Saturday, October 31, 2015

One of the most fascinating books I've read in some time:

Anglo-Catholic in Religion: T.S. Eliot and Christianity by Barry Spurr

Going teetotaler

So, 6 months ago tomorrow (Nov. 1), I stopped drinking alcohol. As noble as it might sound, it wasn't. For almost four years I had been having my fair share of stomach issues--ulcers, severely upset stomach, a kind of "broken glass" feeling in the pit of my stomach. The "broken glass" feeling, over time, got worse and worse. Finally 6 months ago, I ended up sick for three days. It was only then that I fully realized that I was getting sick due to alcohol. My doctor and others said that it is entirely possible that some people can develop (or simply ignore the fact that they have) an allergy of some sort to alcohol. My doctor then said to me: "Listen, you don't need it. If it's causing you to feel this way, just give it up." It made absolute sense. What surprised me most was how easy it was to actually give up. Certainly, it has not caused me to sacrifice any aspect  my social life: I still love going out to my favorite places. I still love my vintage bar wear. I still love hosting parties and being with my friends at bars.  But by far the most important part of it all is that, with my vegan lifestyle, I have never, ever felt better. I honestly don't think I even felt this good even in my 20s.   

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

My pastoral letter regarding Bishop Smith's Letter in The Sheaf

“This is my commandment, that you love one another
as I have loved you.
John 15.12

October 29, 2015
The feast of Bl. James Hannington and Companions

Dear Members and Friends of St. Stephen’s,

As you might know, Bishop Michael Smith, in the November issue of The Sheaf, issued a letter regarding the topic of same-sex marriage rites in the Episcopal Diocese of North Dakota. His letter in full follows this letter. I invite you to prayerfully and respectfully read his  letter.

The reactions of the members of St. Stephen’s to his letter may no doubt vary. Some may feel anger or frustration. Others may agree with Bishop Smith’s opinion.

In the recent past, I have purposely not responded to this issue because I, like many of you, have been waiting patiently for Bishop Smith to make a comprehensive statement regarding his making provision for same-sex marriage rites in the Diocese. On at least one occasion I attempted a conversation with Bishop Smith regarding this issue; no doubt, he already assumed where I stood on this matter.

As the priest of St. Stephen’s, it is not my duty to tell the people of our congregation what they should or should not do. I can only encourage. I can only walk beside you. And I, of course, will support any decision you make as a congregation. I can also share my own insights with you.

Bishop Smith’s letter was not a surprise to me, although I will admit that I was disappointed that Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO) was the only option offered to the Diocese.  

His letter does now draw a very clear and distinctive line in the sand. He makes clear (and rightfully so) that this matter is no longer an issue of polity, nor is it an issue of loyalty—either to the Diocese or to the Bishop. It is now a very clear issue of conscience. Bishop Smith’s final statement makes this clear:

Each of us one day will be called upon to give an account before God for what we have done or not done during this life, as we stand before the “great judgment seat of Christ.” At this time in our history, I am keenly aware of the scriptural warning of the letter of James: “Not many of you should become teachers … for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1)

I agree entirely with this statement. Each one of us WILL one day be called to give an account before God for what we have done or not done during this life. I, for one, am not willing to stand before “the great judgement seat of Christ” and say that I stood by quietly while people continued to be excluded and marginalized from the Church or given second (or third)-class treatment. For me, my goal as a follower of Jesus has always been to live out his command:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10.27).

As an Episcopalian, I take very seriously those vows we make from the Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 305):

“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?


“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”

In my opinion, the issue of  full and equal acceptance of all people in this Church and to its rites is an issue of justice. This is an issue of respecting the dignity of every human being. This is an issue of living out Christ’s command to love one another as God loves us.

St. Stephen’s has, from its very beginning in 1956, been a congregation that has worked hard to be a place of radical hospitality and acceptance. That mission of all-accepting love has been vital in the lives of countless people who have found with us a place of solace and sanctuary. We have consistently welcomed the alienated, the shunned, the marginalized and the discarded. For us, this is what it means to be Christians in this day and age. For us, this is what it means to make the Kingdom of God a reality in this world. And we will continue to do this in the most radical ways.  To do less would be to be untrue to our calling as followers of Jesus.

The ball is now in our court. How we proceed will be of the utmost importance. My hope is that we will do so intentionally and prayerfully, allowing God’s Holy Spirit to be with us and guide us

Whatever our decision may be as a congregation, these next weeks and months will be a time for discernment and introspection. I ask that we proceed in a spirit of grace and humility. I pray that we will allow the Holy Spirit to continue to work in our midst, and that we allow God’s all-powerful love to reign.

With that in mind, I caution us from any temptation to demonize Bishop Smith or anyone else who shares a similar position. Our ministry of love and full-acceptance extends to our relationship with them as well. They are not our enemies; rather they are our sisters and brothers in Christ, and we must continue to see them as such. The command from Christ to love all as God loves us extends, of course, to them as well.

With all that in mind, we must now accept the fact that the line, as I previously said, has now been clearly drawn. We have been given an opportunity to weigh our options and to proceed in our following of Christ.

So, how do we proceed? First, I ask you to read Bishop Smith’s letter with an open mind and heart.

Next, I ask you to share your opinions with me, or with our Senior Warden, Leo Wilking, Junior Warden, Catherine McMullen or with any of our vestry members.  Your opinion is vital in how we proceed as a congregation.

Most of all, I ask for your prayers. Pray for the grace and wisdom to move forward. Pray for those individuals in our congregation who are most directly affected by these issues and who are, in this moment, feeling pain and discouragement as a result of this division. Pray that we can, in all integrity, make wise decisions, avoiding all malice and ill-will as we do so.

I ask that you pray for Bishop Smith and for all our sisters and brothers in Christ in the Diocese of North Dakota at this time. Please pray also for Bishop Michael Curry, who will be consecrated as the new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church on November 1. Pray for the leadership of our Church.  

But especially pray for our congregation of St. Stephen’s. We ask that the Holy Spirit will be present with each of us as we discern our future together, as we strive to continue to do the ministry we have been called to do, and as we follow Jesus where he leads. Please pray for our Senior and Junior Wardens, as well as our Vestry as they weigh the option placed before them and proceed accordingly.

And please do pray for me. Know each of you remain, as always, in my prayers as well. It is a true joy for me to be your priest.



Bishop Michael Smith’s Letter from the November issue of The Sheaf:

Dear Friends in Christ:

My letter in the July-August issue of The Sheaf included the reasons why I cannot in good conscience authorize the trial rite of Same Sex Marriage for the Diocese.

Although the enabling resolution for the rite gave authority to the Diocesan Bishop to make such a decision, it also included the directive that the Diocesan Bishop “will make provision for all couples asking to be married in this Church to have access to these liturgies.”

I have concluded a process of consultation seeking the advice of those clergy who are responsible for solemnizing marriages about what course of action I should take. As one might imagine, our clergy are quite a diverse lot in terms of their views on same sex marriage: some are conscience-bound to uphold the traditional teaching of the church on marriage between a man and a woman; others hope to solemnize same sex marriages; still others do not believe the new rites are biblical marriage, but think a blessing of some kind is in order. (This last option is no longer possible, according to General Convention, for those who live in civil jurisdictions where same sex marriage is legal.) It is good for us to remember that theological diversity is honored in the Episcopal Church and “no bishop, priest, deacon or lay person should be coerced or penalized in any manner, nor suffer any canonical disabilities, as a result of his or her theological objection to or support for [same sex marriage.]”

After consulting widely with the diocesan priests-in-charge, I have decided to offer Delegated Episcopal Pastoral Oversight (DEPO)4 to those congregations requesting it. According to the provisions of DEPO, if the priest-in-charge and two-thirds of the members of a vestry ask me, I will appoint another bishop to provide oversight for the three-yea rperiod between General Conventions.

Contrary to what some have understood, DEPO has nothing to do with a congregation’s relationship with the other congregations of the diocese. Rather, it has to do with the congregation’s relationship with the bishop. A congregation receiving delegated episcopal pastoral oversight would still remain active in the life of the diocese. My office would pay for an annual visit by the DEPO bishop.

In the course of these months of consultation, I have been reminded by some that the traditional view of marriage I hold is a “minority” one in the Episcopal Church. This may be true, as it is for other declining churches of Western secular cultures, but the fact remains that the traditional view of marriage between one man and one woman for life remains the teaching of our own Book of Common Prayer, as well as the teaching of the
vast majority of the Anglican Communion, and global Christianity in general. Just weeks ago, the primates of the Global South, representing the majority of Anglicans wrote:

We grieved one more time at the unilateral decisions taken by the last General Convention of the Episcopal Church (TEC) in the USA to redefine marriage and to accept same-sex marriages (Resolutions A036 and A054). We see these latest resolutions as a clear departure from not only the accepted traditional teaching of the Anglican Communion, but also from that of the one Holy, Universal, and Apostolic
Church, which upholds the scriptural view of marriage between one man and one woman. (Lambeth Resolution 1:10, 1998.)6

Each of us one day will be called upon to give an account before God for what we have done or not done during this life, as we stand before the “great judgment seat of Christ.” At this time in our history, I am keenly aware of the scriptural warning of the letter of James: “Not many of you should become teachers … for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3:1). May the Lord have mercy on all of us whose responsibility it is to teach the Christian faith.

+ Michael Smith

Sunday, October 25, 2015

22 Pentecost

October 25, 2015

Mark 10.46-52

+ This past week in our Deacons’ class, our prospective deacons got an intellectual workout. After starting out nice and easy for a few weeks, I sort of cracked the knuckles on them. They got the start of boot camp last Tuesday night. We went through a very hectic, very intense hands-on liturgical class. We went through all the vestments and the meaning of the vestments, we went through the Mass and what the Deacon’s responsibilities were and then we had an instructed Mass that was, for me anyway, lots of fun.

But, poor Jessica and John!  You should be praying for them! On Tuesday night they got to see a side of me few people see. Yes, I know.

You see before you, on Sunday morning, this nice, mild-mannered vegan teetotaler pacifist priest and poet. But underneath this calm, Zen-like exterior, lurks a true drill sergeant. And they got to see it.

I had warned them about it. So had Deacon Charlotte Robbins from the Cathedral who spoke to the class a few weeks ago (I helped train her deacon’s class many years ago when I was at the Cathedral. I ended up having a bit of a reputation for my drill sergeant ways then when I told the clergy there that they had to start wearing black shoes every time they vested. Now before you think I was being a jerk: it was not uncommon before that for vested clergy to be wearing sandals, sneakers or even bare feet. I wasn’t too popular after that little bit of cracking the whip. But they looked professional after that). But I don’t think any of them thought I could be, of all things, a drill sergeant.

Oh, how wrong they were.  At one point, poor Jessica, in a moment of exhaustion, exclaimed, “Oh, fer sure!” They ended up getting a semester’s worth of intense, solidly Anglo-Catholic liturgical theology and training in a few hours.  That class left them, let’s say, a bit bleary-eyed in the end.  They kind of wearily limped out of the church on Tuesday night after class.

Which is good. We all need that kind of situation and discipline on occasion. One of the important things we discussed when talking liturgy and the worship of the Church was how essential prayer life is for any of us who are ministers in the Church. Without a solid foundation of personal prayer, all that we do in church on Sundays is without a solid base.

You heard me say, last week, that those of who are ordained are not the only ministers of the Church. All of us who have been baptized are ministers of the Church. And for our ministry to be effective, we need to have a strong and very solid prayer life to support that ministry.

I, of course, highly encouraged our diaconal students—as I do you on occasion—to begin praying the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer every day as the first foundation. From the offices and from the Mass, our prayer life as followers of Jesus flourish. Now for many of us, the Daily Offices are not something we can fit into our busy lives.

But, no matter how busy our lives are, we must always have a strong foundation of prayer. And that prayer life can be very simple. Simple little prayers throughout the day are sometimes, by far, the most effective prayers.

I have been reading a wonderful book on prayer by a member of Anglican religious order (yes, there are religious orders in the Anglican Church) the Society of St. Francis, by the name of Br. Ramon.  This book of his was lovely.  It was called Praying the Jesus Prayer Together.  

The Jesus Prayer, for those of you who might not know, is a prayer very popular in the Eastern Orthodox Church.  In fact, it is kind of the “Gem” of the Eastern Church. We’ll talk about the actual Jesus prayer in just a moment.  First, let’s take a look at where the Jesus Prayer came from.

This morning, in our Gospel, we find the kernel from which the Jesus Prayer arises. And I really enjoy our Gospel reading this morning.  It is a story that at first seems to be leading us in one direction, then something else happens.  We find Jesus at Jericho, which reminds us, of course, of the story from Joshua and the crumbling walls.  We then find this strangely detailed story of Barthemaeus.  It’s detailed in the sense that we not only have his name, but also the fact that he was the son of Timaeus. That’s an interesting little tidbit. And we also find of course that he is blind.

Now, it’s not a big mystery what’s going to happen.  We know where this story is going. We know Bartemaeus is going to be healed. We know he is going to see. But the real gem of this story doesn’t have to do with Jericho, or the fact that we will never again hear about Bartimeus son of Timaeus.  The real gem of this story is that little prayer Bartimaeus prays. There it is, huddled down within the Gospel like a wonderful little treasure.

“Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!”

It’s beautiful! It’s perfect!  This prayer is essentially the basis for the popular Jesus Prayer of the Orthodox Church and Br. Ramon’s wonderful book.

At first, it doesn’t seem like much.  It’s so deceptively simple.  But, obviously, according to our Gospel for today, the prayer is important.  Jesus does what he is asked.  He has mercy on this man and heals him.

So why is this prayer so important?  Well, for one thing, we get a glimpse of how to pray in this wonderfully simple little prayer. Jesus occasionally gives us advice in the gospels on how we should pray.  The first one that probably comes to mind probably is the Lord’s prayer, the Our Father.  But today we find a prayer very different than the Lord’s prayer.  

The Lord’s prayer is very structured.  It covers all the bases.  We acknowledge and adore God, we acknowledge and ask forgiveness not only for our sins, but for the sins committed against us by others.  And so on.  You know the prayer.

The prayer we hear this morning cuts right to the very heart not only of the Lord’s prayer but to every prayer we pray.  It is a prayer that rises from within—from our very core.  From our heart of hearts.  It is truly the Prayer of the Heart. The words of this prayer are the words of all those nameless, formless prayers we pray all the time—those prayers that we find ourselves longing to pray.  Here it is, summed up for us.

More often than not, our prayers are simple, one word prayers. And the one word prayer we probably pray more than anything—I do it anyway—is:


“Please!” I pray so often.  Or sometimes it’s: “please, please, please!”

Poor God! Having to listen to that prayer all the time.  The one word prayer I should be praying more than anything is:


But the Jesus prayer definitely comes from that kind of heart-felt prayer.  Here are the words we long to use in those prayers without words.

“Jesus, have mercy on me!”

Or, in the more Anglo-Catholic tradition, you will find written on gravestones stones and elsewhere,

“Jesu, mercy!”

Now the actual Jesus Prayer is only slightly more expanded.  The Jesus Prayer is:

“Lord Jesus Christ, son of God [or Son of the living God], have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Or slight variations of those words.

The prayer we heard this morning is essentially the same. In the Eastern Church, the “Jesus Prayer” it is also called “the prayer of the heart.” That’s a perfect description of the prayer we heard in today’s Gospel.  It is, as I said before, a prayer of the heart. If our lips could no longer pray, our heart would go on and this prayer would be the words of our heart.  The fact that it is so simple is what makes the Jesus prayer so popular.  Anyone can memorize it and anyone pray it with true meaning.  It is a prayer we can repeat to ourselves over and over again. In fact, it is a prayer that demands to be repeated. It’s almost impossible not to repeat it. And it’s not as though we are mindlessly babbling on for sake of “saying our prayers.”

What I find so interesting about that statement is that, limitless as this prayer might be, infinite in its use as it might be, it comes from and addresses our very own limitations.  It is essentially the ceaseless prayer that should be going within us all the time. It is the prayer of absolute humility.

“Have mercy on me.”

Or, going back to our discussion about one word prayers, the one word from this prayer we would be praying is “mercy.”

“Have mercy on me.”

We are humans, with all the limitations and shortcomings that entails.  But rather than groaning about it and bewailing our misfortune, in this prayer we are able to acknowledge it and to simply offer it up.  Like Bartimeaus, we can simply bring it before God, release it, and then walk away healed.

There is no room for haughtiness when praying this prayer.  The person we are when we pray it is who we really are.  When all our masks and all our defenses are gone, that is when this prayer comes in and takes over for us.

This is the prayer we pray when, echoing Thomas Merton, we “present ourselves naked before our God.”  That’s what makes the prayer of the heart—the Jesus prayer—such a popular prayer for so many. And this prayer does not even have to be about us.  We can use this prayer when praying for others.  How easy it is to simply pray:

Jesus, have mercy on her, or him, or them.

It’s wonderful isn’t it? how those simple words can pack such a wallop.  We don’t have to be profound or eloquent in the words we address to God.  We don’t need to go on and on beseeching and petitioning God.  We simply need to open our hearts to God and the words will come. No doubt those words will be very similar to the words of the Jesus prayer.

“Lord Jesus, have mercy on me.”

So, like Bartemeaus, let us pray what is in our heart.  Let us open ourselves completely and humbly to God. And when we do we will find the blindness’s of our own lives healed. We will find taken from us that spiritual blindness that causes us to grope about aimlessly, to ignore those in need around us, to not see the beauty of this world that God shows us all the time. Like Bartemaeus, we too will be healed of whatever blinds us to the Light of God breaking through into our lives.  And when that blindness is taken from us, with a clear spiritual vision granted to us, we too will focus our eyes, square our shoulders and follow Jesus on the way.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

UND Reading

I was very honored to read with these wonderful poets last night at the Museum of Art at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. 

(from left to right, Madelyn Camrud, Dale Jacobson, Heidi Czerwiec, Dave Solheim, Denise Lajimodiere, Jamie Parsley, Debra Marquartt

Sunday, October 18, 2015

21 Pentecost

October 18, 2015

Isaiah 53:4-12; Mark 10:35-45

+ Well, we can close the book on another Diocesan Convention. Yes, yesterday, Leo Wilking, John Baird, Sandy Holbrook, Donna Clark, William Weightman and Gin Templeton, and me, were in Bismarck, doing what we sometimes do best—representing St. Stephen’s.

Compared to some, it was a very quiet, very uneventful convention. One might even say it was a bit…boring. 

I was expecting…I don’t know. Something. But no.  Not that I’m complaining, mind you. Give me this kind of convention any day over some of the conventions I’ve been to in the past.

Let me tell you, I’ve seen some difficult conventions. Conventions in which there has been bickering, in which there was arguing, and, of course, when there was much jockeying for positions.

This, as we all know, is sometimes what the Church is, whether we like it or not. And such behavior is nothing new.  

In our Gospel reading for today, we also see some jockeying for position.  I think we can all somewhat relate to this story. We have all had our own Jameses and Johns.  We’ve all had them as co-workers, or fellow students, or simply fellow parishioners.  I’ve definitely known some priests like this.

They are the ones who—while we quietly labor, quietly do our duties—they sort of weasel their way up the ladder. They jockey for position. They are the ones who try to get a better place in line by butting in front of everyone else.  They are the ones who drive us—who work and sacrifice and try to do the good thing—they drive us crazy.  

Or maybe…and maybe none of us want to admit it …maybe, they are the ones that we relate to the most in this morning’s Gospel. Maybe we are ourselves at times are the James and the Johns.  Maybe we ourselves are the Sons or Daughters of Thunder.

Whatever the case may be, the fact is James and John are really missing out.  Like some of the other apostles, they just don’t get it.  They don’t quite understand what Jesus is getting at when he is talking about the last being first.  They don’t understand him when he says that we are called to serve and not be served.  They just don’t understand that simple virtue of humility.  Their view of Christianity—their view of where they stand in relation to Jesus—is a constant jockeying for position.  And many of us to this day feel the same way in our own lives, in our work and in our faith lives.

There are many people who look to the Church in this way. For many people in the Church, the Church  is simply a place that is here to serve them. They feel that Christianity is all about being served by the Church.

Guess what? I hate to break the news to you. It is not. The Church is not here to serve those of us who are in the Church. It is our duty as followers of Jesus, as members of the Church, to serve.

What today’s Gospel shows us is that Jesus is calling us to something much bigger than we probably fully understand.  I think a lot of us—even those of us who come to church every Sunday—sometimes look at Christianity as a somewhat quaint, peace-loving religion.  We dress up, we come to church on Sunday, we sing hymns, we hear about God’s love, we receive Jesus in the Bread and Wine, and then we go home and…and we don’t think about it again until the next week.

But the Christianity of Jesus is not soft. It is not just a whitewashed, quaint religion.  The Christianity of Jesus, as we hopefully have all figured out here at St. Stephen’s, is a radical faith.  It is a faith that challenges—that makes us uncomfortable when we get comfortable, that riles us when we have become complacent.  It is a faith that works well here in church, on Sunday morning, but also should motivate us to get up from these pews and go out into the world and live out the faith we have learned here by serving others. And it is this fact that many of us might find a bit frightening.

Like James and John, we all want to gain heaven.  We all want a nice place beside Jesus in that world-to-come.  I want that place!

But few of us want to live out our faith in all that do and say right now. And even fewer of us are ready to be servants—to be slaves for others. We don’t always want to serve the lowliest among us.  We don’t want to suffer like Jesus suffered.  We don’t want to taste from the same cup of anguish that Jesus drank from on the night before he was murdered. And we sure don’t want to be humble sometimes.

I will admit, I am in that boat a lot.  I sometimes don’t want to be a servant or slave to others. I don’t want to suffer like Jesus suffered.  And although I might try—and not always that hard—I am not so good at being humble sometimes.

But we all, I think, at least here at St. Stephen’s, are trying.  We all making the effort in some way.  As followers of Jesus, we are reminded that we are called truly to be servants to each other and especially to those who need to be served.  We are asked as followers to do something uncomfortable.  We are asked to take a long, hard look at the world around us and to recognize the fact that there are people living in need in our midst.  And we are called to serve them. And in those moments when we ourselves may need to be served, many of us have discovered that serving others is sometimes the best antidote for that need.

What we cannot do is ignore those in need.  When I ignore those in need, when I don’t serve, when I don’t stand up against injustice—I am made very aware that in that moment, I am not following Jesus.  If I don’t do those things, but I still stand up here and call myself a Christian, then I have truly become a “Son of Thunder.” And, for most of us, that is exactly what it sounds like when we want the benefits of our faith, without making the sacrifices of our faith.  In those instances, we truly do sound like a low, distant thunder.

We cannot bulldoze our way into heaven by riding roughshod over those we should be serving along the way. For us, as followers of Jesus, our job is simply to love God and love our neighbor as yourselves—and when we do, in our lives, in our work, in the way we perceive the world around us, then a natural humility will come over us.  In those moments, we do recognize that God is in control.  Not us.  What is more humbling than that realization in our lives? We are not in control of anything ultimately!

Again, here is another example of this radical Christianity.  It carries through in how we serve each other. Christians are not expected to bring anyone to God through an arrogant attitude.  We are not expected to come charging into people’s lives, making them tremble before us in fear.  We are not expected to thump our Bibles and wave the Words of Jesus before people in a desperate attempt to win souls for God.  We aren’t forcing God on anyone, nor should we.  In doing so, we dominate people.  We coerce them into believing.

But if we simply serve those Jesus calls us to serve, with love and charity and humility, sometimes that says more than any Sunday sermon or curbside rant.

Think of the words Jesus could use.  He could use, “power” to mean “dominance,” or “oppression” or “force.”  

But he doesn’t.  Rather, Jesus uses the words “serve” and “servant”

Certainly we are given plenty of “power” as Christians.  In our baptism, we are given power—but this power we are given is the power to die in Christ and to be raised into a new life with Christ.  That is what we celebrate every time we celebrate a Baptism and renew our baptismal vows.  That is what we celebrate when we think back to what happened at our own baptisms.  We celebrate and we live out in our lives this power—this power that we are dead to our former selves and alive—alive in a powerful and amazing way—with Christ.

Baptism empowers us—it makes us something more than we were before—but not in the way we think of as empowering.  It empowers us by making us true servants to each other.  It is not a strength that overpowers others.  It is rather a strength rather that empowers us to serve each other and God.  It strengthens us to bear the anguish and despair of this life.  It strengthens us to persevere and to live our lives fully in Christ.

In all of this, Jesus is telling us that we are to be servants—servants not only to God, but to each other as well.  I, as a priest, who stands here at this altar at each celebration of the Eucharist —I am not the only one called to be a minister of God.  We are all called to be ministers of God.  By our very baptism, by the Eucharist we share at this altar each Sunday, we are called by God to serve each other.

We are not here on Sunday morning to be served—to be waited upon, to be lavished with gifts.  We are here to serve.  And it is this sense of service that we must take with us out of here into the world.

James and John eventually figured this out.  They went on from that day and served Jesus in the world.  Eventually , they would both die for Jesus as martyrs—as very witnesses to Christ by their deaths.

So, for those of us who get angry at the sons of thunder in our lives—let us be patient.  For those of who recognize ourselves as a son or daughter of thunder—just relax.  God always finds a way to break through our barriers—if we let God.  It is this breaking through, after all, that makes our Christianity so radical.  

So, let us serve God.  Let us serve each other in whatever ways God leads us to serve. By the very fact that we are baptized and fed with Jesus’ Body and Blood, we live out our service in the world.  And when we do, we just may find that the thunder we hear is the thunder not of arrogance or pride, but rather the thunder of the kingdom of God breaking through into our midst.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Prairie Pulse interview on YouTube

Here's the actual interview from Friday night on YouTube:

Friday, October 16, 2015

"Prairie Pulse" tonight at 7:30

Check me out tonight on Prairie Pulse” at 7:30 pm on Prairie Public Television. I’ll be talking about the new book, “The Downstairs Tenant,” as well as “Fargo, 1957,” my vocations as poet and priest, St. Stephen’s and the “Prairie Gothic” genre. 

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The podcast of the interview that aired today on the Mainstreet show

Here is the audio podcast of the televised interview which will air on Friday night:

On Prairie Public Radio today

Guess who’s gonna be on the radio today? I guess I am. I didn’t even know until it about five minutes ago when a parishioner heard that I was going to be on today. This is a preview of Friday night’s TV appearance.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

20 Pentecost

October 11, 2015

Mark 10.17-31

+ I have to admit. As Episcopalians—as liturgical Christians—we have advantages and disadvantages. And, depending on where you stand, our lectionary—our assigned scripture readings for Sunday morning, is either an advantage or a disadvantage. I, as the Priest, or anyone who preaches here does not just get to randomly pick whatever scripture they want on a  given Sunday. There are assigned readings. And we have no real choice in those readings.

So, the congregation sometimes has to sit through readings that are sometimes not readings we might want to hear for a particular Sunday morning. And let me tell you, sometimes those scriptures are not easy to preach.

Today, we get the full range of scriptures. We first of all get this beautiful poetic gem in our reading from the Hebrew scriptures. I love the prophet Amos.

“Seek good and not evil,” he tells us this morning.
“that you may live.
And so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you…
hate evil and love good,
and establish justice at the gate…”

Beautiful! That could be the motto for us here at St. Stephen’s.

Our reading from Hebrews also is just lovely:

“Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

I could preach a couple sermons just on that one alone. Again, that also could be a motto for us here.

But then…then! Our Gospel reading for today.  Did you listen closely to this morning’s Gospel?  Were you uncomfortable with it?  I was uncomfortable with it. We should be uncomfortable.  We all should be uncomfortable when we hear it.

Jesus is, quite simply, telling it like it is.  That’s not always a good thing.  It is a disturbing message—at least, on the surface.  I stress that: on the surface.

He makes three hard-hitting points.

First, he tells the rich man who calls Jesus “good” to sell everything he has and give the money to the poor.

Second, he compares wealthy people getting into heaven to a camel going through the eye of a needle—a great image really when you think about it.

Finally, he tells his disciples that only those who give up their families and their possessions will gain heaven, summarizing it in that all-too-famous maxim: “the first will be last and the last will be first.”

For those who have—who have possessions, who have loved ones, who have nice cars and houses and bank accounts and investments,--these words of Jesus should disturb us and should make us look long and hard at what we have and, more importantly, why we have them.

But…is Jesus really telling us we should give up these things give us security? Does it mean that we should rid ourselves of those things?  Should we really sell our cars and our houses, empty out our bank accounts and our savings and give all of that money to the poor?  Does it mean, we should turn our backs on our families, on our spouses and partners, on our children and our parents?  Does it mean that we should go poor and naked into the world?

Well, we need to look at it a little more rationally. Because, when Jesus talks about “riches” and giving up our loved ones, he’s not really talking what he seems to be talking about.

Do you remember the Gospel from last week, in which he was talking about Moses and the Law and divorce? Now, that was a difficult scripture as well. He was saying that if one gets a divorce and remarries, they are committing adultery.

I had an uncle who was divorced and remarried, who heard that scripture in St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Fargo in the 1970s. He got up and left the church and never stepped foot in a church again in his life.   I wish I could’ve told him then, what I’m going to say right now.

When Jesus talks of these things, he’s not really talking about what we think he talking about.

In today’s Gospel, he’s not really talking about the securities we have built up for ourselves.  What Jesus is talking in today’s Gospel is about attachments.  Or more specifically, unhealthy attachments.  Having “things” in and of themselves are, for the most part, fine, as long as we are not attached to them in an unhealthy way.

Jesus knew full well that we need certain things to help us live our lives.  But being attached to those “things” is a problem.  It is our attachments in this life that bind us—that tie us down and prevent us from growing, from moving closer to God and to one another.  Unhealthy attachments are what Jesus is getting at here.  And this is why we should be disturbed by this reading.

Let’s face, at times, we’re all attached to some things we have.  We are attached to our cars and our homes.  We are attached to our televisions and computers and our telephones.

And, even in our relationships, we have formed unhealthy attachments as well.  Co-dependence in a relationship is a prime example of that unhealthy kind of attachment that develops between people.  We see co-dependent relationships that are violent or abusive or manipulative.  People, in a sense, become attached to each other and simply cannot see what life can be like outside of that relationship.

And as much as we love our children, we all know that there comes a point when we have to let them go. We have to break whatever attachments we have to them so they can live their lives fully.

It is seems to be part of our nature to form unhealthy relationships with others and with things at times.  Especially in this day and age, we hear so often of people who are afraid to be alone.

So many people are out there looking for that “the right one”—as though this one person is going to bring unending happiness and contentment to one’s life.  Some people might even be attached to the idea of a relationship, rather than the relationship itself.  We’ve all known people like that—people who are afraid because they are getting too old to settle down and still haven’t found that right person in their lives. It seems almost as though their lives revolve around finding this ideal person when, in fact, no one can live up that ideal.

See, attachments start taking on the feeling of a heavy baggage after so long.  They do get in the way.  They weigh us down and they ultimately make our life a burden. And they come between us and our relationship God and our service to others.

The question we need to ask ourselves in response to this morning’s Gospel is this: if Jesus came to us today and told us to abandon our attachments—whatever it is in our own lives that might separate us from God—what would it be? And could we do it?  Because Jesus is telling us to do that again and again.  

What the Gospel for today hopefully shows us is that we need to be aware of our attachments.  We need to be aware of anything in our lives that separates us from God.  Jesus today is preparing us for the Kingdom of Heaven. We cannot enter the Kingdom of God and still be attached to those unhealthy things in our lives.

The message is clear—don’t allow your unhealthy attachments to come between God and you.  Don’t allow anything to come between God and you.  

If Jesus came to us here and now and asked us to give up those attachments in our lives, most of us couldn’t to do it.  I don’t think I could do it.  And when we realize that, we suddenly realize how hard it is to gain heaven.  It truly is like a camel passing through the eye of the needle.

For us, in this moment, this might be a reason to despair.  But we really don’t need to. We just need to be honest. Honest with ourselves. And honest with God.

Yes, we have attachments. But we need to understand that our attachments are only, in the end, temporary. They will pass away. But our relationship with God is eternal.   This is what Jesus is getting at in today’s Gospel.

So, we can enjoy those “things” we have.  We can take pleasure in them.  But we need to recognize them for what they are.  They are only temporary joys.  They come into in our lives and they will go out of our lives, like clouds.  All those things we hold dear, will pass away from us.

Let us cling instead, to God and to the healthy bonds that we’ve formed with God and with our loved ones—with our spouses or partners, our children, our family and our friends.  Let us serve those whom we are called to service. And let us serve them fully and completely, without hindrance.  Let make the attempt to see that what we have is temporary.  Let us be prepared to shed every attachment we have if we need to.  And when the day comes when Jesus calls us by name, we can simply run forward and follow him wherever he leads us.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Requiem Mass for Renee Alsop

Renee Ann Alsop
(Nov. 4, 1949 – Oct. 4, 2015)
Gethsemane Episcopal Cathedral
October 8, 2015

Wisdom 3.1-5, 9

+ It is a true honor for me to be here this morning, to be a part of this service in which we remember and celebrate this wonderful person, Renee Alsop. When my dear friend, Fr. Mark, asked me to preach a few days he ago, he said to me,
“because of your long relationship with the Alsop family, it will be a moment of grace.”

It is a true grace moment in my life. I’ve always defined grace as one of things God gives us that we don’t ask or even anticipate. And for me, this has been one of those moments.

In fact, I’ve had many grace moments in relation to the Alsop family. The first funeral I ever participated in, back when I was studying to be a priest, was right here at Gethsemane Cathedral, at the funeral for Renee’s mother-in-law, Louise, back in 1999. I knew Renee’s, father-in-law, John, as well. I brought Holy Communion and would greet him when he was living at Waterford (now known as Touchmark), and I participated in his funeral as well.

Of course, a true grace moment in my life was officiating at the wedding of Andy and Jessica. I, strangely enough, knew Jessica for many years before as well, even before I knew the Alsops.

And of course, I had the truly wonderful honor of baptizing Maddie just a few years ago.

So, yes, these have been grace moments in my life.

But, today, I will admit. This is a confession. I do not want to be here. I do not want here to be here, preaching the funeral sermon for Renee Alsop.

When a mutual friend of ours told me on Sunday that Renee had passed, I have to admit that my reaction was not the reaction you would expect from a priest, nor from a Christian, for that matter. My reaction was actually, I have to admit, kind infantile. I said,

“You have got to be kidding me! This is so unfair!”

How, I wondered, did this person who was so full life, so full of vitality, all of a sudden, not be here with us anymore? It is unfair. No doubt many of us feel that way this morning. And that’s all right to feel that way. It’s honest.

Let’s face it: Renee had many years of life and love ahead of her. She had years to travel, to spend with her family. There was so much life ahead.

So, yes, it is horribly unfair. But, for those of us who live by faith, who, like Renee, knew that life is more than just this life, we have great consolation this morning. We simply need to shift our perspective, to see things differently.  All that we loved and will miss about Renee—all that life and vitality and love—none of that is gone. None of that is lost. Renee and all that she was to us is now in a place beyond this sadness and loss, beyond the many tears that we will shed.  She is in a place of light and unending life and joy. And we will see her again. We will experience that love and joy with her again. And this time, it will not end.

That is our consolation on this day, even in the midst of the seeming unfairness of all this. I love that one of the scriptures we heard this morning was from the Wisdom of Solomon. I love this scripture. There is truly some great wisdom here. And when we hear these words, they really do speak to us in our sadness over Renee.

“In the eyes of the foolish,” we hear Solomon sayd, “[our loved one] seemed to have died,
and their departure to be a disaster.”

There is truth in that. Even for those us who might not consider ourselves “foolish,” the death of our loved ones does seem like disaster at moments.

Solomon goes on, “and their going from us [seems] to be their destruction;
but[…] they are at peace…their hope is full of immortality.”

For Renee, and for all of us who have faith, our hope this morning is full of immortality. We know that death is not eternal, but that our life in God is eternal.
Solomon goes on, and his words are not only about our loved ones who have died, but is also spoken to us who are left behind as well:

“Those who trust in [God] will understand truth,
and the faithful will abide with [God] in love,
because grace and mercy are upon [God’s] holy ones.”

“Grace and mercy are upon God’s holy ones.”

 That grace and mercy is, of course, upon Renee in this moment. But that grace and mercy is upon each and every one of this morning. And with that grace and mercy upon us, we know we have the strength to move forward, to go on.

At this end of this service, you will hear these very powerful and amazing words:
“All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

“Alleluia” is a word that encompasses all our faith and hope and mercy. It is a joyous word, that we can say even when everyone tells us we should despair. We have been embraced today by God’s grace and mercy. And because we have, we have faith to go on from the grave. We have the strength, and dare I say even the defiance, to say, in the face of what seems to be loss and death, “Alleluia!”

Even here, now, even in our sadness, even here at the grave, we say it, defiantly, “Alleluia.”

Renee’s life and love are too powerful to be defeated by death. God’s grace and mercy  are definitely too powerful to be defeated by death and the grave.  With that grace and mercy upon us and upon Renee, we can say, “Alleluia.” And mean it.
I am grateful this morning. I am grateful that I knew Renee. I am grateful  that I could say she was a friend. All of here this morning are grateful for all that was Renee was to each of us, a wife, a mother, a mother-in-law, a grandmother, a sister, an aunt, a friend. We should all be grateful for having known her.

But we can also be grateful that our relationship with her does not end today. It will continue on and one day, it will be complete and unending. I hope in that day. I look forward to that wonderful day. And it will be a wonderful day!

The traditional closing sentences for this funeral from the Book of Common Prayer are some very beautiful words. They are:

“Into paradise may the angels lead thee; and at thy coming may the martyrs receive thee, and bring thee into the holy city Jerusalem.”

We are echoing those words today as well.

Into paradise the angels have led thee, Renee.

May all the martyrs have received thee.

Today, you have been brought into the holy city Jerusalem.

One day we too will be received there as well. One day, we too will experience that wonderful paradise. One day we too will know the unending joy of that holy place.

So this morning and in the days to come, let us all take consolation in that faith that Renee is now complete and whole and beautiful at this very holy moment and for every moment to come from now on.  Let us take consolation in that paradise to which she has been received by martyrs and angels.  And let us be glad that one day we too will be there, sharing with her in that joy and mercy and love that will never end.  Amen.

3 Pentecost

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