago, and guardian of her thirtysomething son who has intellectual disabilities. Twelve years ago, Sam had this idea. Sam teaches theater at Phoenix College, and she wanted to create a way of doing theater that would include people with disabilities, because—as she repeats like a mantra: “The Arts should be accessible to everyone.” So Sam created Detour Company Theatre, an award-winning, Phoenix based acting troupe for adults with disabilities. For the past twelve years, Sam and the actors of DCT have been providing wonderful theater performances in which all the lead roles and other principal actors are persons with disabilities. Some non-disabled persons appear on the stage, but they only function as extras in the performance, to help support the singing a little, and serve as coaches to provide a little help (or a reminder) to any actor who needs it, in getting to their place on time and on cue.

What’s so great about Detour Company Theatre is that it makes people who often are invisible in our society VERY visible—in fact, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the production without them. Sometimes in our culture and in our world we don’t see people with disabilities; oh, we may see them, but only to look past them onto someone else more interesting, or we see them in order to not run into them, but often we don’t “see them,” as in see them to notice them, or experience them as human beings, only different. So Sam (a lifelong, active Episcopalian) has taken this idea of Detour Company Theatre and has introduced all these wonderful people with disabilities to the people of Phoenix and its surrounding communities.

For the past three years my son Jonathan, an eighteen year old young man with Down syndrome, has acted in DCT. When he first started, being the then youngest member of the troupe, he got all the “little brother roles”: Winthrop in “Music Man,” Randolph in “Bye, Bye Birdie,” and Benjamin in “Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”  With every performance, his acting skills improve, little by little. While the acting and singing of a DCT performance is indeed a miracle, the real miracle occurs in the audience. In truly seeing (perhaps for the first time) these people with disabilities performing on the stage—for two hours or so, impossible to ignore—the miracle occurs, and “something like scales falls from [their] eyes” and sight is restored, the heart is lifted to a new height, and a mind is stretched a little further never to snap back to its original shape. I think it is impossible to attend a Detour Company Theatre performance and not be moved in the deepest part of your being.

In this, Sam is doing what she sees Jesus doing; including the marginalized, bringing in the outcast, welcoming the stranger, the lonely, and ignored of our generation. Loves pervades it all. And to me, that is one way of being in the world, but not belonging to the world. Because we know how the world wants to treat people with disabilities; Detour Company Theatre says otherwise. Just like Jesus says otherwise.

The most encouraging thing we need to remember is that Jesus prays for us, prays for our success at this. When we step out in faith and courage to do what seems an impossible thing—be in the world, but not of the world—Jesus prays for us. I’m thinking the prayers of Jesus probably have a good chance of getting answered, so we should just move forward with confidence that Jesus stands with us, no matter how crazy things might get. Jesus prays for us, prays for us to be like him.

So there you have an example of being in the world, but not of the world. This is one way to do it, among others.

Take heart and have courage to allow the Spirit this season of Pentecost to guide you into your unique way of being in the world, but not of it, as it has Sam and so many, many others. God bless you in you efforts.

(By the way, the next Detour Company Theatre performance will be Rogers and Hammerstein’s “South Pacific,” on  June 15, 16, and 17, at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts; admission is on a donation basis. For more information, go to the Detour Company Theatre website. See you there!)

Detour Company Theatre R-Word Take The Pledge R-Word

Sorry To Have Let You Down, Jonathan

“For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do…” Romans 7:19

Nothing feels more frustrating than realizing that I didn’t do something I should have done, and in this case, I really knew I should have said something, but didn’t. The reasons for not saying something do not matter, nor do they outweigh the reason why I should have said something. I just know now that I didn’t say anything and I really wish that I had. And I pray for the chance to redeem the thing I “have left undone.”

You may think this is nothing, and that’s OK. I respect that; you can feel the way you want to about this, that’s your prerogative. But I know better, and have responded well in situations like this before. Except last Saturday.

We were standing in our places at our seats, getting ready to deplane from our American Airlines flight in Miami, on our way to visit Jonathan’s grandmother in Florida. On board with us since our departure from Phoenix Sky Harbor International airport–amid a nearly full plane—was a group of high school aged young people and their adult chaperones on their way to the Dominican Republic, part of a short-term mission team.

What a great time I hope they have on their mission; my participation on a short-term mission team in 1976 literally changed my life and, ultimately, my life’s direction, and for that I am eternally grateful. About 30 kids and adults comprised this team, and they were so excited to be going. Love and energy radiated from them and warmed the hearts of the people around them on board.

So what happened that has me so upset with myself? As I said, we had arrived in Miami, pulled into the gate, the seat belt lights went off and we all stood, gathering our things as we prepared for departure from the plane. A few of these vibrant, happy, Christian teenagers were seated right behind us and they began to talk excitedly about things, and I happened to hear one of these young people use the word “retarded” in a sentence as a synonym for “stupid.” And, remarkably, I didn’t say anything to them.

Ever since the birth of our son Jonathan, who has Down Syndrome, Beth and I have been vigilant in not using the word retarded as a synonym for “stupid,” and have been sharing this idea, based on respect and common courtesy for all persons with developmental delays, with everyone we know, and sometimes with people we don’t know but have used the word that way in our earshot. Frankly, I have become pretty adept at addressing this issue with friends of friends or with total strangers and so it wasn’t out of fear that I didn’t do it. I just didn’t hear it a second time. Usually, I give a person the benefit of the doubt on the first time. So I thought to myself, “If I hear it again, I’ll say something.” But I didn’t hear it again. I didn’t hear it again.

Later, as we wandered into the terminal looking for our connecting gate and a place to eat, Beth looked at me in amazement: I can’t believe you didn’t say something to those kids. I said, I didn’t hear them say retarded except once. Beth: Are you kidding? I heard at least three other times, including twice within ten seconds.

Now you may ask, why didn’t Beth say something to them, but I don’t speak for Beth and perhaps she doesn’t raise this with complete strangers—she is, after all, a little more introverted than I am introverted. (I’ve been working on being less introverted.) Anyway, I didn’t hear them. And frankly, I really should have said something the first time.

Being that they were going on a mission trip, I could have tied my comments in after opening a conversation on partnering in God’s work with people in a different culture and social context, but no less created in the image of God. From there, the connection with people with disabilities is simple—they, too, are created in the image of God, just like we are, and are fully and completely loved by God and complete in and of themselves, just as we are.

From there, I would have asked: So, if I may ask, what do you think the word “retarded” means? Believe it or not, many young people think it means “stupid, incompetent, unbelievably dumb.” Sometimes they say worse; I’ve heard a young person in Dallas describe “retarded” as worse. Then I talk about my son, Jonathan, who has Down Syndrome—and here most young people talk about someone they know with Down Syndrome, whom they really like and usually talk glowingly about. In this case, Jonathan was seated less then four feet away, and I would have introduced him to them, and they would have loved him I’m sure .

After that, gently and carefully, I explain that retarded actually means “delayed,” not stupid. Usually at this point I do a little (OK, maybe a lot) of bragging about all the things Jonathan does that shows he’s not stupid, but I reiterate that he does have developmental delays, and in that respect, his development is delayed, is retarded—but he is NOT stupid. Retarded never means stupid.

I do this never to embarrass or shame the person who used the word improperly, but I do it for two reasons: one, to stop the misuse of the word “retarded.” Families of persons who have developmental delays, and many persons living with disabilities themselves, cringe at the misuse of this word—it is offensive to us and them to use “retarded” as a synonym for stupid. And it is sin; it treats people with disabilities as a second class of human beings, not on the same scale of people not diagnosed with any disability—yet. Nothing could be further from God’s truth. That’s the second reason I speak up.

The first reason I call people on the misuse of “retarded” is to stand up for my son Jonathan and to advocate for him in this world. As you will see in this powerful PSA, this is not acceptable any longer. You see, I want and believe in the possibility a world that includes everyone: male, female, gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, [fill in the blank], French, American (both North and South American), Arab, Chinese, Japanese—do you get the picture?—and people with abilities and those with disabilities. All of us have been created in the image of God, and are no less loved by God. All of us. No exceptions.

The only R-Word we need to use regarding people with disabilities is “respect.” And it is out of respect for my son that I speak up for him when I hear people using “retarded” inappropriately. Except for last Saturday. Last Saturday, I let Jonathan down. I let my friends in Detour Company Theatre down. I let all persons who live with developmental delays down, and for that I am sorry. In the future, I promise to do better.

But today, I have to live with my decision to say nothing. And saying nothing in the face of disrespect is what keeps disrespected persons beneath other persons, anywhere such judgments are made, where such oppression is carried out or takes place. Oppression of any human being keeps all human beings oppressed—especially the one doing the oppressing. This is what drove the non-violent actions of Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and even Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela in South Africa. “Let’s free both the oppressor and the oppressed!”

Today I live with my non-action and the feeling of letting Jonathan and so many others down. And I pray for the opportunity to redeem myself. Don’t worry, for it is a fact of life right now that my opportunity will come far sooner than I would like. My hope is that one day I will never have to bring it up with anyone again because I don’t hear anyone misusing “retarded” again. And I hope you will join Beth and Jonathan and me in our efforts to create a world that works for everyone, especially those who do not have a voice to speak up for themselves, or don’t get listened to even if they do.

In the meantime, Jonathan, I am sorry to have let you down. In the future, I promise to do better if it happens again. I promise.


How The Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY, Kills Faith

While looking through past sermons to see what I’ve said before on a particular text, I stumbled across this sermon that I preached a little over three years ago. In the hopes that it might turn up in someone’s search engine, let’s see if we can’t shed a little light on the so-called Creation Museum and reveal what it really does: put faith to death. This sermon was originally preached at St. James Episcopal Church, in Greenville, SC.

Trinity Sunday Year C
3 June 2007
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31, Canticle 13
Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

This past week marked the opening of a uniquely American venture: The Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY. According to an ABC News Online article, “The museum is intended to convince visitors that [the scientific theory of] evolution is wrong and that the biblical story of life on earth from Adam and Eve to Noah’s ark is scientifically verifiable. The museum depicts Adam living with animals, including a dinosaur.” Science has said it is impossible that humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time.

Designed by the same person who designed many of the theme parks for Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida, the $27 million dollar edifice contains animatronic dinosaurs, a movie theater with seats that rumble, and high-tech exhibits that depict a two-story section of Noah’s Ark which has a dinosaur on board, that the Grand Canyon took only a few days to form as a result of Noah’s Flood, and that Cain married his sister to people the earth.

The goal of the museum is to challenge the prevailing scientific view of the earth’s origins that, according to Answers in Genesis president and founder, Ken Ham, threaten the faith of Christians, and that have brought about social ills such as abortion and pornography.

A recent ABC News poll revealed that sixty percent of Americans believe that God created the earth and all that is in it within the last 10,000 years. It matters not that it only takes eight minutes for light from the sun to strike the earth, while it took one million years for the energy we see as sunlight to move from the center of the sun where it is generated to the surface of the sun where it is radiated, because the Bible, they claim, reveals that the world could not possibly be more than 10,000 years old.

Scientific findings say that the first homo sapiens entered the geologic calendar somewhere between 400 to 200 thousand years ago, and bones have been found to support this data. Fundamentalists claim carbon dating of bones is flawed. And on and on and on it goes, where it stops, nobody knows.

Tempting as it is to stand here and having set-up an easy target, take numerous pot shots at it, I don’t think that serves anybody well. The battle between modernity and the infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible as presented by the fundamentalist movement is about or just a little over one hundred years old in America. Having grown up in a religious home and church environment that held these views as precious truths, I have some empathy for the people who hold them, even though I no longer feel sympathetic toward their views.

In the New Testament, I simply never see Jesus ridiculing someone for their beliefs; but I do see Jesus often challenging self-satisfied beliefs, challenging unjust, tyrannical systems that hold people down, beliefs that hold people hostage figuratively or literally, or beliefs that some people are less than human.

The people who’ve built this museum for their particular set of beliefs would probably claim that they are following the example of Jesus, in challenging the smug certainty of evolution and its God-less lack of any moral absolutes. To the contrary, however, it is two statements made in the media that I, as a minister of the Gospel in a church of mainstream Christian tradition, wish to challenge.

In the ABC News story, we read, “’In an evolutionary world view, why should you have things like absolute morality? Why would it be wrong to kill someone?’ said Jason Lisle, of Answers in Genesis. ‘I’m not saying that evolutionists aren’t moral. I’m saying they have no reason to be moral.’”

Though Jean Baptiste de Lamarck in 1801 first espoused some ideas that we would recognize today as suggesting a kind of evolution of a species, it is with the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin’s Origins of the Species that we typically mark as the beginning of “an evolutionary world view.” Did you know that Darwin was set to be an Anglican clergyman until he was invited onto the HMS Beagle for its five-year botanical mission? After returning home and publishing his books, I seriously doubt he abandoned his sense of morality. I doubt he killed anyone, though his critics would claim that he wished to kill trust in the Holy Scriptures.

And for centuries and millennia before Darwin, even before the construction of the Bible from widely different sources of over thousands of years—history, poetry, oral stories passed down for generations, and even personal letters—there have been ethical systems and moral people walking the planet, seeing good in others and treating others well, whether they believed in God, and especially Christianity’s God, or not.

To claim that just because someone assents to the theory of evolution as a plausible explanation for the varieties of life on the planet and in the fossil record “they [now] have no reason to be moral” taxes the limits of human logic and reason–two qualities of “wisdom,” which is itself praised by the Bible in the Proverbs lesson today.

Even in the earliest days of the church, the ethical systems of Aristotle and Plato had much to contribute to the development of the Church’s fledgling theology. Augustine and Aquinas (much later) simply Christianized it, yet it didn’t begin with them, but with the Greeks, years before Jesus of Nazareth walked the planet and before the idea of the Bible was ever conceived.

It is ludicrous to suggest that someone who acknowledges the theory of evolution would then have no reason to love his or her spouse or remain faithful to her or him, to continue to love one’s children, or have any moral reason to resist the urge to kill someone.

But more puzzling for me on this Trinity Sunday, the Sunday on which we honor our Trinitarian experience of God, is a second claim made in this news story. To quote the article once more: “The group running the museum says there are two audiences they hope to reach: Christians who need scientific proof that their beliefs are true and non-Christians who need to be saved.”

I can only guess as to whether the Answers in Genesis group would consider anyone who did not hold their particular views about the Bible and evolution as non-Christian; I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case. When one is convinced of one’s own absolute certainty about something, all dissenters get labeled as heretics or “the great unwashed.” But the claim regarding the first audience they hope to reach troubles me more: “Christians who need scientific proof that their beliefs are true.”

As I understand it, if one proves something beyond doubt, there is no need for any faith concerning it. In the Bible, faith is defined in the Letter to the Hebrews as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Things hoped for; evidence unseen.

One cannot be certain in something that is hoped for; for example: I have faith that the Chicago Cubs are going to win the World Series someday in my lifetime. I have absolutely no evidence to support this notion, but I certainly hope for it: in a sense, it is a faith statement regarding a lightweight, trivial matter, not to be confused with the serious faith claims of organized religion.

Persons of faith do not need scientific proof that their beliefs are true. By definition, matters of faith are matters beyond things that can be proven; faith is the decision to hold things as true for you without any proof. One simply chooses to accept it as so, on faith. To attempt to prove an article of faith is to effectively kill it as an article of faith; one doesn’t have faith in things that can be proven.

It surprises me that people who hold the scriptures as literally true seem to collectively forget this first verse of Hebrews, chapter 11. So it seems that the Creation Museum in Petersburg, KY, not only sacrifices the disciplines of good science, but it also sacrifices the concept of genuine faith. What motive actually lies behind this faith-killing effort?

After more than a decade of thinking on, and reading about, and discussing this topic, it seems to me that it is fear that drives this effort. Fear that if something in the Bible isn’t true, even scientifically true, then nothing else in the Bible could be considered reliable, either. “If you can’t depend on all of it, then you can’t depend on any of it.” This is how the domino effect argument goes, also known as the fallacy of the slippery slope. It is a logical fallacy; it does not necessarily follow that if one thing in the Bible is not factually true, then all things in the Bible are untrue.

Ultimately, I see this $27 million effort to prove religious faith as exemplary of a belief in a rather small god, a domesticated god, if you will; a god who has allegedly put the totality of all possible truth and knowledge into one book, which is claimed to have no possibility of error or contradiction, and in some respects has been elevated to the status of a god itself. I see fundamentalism as a form of idolatry, where the unbiblical worship of the text itself is more important than the message of the text.

It is a fear that God could be killed by science (as if), that God needs us to defend these essential truths, which must be treated the same way one treats the truths of mathematics or physics. It is a fear that without our efforts to support the text as inerrant, the entire edifice and structure of faith will come crashing down, a victim of the Enlightenment and its dastardly weapons of science and reason.

And so, a relationship with the text of the Bible has been substituted for a relationship with the living, Creator God to whom the Bible points.

Today, we observe Trinity Sunday, a doctrine of the church that attempts to explain that which is really beyond explaining. We humans may call God “Trinity,” but that is solely for our benefit, to help us grasp the multivalent encounters with God that humankind has recorded in Holy Scripture. The Trinity is not a total description or explanation of God. Some aspects of God remain a mystery to us in this life; but Trinity is enough for now. It is enough for us to know God personally, as well as transcendently and even sacramentally.

The Creation Museum has forgotten that certainty does not drive out fear; in matters of faith, what drives out fear is love. To follow Jesus is to love as he taught us and showed us how to love, not to worship or believe in the Bible as a substitute for loving. To follow Jesus is to attempt to do the things he did, and even greater things than he did, motivated by our love for God and love for our neighbor.

I have on the desktop of my computer at home a slide show of pictures taken of deep space by the Hubble Space telescope. They are absolutely awe-inspiring photos to me; I am dumb-founded by the beauty and vastness of the universe, its age, its order out of chaos, and—I hope and presume—its continued creation of colorful stars, gasses, dust and planets.

To ponder this incredible, ancient, too marvelous for words creation, wrought by the power of God through the forces of evolution, of billions and billions of years of existence and constant change, it brings to mind the words of the psalmist in praise to God found in Psalm 8:

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, *
the moon and the stars you have set in their courses,
What is man that you should be mindful of him? *
the son of man that you should seek him out?
You have made him but little lower than the angels; *
you adorn him with glory and honor…
O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted is your Name in all the world!

To live in the world as one created in the image of God, as all human beings are, is to embrace my role and part as a co-creator with God in this life. God even allows us complete and total freewill to either choose to extend the grace of God in my creations of love toward others, or to choose my own desiring, and miss the mark when I do less than what God desires for me to do.

Still, this ever-creating God blesses our best efforts and redeems our worst ones, all the time wooing us to choose the better, to aim higher, to dare to do a great thing in God’s eyes, and not be afraid of human opinion or consequence.

I find the Bible becomes even more real, more truthful and meaningful to me when I see that it reflects the fallibility and errors of the human lives that struggled to record their ineffable encounters with the Holy Trinity—words typically escape us in those encounters. But what we have in Holy Scripture is enough; Scripture has stood and will continue to stand the test of time.

I can see myself better in its pages when those pages are smudged with the fingerprints of human frailty, yet reveal a heart which still pursues the Holy One in Three. I find that it fosters greater faith in me when biblical truth resonates within me as an experience of faith and hope, rather than as a “fact” that I can either take or leave.

So, I am saddened by the opening of the Creation Museum, in Petersburg, KY; saddened that some people prefer the comfort and certainty of so-called “facts” to the vibrancy of a child-like trust in God when we embrace faith and hope and love.

Perhaps one day, when we all get to heaven—evolutionists and creationists alike—and gain that clear understanding that Paul says we shall have instead of this lifetime of looking in a dim and poor mirror image, perhaps then we shall see and understand what God had in mind for the universe, Creation and evolution, for us as co-creating humankind, made in God’s image, and for the Holy Scriptures themselves.

Perhaps we shall all be as dumb-founded and awe-filled then as we are now when looking at photos from the deepest reaches of space, beholding the majesty, beauty and wonder of God’s glorious, ever-evolving, ever-loving Created Order.

O Lord our Governor, *
how exalted, indeed, is your Name in all the Universe!

Asilomar banned books Episcopal Diocese of El Camino Real John Steinbeck Monterey Bay Salinas The Grapes Of Wrath

Breathing John Steinbeck

Last month, March 2010, at the invitation of the Episcopal Diocese of Diocese of El Camino Real, I had the privilege of traveling to the Monterey peninsula of California, to present to the members of the clergy and laity the Stewardship University educational program that I created in Arizona to help increase the effectiveness of stewardship programs in congregations. If you have never been there, the Monterey Bay area should be high on one’s travel wish list. It is stunningly beautiful, has many things to see and do, and possesses a rich history to go along with its world famous aquarium and its world class and unique, little golf course: Pebble Beach.

The offices for the DECR are shared with one of its Latino congregations and are located at Seaside, in the facilities of an old church–they’re really quite lovely in a humble sort of way, as are most of the towns in that area: Monterey, Seaside, Carmel-by-the-Sea, and Pacific Grove. You also ought to visit Asilomar if at all possible, or even stay there, as it is truly one of the State of California’s most unique and affordable resorts.

If anyone has paid any attention at all to American literature in the last century, you really cannot avoid encountering the spirit of Pulitzer Prize winner and Nobel laureate John Steinbeck as you walk along Cannery Row or visit the farmlands in nearby Salinas or Spreckles. The stewardship program that particular Saturday actually took place at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Salinas where it so happens the Steinbeck family were members. The church was in a different location then, in the early part of the 20th century, but it has a display case marking the membership of its most famous parishioner, including photos of the young John as a Sunday school student and serving as an acolyte–though in that photo he appears to be reading his service leaflet, or did he have a book tucked inside?

Salinas and its surrounding region is often called America’s Salad Bowl, as much of its produce is lettuce, fruits and countless other vegetables. The dirt is rich and black, the land flat or gently rolling surrounded by beautiful hills–it is a farming paradise, if not mecca. For a guy who grew up in a farming county in an agricultural state (Indiana), seeing the soil got me excited–I have been living among red clay and brown sandy soils for over 12 years now. Truly, the dirt was so rich and black you could smell the organic matter in it. That may not smell like much to some people but it smells like money to a farmer.

It was also not lost on me that this was the land of Cesar Chavez, who organized farm labor in the 70’s, creating the United Farm Workers union in the process, which in large part ended the kind of abuse of migrant workers that Steinbeck wrote about in much of his literature, most notably The Grapes of Wrath.

The Grapes of Wrath
. While I was in Salinas, I realized I had never actually READ John Steinbeck. A week later, having dinner with some friends in Oak Creek Village, near Sedona, Arizona, I shared this tidbit, that I had visited the Monterey peninsula and the Salinas Valley, blah, blah, blah, and that I had never read John Steinbeck.

“How is that possible?” my friend asked me, stunned at this gap in my literary education (good thing she didn’t ask about William Shakespeare!). Tell you the truth, I didn’t know why. I really had no answer for that. Until now.

Since I realized that I hadn’t read John Steinbeck, it occurred to me that this was a temporary problem. So I checked out The Grapes of Wrath on CD and began listening to it (“reading it”) while I traveled about in my car (I do this all the time; it makes total sense when you drive as much as I do.)

First of all, The Grapes of Wrath is a remarkable work, filled with sweeping passages, characters and ideas, if not ideals. And it is filled with meanness, treachery, bad language, drunkenness, violence and sex; frankly, it breaks your heart at times. All of which point to why I never read John Steinbeck before: No school or college I ever attended or my church youth group, my parents nor any other group in my Indiana hometown would have recommended me to read The Grapes of Wrath. No way. It had probably been banned in our library and schools before I turned ten. “It isn’t edifying to the Lord.” Yet, as Steinbeck so shrewdly points out, neither is much of the behavior of many of the typical “good guy” characters of his epic novel. At least he’s an equal opportunity blamer–no one falls outside the reach of his influence, insults and flavor.

Without realizing it fully, while driving through the Salinas Valley and visiting St. Paul’s, and eating dinner on Cannery Row later that night, I came to understand that I had been breathing John Steinbeck all weekend. I found myself thinking about him as I moved from doorway to doorway dodging rain sprinkles on the wharf, and under the charming influence of beautiful farms, with mega-rows of produce, life giving smells of farm labor and rich black soils. His criticisms of the way farm and land owners treat migrant workers still sound fresh and relevant in this present struggling economy where farm laborers still “get it” from The Man or worse, don’t get jobs at all (or have jobs to begin with). Other laborers have fared the same or even worse than farm laborers.

Pondering his upbringing in the Episcopal Church, I can only say that maybe some of John Steinbeck’s sense of fairness or desire for justice and the rights of all persons might have been shaped by his time riding the pews at St. Paul’s, his desire to tell the truth, to shock us into actually doing something about our neighbors in poverty or need, those whom Jesus says we are to love as we love ourselves. It brought to mind my childhood friends, the boys who lived cater-corner across the street from me, in a poverty stricken ghetto, homes owned by slumlords, many of them, church-goers.

The church that I grew up in (not an Episcopal Church, but one of the fundamentalist, evangelical variety) was always quick to evangelize these folks, thinking, I guess, that if these people only had Jesus as their personal savior their lives would be better. Perhaps. Maybe we could also have advocated for them with their landlord to provide better heat, to fix the screens on the windows and doors, to make certain their homes were safer, warmer in the winter.

While the landlords happily pocketed their tenant’s money, they most likely saw their renters as “Hillbillies,” as less than human, like the migrant workers in Steinbeck’s writings, who, despite their humanity, suffered immensely under their powerlessness. As Tom Joad discovered, it takes courage to speak truth to power. John Steinbeck was reviled by many people for writing The Grapes Of Wrath, especially land and farm owners and many business owners, as well. But his voice was not drowned out. Scores of people heard his indictments against unchecked greed, the real danger of capitalism.

May we all have the courage to breath a little John Steinbeck in and out of our souls and bodies, allowing his words to fill our hearts; and may we have the courage to act upon what we ponder. Countless poor still need justice in their lives today, still need advocates where they can find them. May our simple reflecting on John Steinbeck empower us to help produce a breakthrough in the life of one in need of a breakthrough, be it a job, food to eat, or place to stay.

I think Steinbeck would have wanted it that way: That being inspired, we act on what we read in his books, and in so acting, help to transform lives, one life at a time.


"What Do You Want Me To Do For You?"

While looking through past sermons to see what I’ve preached before regarding an upcoming Gospel lesson, I discovered a sermon on my favorite story in the Gospel according to Mark (10:46-52) that I have no memory of preaching. Ever. But there it is, written in all its glory.

It’s interesting to look back, over nine years now, to see what I was thinking and saying then, and reflect on whether I still feel that way. In October 2000, I was into the first eight weeks or so as rector at my former parish, St. James Episcopal Church, in Greenville, SC. It seems to me I had all these sermons in me waiting to burst out, and feeling that I wanting to be liked, loved and respected, I was pulling out all the stops. In one way or another, all of us fall into that in new situations. How great when we can finally relax into our gifts and be fully present to others and their needs.

But the Gospel of Mark had been my regular food at that time, as you will see, and I remember being smitten by Mark’s version of the Gospel. I still am. So with passion and enthusiasm, I wanted to convey to people the message that I felt, using an off-the-wall way of grabbing the listener’s attention. What a list of examples!

Anyway, I think this sermon still stands up well, especially as it brings me face to face once again with that pivotal question Jesus asks each of us to answer. Enjoy!

Proper 25B 29 October 2000
Isa 59: 9-19; Ps 13;
Heb 5:12-6:1, 9-12
Mk 10:46-52

The Exodus, the World Series, the Wizard of Oz, Christopher Columbus, the California Gold Rush, Sport Utility vehicles, Super Mario brothers, the “Toy Story” movies, the Appalachian Trail, D-Day and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four all share a common thread with Saint Mark’s Gospel for today. It is a thread that runs throughout human history and human story-telling, and along with the circle as the central symbol of human artistic religious expression, this thread may well serve as the central metaphor of human life and experience.

Whether it’s passing through the Red Sea or marching through a 162 game season to the division and league championships series, following the Yellow Brick Road, finding the New World, or setting out for ‘San Francisco or Bust,’ owning an ‘Explorer,’ ‘Navigator,’ ‘Voyager’ or ‘Expedition,’ gaining access to the final level or finding your way back to Woody’s house and Andy’s room, crossing America through the mountains, crossing the beaches of Normandy, or traveling the Road to Indianapolis, the human story is punctuated and highlighted by experiences of journey more than anything else. Think of all the examples of “journey” that I’ve left out: Magellan’s voyage around the world, Apollo 11 on the moon, the railroads, Route 66, Hannibal, Napoleon, Lewis and Clark, Lindberg, the Trail of Tears and Bull Run, the Flight into Egypt, Freedom Riders and the March on Washington, the Donner Party and the voyage of the Titanic.

What is it about us human beings that we get an idea and we want to go there? And for many of us, we will do whatever it takes to accomplish the journey to our desired destination. That we can apply the journey metaphor in so many ways, and in so many different situations, shows us its universality and usefulness. This has not gone unnoticed by the Gospel of Mark, either.

Today we see Jesus, his disciples, and what Mark describes as “a large crowd,” leaving Jericho for Jerusalem. Though the lesson doesn’t say Jerusalem specifically, Jesus had mentioned Jerusalem as their destination earlier in the tenth chapter. In the same breath that Jesus mentioned their destination, he also mentioned the outcome of that trip: that the Son of Man will be handed over to the authorities, he will be mocked, spit upon, flogged, and killed, and after three days he will rise again. His disciples didn’t want to hear any of this, so James and John try the distraction of asking Jesus to do something for them—the story we heard last week. These “insiders,” Jesus’ closest followers, are blind to the reality that in Jerusalem Jesus will fail miserably. They don’t want to see that at all.

Yet on the way, on the journey from Jericho to Jerusalem, an outsider, a man who is blind and begging, disabled and poor—-not like one of us—-this man recognizes Jesus of Nazareth, and he cries out for him “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” The people tried to shut him up, but he cried out the more “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus, hearing his cry, stops, and summons him. “Take heart,” they said, “get up, he is calling you.”

Now look at this in your mind’s eye: a poor beggar, who cannot see, one who literally sits on the edges of his world, casts off his one possession that Mark mentions—his cloak—and rushes to Jesus. Yes, the one thing he does own, he willingly sheds for the chance to be with Jesus. Can you imagine how the man with great possessions would have felt had he seen this? And when blind Bartimaeus reaches Jesus, Jesus says to him: “What do you want me to do for you?” Can you imagine how James and John felt watching this; “What do you want me to do for you?” They must have been stunned. What James and John wanted, positions of power and privilege, Jesus could not give; what poor Bartimaeus wants, his sense of vision, Jesus can give.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. “Teacher, let me see again.” During the last four years, I have had the joy of carefully reading and exploring the Gospel of Mark with high school students as part of a course I taught at Heathwood Hall Episcopal School. Every year and right up to this day I have learned something new in that study of Mark. And in the entirety of the Gospel itself, this story of Bartimaeus has to be my favorite, because it speaks to me so personally. This exchange between Jesus and Bartimaeus is really between Jesus and each of us. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus does not only ask of the reader, “Who do you say that I am?” and means for us to answer for ourselves (albeit with Peter’s help–‘You are the Christ!’), Jesus also asks us here, point blank: “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus means this question. This is a defining moment for us as Christians, because it represents a choice between following our agenda and desires, our Will, and following God’s Will as God allows it to play out, whether we like it or agree with it at the moment, or not. We do well to listen to Bartimaeus, our prompter: “Teacher, let me see again.” It sounds like a prayer, really.

Restore my vision, Jesus. Let me see again what it is that you have called me to do; restore my sight to enable me to follow you on the way. Once I saw clearly, lately I have had trouble seeing. And when I cannot see where I’m going, I have trouble following you. I don’t want riches, or power, or fame; I just want to see. Let me see again.

Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” In the Greek, pistis sesowkein; pistis “your faith” has sesowkein, “has healed you; has saved you; has restored you; has made you well.” Immediately, he regained his sight and followed him on the way. This is the response to regaining our vision; that we follow Jesus on the way. In Mark, ‘the way’ meant suffering and death, and for many first century Christians, that proved all too true. Following Jesus still does not release us from facing our own suffering and hardships. But like Bartimaeus, the gift of faith can heal us, the gift of faith can restore us, the gift of faith can make us well, and God freely gives us all the gift of faith. Yet some people do not see that, and hence, live in darkness.

When we cry out to Jesus in our darkness, in our aloneness, even when people try to shout us down for doing so, Jesus still calls to us. Jesus still asks of us “What do you want me to do for you?” Faith takes vision; we have to be able to see in order to follow. Jesus still restores sight, and will do so for us as well. “Teacher, let me see again,” still serves us well as our prayer.

We all journey through life. Some moments of our journeys have been hard or painful, filled with loneliness, bitterness or despair. Other times have been joyful and rewarding, if not blessed. Some who claim wisdom say, ‘Life is all about how you look at it.’ How about that? Our journey through life is intimately tied up with our vision, with how we see things.

Misperceptions can kill us. “Missed perceptions” can hurt us, too. Things we failed to see can cause us much pain until our vision is restored, until we see things with new eyes. This is why clear vision, the ability to see, helps us on our journey. It enables us to follow Jesus on the way. And we know where he is going: to God the Father, the destination of our journey in Christ.

We also journey with each other. The church is a community of pilgrims on the journey. We sing, we hear the old story told again and again, we break the bread and share the cup. Clearly, it is far easier to travel with companions than to travel alone. And we reach out to others along the way. So many people with no sight sit alongside the road, crying out to be heard, surrounded by darkness and begging for help. Some people would rather shout them down and shut them out. It shall not be so among us, let us extend our hand and lift them up, too.

For this is the Gospel story. Any one of us can tell it to another, teach it to another, explain it to another. It doesn’t require a master’s degree or a class in theological instruction. It only requires that we recognize the journey that we are one, and can tell others about it. It doesn’t require that we know all the answers to every potential question anyone inquiring might have. Jesus didn’t call us to have the answers; Jesus calls us to follow him. For it is in the journey of life that answers appear to many of the question we carry. Some questions we may carry for a long time before the answer appears, and some answers may not appear to us in time, before our journey comes to an end.

All of us could tell another person the story of blind Bartimaeus that you’ve heard today, for it is the story of our lives, a story that we must pass on, especially to our children. Christian formation is about shaping our lives for the journey of following Christ to God. To recognize the journey in our life, and whose path we follow, can easily be explained to anyone. St. James needs people right now who will willingly share the story of our journey into Christ for people of all ages; you already are qualified, because you already tread that path.

If we do not take care to recognize our own journey and the path we follow, we might stray off on any path that looks good, or fun, or exciting, or leads to anything that will not remind us of our final destination. One of the best ways to learn something is to try to explain it immediately to someone else. Which essentially makes all of us teachers.

While each of us could teach by ourselves, having one or two partners makes it easier and more enjoyable for all. Every age group at St. James has Christian formation needs, some more than others. But your fellow pilgrims on this journey with you need you. We need each other, to encourage one another, to inspire one another, to listen to one another. If you feel called to share in this task of sharing the journey of faith and exploring life’s questions with others, then by all means speak to me. Let us help you find your ministry to Christ’s body in this place, a gathering of pilgrims, a community of grace.

For we are the crowd that follows Jesus and his disciples in Mark’s Gospel; we are the one without sight begging by the side of life’s road, wishing to see again. And we know that Jesus will pass by, Jesus who hears our cries for help. Lest you forget, soon he shall be here with us, in the bread and in the cup. ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’

And how will you answer, fellow pilgrim, when he says, “What do you want me to do for you?”