A Primer on Religious Life – Part Three: On Work and Service

“It is the work of the Brotherhood to witness to the love of God in Christ Jesus, which has been freely bestowed upon us and upon all of creation.” — Of the Work of the Brotherhood, BSG Rule

Why do we serve?

Rather than get into a very old, and in my mind questionable, discussion about whether it is faith or works that justifies the sinner in the eyes of God, I’d rather just upend the idea and start from a different place. The religious impulse to serve God and others is, or at least should be, love and gratitude! In an earlier part of these reflections, I made note that the taking of vows was, first and foremost, an act of love.

Religious community is not about working out a brother or sister’s personal salvation, although there should be no doubt by now that life in community acts as a forge, helping the individual conform themselves to a Godly life. Virtues such as patience, forbearance, generosity, charity and compassion can’t be learned easily without engagement with others. But, while community acts as a school for learning these things, it is the modeling of these things — witness to them in the world — that is at the heart of what religious witness is about.

Christians are called to be participants in seeking the conditions to help usher in the Reign of God. We are called to partnership with God in the healing of what is broken in the world. And, as such, community life is our testing ground for what shape the Reign of God might take, and a support for us as we demonstrate it in daily life to the world around us.

Religious witness is not about earning God’s love and grace. Rather it is a grateful response to the love and grace that we believe we have already received! It is, as noted in the quote from our Rule above, a witness to the love of God that has *already* been bestowed on us and all of creation.

Religious witness should also begin from a place of humility — the recognition on the part of the individual that without the love of Christ which precedes it, and the support of a community of others to support it, the individual is incapable of discerning the path and doing the work alone. It is a fierce critique of the individualism that our culture so values.

A life of love and service stems from a desire to share a blessing we have already received with a world terribly in need of blessing. We love because we are loved first by God, and we serve because our hearts recognize the abundance of that love and it impels us to share it in acts of love and compassion modeled by our teacher, Jesus, who taught us that in doing these things the Reign of God draws near.

How do we serve?

“Work, being our share in creation and partnership with God in that creation, can be sanctified. All labor is equal in glory, honor and importance and the work of a brother should bear these qualities. Keeping in mind that all talents are gifts of the Holy Spirit, the work of all brothers must be to the greater glory of God. Work is an oblation to God, as is service to our fellow man.” — Of Work as an Apostolate, BSG Rule

The vision of all labor being equal is not a stretch for those in religious witness. This in spite of the fact that the world may strongly disagree. But in a tradition that emphasizes the dignity of every human being, it should come as no surprise that the gifts and skills of each individual are a part of that inviolable dignity.

When communities of religious come together around a particular set of gifts and skills such as teaching, preaching, hospital ministry, etc. we call this a charism. Communal charism is workable in an enclosure like a monastery or convent, but becomes untenable in a community that is dispersed like my own.

The vision of the Reign of God pre-supposes that everyone will have a place and that everyone will have a role to fill. And, they will all be different based as they are on the unique gifts of the individual. The charism of the individual is lauded as a gift of the Spirit, and it’s use is put toward God’s purposes. What a vision!

It is not just the life of prayer and study, not just the work of the Church as an institution, not just those things we might lump under the heading “ministry” like teaching or preaching or worship that constitute “holiness” of life. But our work is an integral part of the wholeness of the individual, and bringing it under the discipline of a Rule of Life makes it an essential part of religious witness.

Imagine if every person approached their work with a sense of equality of labor rather than status as the world demands? Imagine if everyone approached their work in a way that modeled the qualities of fairness, justice, mercy and love. Or if they exercised patience, humility, quietness, and generosity in their work rather than seeing these qualities as reserved for “other” areas of their lives — how would the world change for the better?

Imagine if we looked at those we serve and those with whom we work – or those who provide for our needs by serving us — as having their own inherent dignity, and whose labor is equal in importance to God — how would the world change? This sanctification of work, and its understanding as part of the apostolate of every individual, is what religious bear witness to. Religious communities that are dispersed are in a unique position to bear witness to these qualities.

Where do we serve?

Our culture is filled with images straight out of Hollywood film or an Umberto Eco novel about what religious life is supposed to look like. The monastery is an idealized place, whose rhythms reflect the balance between work, study, prayer and silence. The monks or nuns in residence diligent in order and purpose, models of Godly life that are somehow working out their salvation by participation in the ordered life of the cloister.

Work in the enclosure is intended to keep hands from being idle, and the fruits of those labors largely in support of the monastery or the immediately surrounding community — the farming of vegetables, the kitchen bustling to feed an army of religious and the occasional visitor, the laundry and cleaning to maintain the order and dignity of the house. Today, these types of cloistered religious life are largely gone. And while this is a model still maintained in some rare places, these orders are disappearing as vocations dwindle and the realities of maintaining property financially strap the communities.

Within the contemporary communities that are dispersed, we often say that we carry the monastery on our backs. The trend of movement is away from the enclosure and into the world where religious witness might reach more people. The balance intended by the order maintained in religious houses must now be cultivated in the world among the myriad distractions the world has to offer. Work, study, prayer and worship must now be balanced with family obligations, secular job responsibilities, civic and community responsibilities and other needs in a manner that requires tremendous discipline. While many may be tempted to believe that being a religious in the world requires less of the brother or sister than a commitment to live in a monastery, quite the opposite is true.

The opportunity for ministry and witness by dispersed religious in the world is greatly expanded, and the potential for service is limited only by our imaginations. We serve whom God has placed right in front of us. Even, and perhaps most especially, by our labor — our work — in love and service to the glory of God.

—Br. Karekin

A Primer on Religious Life – Part Two: About Vows

In a recent article on Religious Life in the Church, I was asked to clarify what vows signify in a religious community, especially in a contemporary one such as our own Brotherhood of Saint Gregory. The article touched on our Rule of Life as a distinguishing characteristic of religious witness, as opposed to lay and ordained ministry in the Church. Neither of which is mutually exclusive to religious life, but brothers and sisters in communities simply have a different paradigm by which we experience the Church and religious witness.

The vows taken up by religious in the church are one of the tools by which we seek to conform ourselves to God’s will, as witnessed in the life and teachings of Jesus – our Teacher. These vows differ from community to community – the Benedictine tradition holding to Stability, Conversion of Life, and Obedience. The Franciscan tradition follows the Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience. It is these latter three that I will offer in this reflection, being the three that my own community follows, and the most readily recognized when one speaks of religious vows. I also readily acknowledge that our community, being a contemporary expression of religious life, interprets these vows somewhat differently given our nature as a community that lives in the world – in diaspora – and that we allow for individuals regardless of marital status. So, I suppose a little history might be in order before we get started.

Out of This World!

During the long history of religious life, many more sisters and brothers were confined to the monastery or convent than were permitted to live in the world. Traditional Benedictine religious life was confined to the enclosure and many monastic traditions developed out of that way of life. Stability, Conversion, and Obedience were tools by which the personalities in a monastic setting were subsumed into the discipline and order of the house in which they lived together. Obedience to the Abbot or Abbess was required for discipline, and Stability and Conversion of Life referred to conforming to and accepting the manner of life required to maintain order. The spiritual significance of these vows in the lives of the women and men who took them up were explored and written about for centuries as being fruitful in their own right in also conforming the individual to a godly life, where the needs and concerns of others held precedence over the needs of individuals, and where pride, hubris, selfishness and vanity could be overcome by a life dedicated to principles intended to transform the individual into someone more becoming follower of Christ.

St. Francis gave new Counsels to his followers, intending as he did that they would not be confined to the monastery, but live in the world as itinerant preachers, teachers, and care-givers for the poor and outcast. For Francis, what was important is that his followers also be poor and live in solidarity among those they served. The admonition of jesus to “sell all you have and come follow me” was taken quite literally by those Franciscans named for their visionary founder. These Franciscans relied on the hospitality of others and begging for alms to make their way through the world. Before his lifetime ended, the Church – in terror of the witness to Poverty among the followers of Francis – brought them under the authority of the church and then required them to live in common houses like their monastic predecessors. We call these houses “friaries.” Francis was not pleased.

Over centuries of witness, the shared life and teachings of religious who took these vows, and the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, the vows of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience have come to be associated with very specific meanings and practices. Poverty signifying the giving up of possessions to enter the religious house, and the holding of all goods in common so that no one had anything more (or less) than any of the others. Personal possessions were a no no. Chastity signifying sexual abstinence – not only generally but also, quite particularly, abstaining from sex with others in the monastery! And Obedience signifying, again, obedience to the heads and masters (or mistresses) of the order for the purpose of discipline and self-conformity to the will of God, and obedience to God’s commands as taught by Jesus and interpreted by the particular manner and form of the community of followers.

Fast Forward

One of the most startling, and in retrospect impactful, reforms of religious life since Francis happened in the 1960’s during the Second Vatican Council in the Roman Catholic Church. And it was not entirely intentional. Married life was declared as an entirely equal, authentic, and spiritual value for the individual as was the celibate life of those religious who professed Chastity as one of their vows! No longer were religious brothers and sisters considered to have a better, more exalted, or more dear quest for godly life than those who were married, raising families and ministering as lay people in the Church.

There were two unexpected consequences to this pronouncement. One is that traditional religious left their communities in droves to get married! The other is that communities of religious were either forced to rethink what religious witness looked like, or other new communities were formed that began to bring religious life into this new modernity of the Church. The religious orders in the Episcopal Church were likewise affected.

The Brotherhood of Saint Gregory, my own community, can be said to fall squarely in the realm of this vision for new, modern expressions of religious witness.

Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience In The World

So, how do you explain to folks who ask – How do you have a vow of Poverty when you own your own home? How do you practice Chastity when you’re married? What does Obedience mean today when individuality is everything?

As with most things, the value of the vows is what they point to, and not in the particular ways that one or another community chooses to live them. This has always been the case even among the traditional orders that flourished over centuries, each of which had differing opinions, implementations, and practices around what the vows meant specifically. But, over time, the deeper meanings of the vows – and more importantly the spiritual value to which they pointed – got lost in the minutia of specific practice of the vows conflation with one and only one particular. Sure, Chastity meant celibacy for traditional religious. But the spiritual value of Chastity as embodied in the celibate life became less important than the specific practice, the discipline and struggle of maintaining it, and became weighed down by the suspicion of the body that accompanied it.

So, if we take up the vows in the world, in the context of communities that allow for married or partnered life, where we might no longer beg for bread or have to conform to the rigors and order of the common house, the vows need to return to their roots. What are the spiritual values to which the vows point, and what practices can be built up around them that conform to the world in which these new orders inhabit while still providing the means of spiritual transformation and discipline that are the hallmark of religious life?

A Gregorian Perspective

People have often asked me to distill the three evangelical counsels (our vows) into what we see as essential, in order that we might live them while being fully in the world. Far from being “simpler” than the traditional vows, they are in some ways more difficult in that they apply to every relationship that we encounter while being religious fully in the world.

Poverty – No matter what you have, it isn’t yours. Use everything in your possession for the benefit of God’s people and for God’s glory. It’s not about what you have, but what you do with what you have.

Chastity – People are ends and not means. They are not possessions. They have integrity and dignity and wholeness and so should you. Free yourself to love.

Obedience – Freedom is not about doing what you want. It’s about being released from the prison of selfish desires. Stop manipulating circumstances and people to get what you want.

Our vows are not ends in and of themselves. They are means. They force us to become aware of the idols we have erected in our lives that distract us from our responsibility to love and serve God and others. They are the means by which we learn to tear those idols down. What idols, or obsessions if you will, do the vows help us to recognize? Poverty points to our obsessions with security and safety. Chastity points to unhealthy pursuit of affection and the esteem of others. Obedience to our desire for power and control. We are distracted from God when our inordinate attachment to these things warps our sense of perspective and proportion. The three vows provide starting points for dismantling the systems we have built up, culturally and individually, that draw our love inward towards the self and it’s desires rather than towards God and other.

When vows become an end rather than a means to an end, they turn quickly to false idols. When Poverty becomes just about money and possessions; Chastity merely about sex; Obedience solely about submission to authority; then we lose the opportunity to focus on what the vows are meant to accomplish. We miss the thing to which they point. Vows don’t lead to the relinquishment of the will, but our stretching of it so that it can be conformed to the will of God – which is to love God and neighbor.

The taking of vows is, in its essence, an act of love. It is a gift of the self to God and an acceptance of God’s gift of self to us. It is a costly gift, because it is predicated on the acceptance that the journey will transform us from what we are into what God intends for us to be. This means the laying aside of selfish assertions of the will, and the learning of its right use. This can only be accomplished by trusting the love of God to be the central defining locus of our identity, and the true measure of our value.

A Final Thought

There are many and varied new expressions of religious life coming into being all over the Church today. Each of them will undertake different forms of witness, require different vows or interpretations of those vows, and come up with increasingly creative ways to express religious witness while maintaining continuity with the long history of traditional religious life. Some will last for a long while, others only for a time. Most of them will be in the world rather than inside a monastery or other enclosure.

Each of them will have an opportunity to bear witness to what it means to love and serve God and others, whether through prayer or action. Each will have opportunity to build community using their Rule and vows to foster that community’s strengths and cohesion, while offering a vision of transformation into what it means to become a follower of Christ into the love of God.

The opportunity for these communities to do so as visible members of the Church is an extraordinary change and blessing. But ours is not to believe that we are the light, but only to “become messengers for the One who is the light.” To that end, whatever vows we take up, we ought to remember that it is not the specifics of practice that are the point, but only the spiritual benefit that they point to, and the fruit they bear in the lives of the individual and in the common life of the community that will lead the Church into its true calling to help usher in the Reign of God based on justice, mercy, truth and love.

A Primer on Religious Life — Part One: “Hey, what are you?”

One of the joys of being a senior brother in the religious community that I belong to is the myriad opportunities I have to watch newer members of the Brotherhood learn about what it means to be a brother in the Church.

I remember well the days of learning to articulate what it meant to suddenly be a brother to those in my life who had known me long before I made that choice. What was it (or is it now) that makes me different than I was? What IS a brother? “Are you like a priest or something?”

Even in our beloved Episcopal Church, there is little to no understanding of what a brother is, or does…or what makes us different. What makes us a religious — brother or sister — and what is the Church supposed to make of us?

This is nothing new. Even in the days of St. Benedict or St. Francis of Assisi as they founded religious communities, the Church was perplexed as to what to make of us. And often, the Church’s response was to quickly gather religious into and under the authority of the Church to keep them from becoming troublesome. Especially when they bandied about words like Poverty and Simplicity in the midst of a Church whose coffers were overflowing with money, and a magisterium that was filled with men referred to as Princes of the Church – ostentatious in their displays of wealth and power.

The community I belong to, the Brotherhood of Saint Gregory, is a religious community that lives scattered about rather than living in a monastery or a friary. We are open to individuals regardless of marital status, so many of us have spouses and families, and we live as religious in the world rather than behind a cloister wall. This adds another layer of complexity to trying to define what role religious play in the world and in the Church when we are no longer tucked away in quiet gardens out of sight.

So this is a primer — for those of you who want to know more about who we are and what we do, and also a primer for those newer members of religious communities who might find it hard to articulate what being a brother or sister means to those who don’t quite understand what your new place is — in or out of the Church.

One Rule to Ring Them All

The first and foremost thing that makes a religious brother or sister different is a document called a Rule of Life. A Rule (from the Latin regula for yardstick, measure) is a document that governs the life of a religious community and its individual members. A Rule contains a set of instructions for how we live, what we ought to do, and how we should measure our spiritual lives. It often contains “vows” and those vows vary from community to community. Poverty, Chastity and Obedience in some cases, Simplicity and Conversion of Life in others. But the vows are ways in which religious brothers and sisters vow to regulate their lives in areas of possessions, relationships, and decision making.

The Rule also governs such things as how often we pray and worship, how we study sacred writings such as Scripture and the lives of the saints, our perspectives on work, how often we take retreat time, meditate, and how we ought to treat each other in community and in the world. A Rule outlines perspectives and goals for living a full, balanced, and healthy spiritual life and how we take care of ourselves and others.

In the case of my own community, we see the Rule as a concrete way of living out the promises we as Christians make when we are baptized. The Rule is the way we check ourselves to make sure that God is at the center of our lives and actions, rather than our own selfish pursuits or the pursuits that the world tells us are valuable. This is why it is often said of religious that we live “in the world, but not of the world.”

The Rule is a tool that we use to check ourselves when we are out of balance, and a tool that we use to measure whether we are in balance and health with God, with our own selves and with others around us. It is the regula or the measuring stick by which we evaluate that we are being true to God’s desire for us.

The Rule is a fundamental definition of what makes us religious. In the Church, people tend to divide the world into lay people (the ordinary folks in the pews) and ordained people (bishops, priests, deacons). Not so for religious. We see the world and the church in terms of regular (under a Rule) and secular (not under a Rule).

A Rose By Any Other Name

In some religious orders, it has remained tradition that new religious change their names on entrance to the community. This comes from a time when, again, mitigating individual status was important when living in a monastery. it was also useful when there were 20 or 30 men named John or 40 women named Mary to give them another name to avoid confusion!

Today, the symbolism of names in religious communities is different. Some choose to keep their given and baptismal names as a way of expressing continuity with their old life. Some choose to take a new name entirely to symbolize a complete break with an old life and the beginning of a new one in Christ. Either is perfectly fine. The only time it isn’t is when taking a new name results in one identity in community and another outside of it. God wants us to be integrated and whole, not lead double lives.

The challenges of taking a new name in religion lies in those who have known you for years with a different one. Especially when living as a scattered community such as ours. There are no hard and fast rules about whether to take a new name, and the challenges that come when one decides to do that. Even if one decides simply to take up their full baptismal name (i.e. Brother John Edward, or Sister Marie Grace), there will be moments for the new religious to explain exactly why they’ve chosen to be so called, and challenges on the part of those who have known him or her to use the new name in recognition of the new vocation, commitment, and role of their friend or family member in the world. It takes some stretching and patience on both sides.

Habit forming

Some religious communities wear a distinctive garb and others don’t. I belong to a community that does. This distinctive dress is called a habit, and it hails from a long ago time, and the parts of it originated with specific purposes — many of which are forgotten. The habit did not, in fact, originate as a garb distinctive from what everyone else wore at the time, with a couple of exceptions. The knotted cincture (belt) indicated the vows that religious brothers and sisters took, and the hood on the habit was introduced to solve the particular problem of the wandering eye! The cross, which is a strong symbol of a life dedicated to Christ, his life and death and resurrection, as a symbol for a way of self-giving. But, over time, the habit remained in some fashion or another as a distinctive clothing for religious even while the fashion of the world changed and moved on.

The habit, when it is used as part of religious tradition, marks the brother or sister in the same way a collar marks those who are ordained, even though some religious orders also wear collars as a part of their distinctive garb. It can be equally confusing for folks in the Church as in the world.

The habit also, when living in community, was a great equalizer of individuals. When some were rich and others poor, when some had means and others didn’t, when family ties and connections and status threatened to divide brothers or sisters the same way it does in the world, the habit was a tool for making sure that everyone appeared the same.

The habit is, like the Rule, a tool for religious that helps them conform their lives to the new role they take up in the world and in the Church. Its various parts and their symbolism (purity, labor, strength, etc.) along with the cross (the true habit of an order) can be useful to the religious and those they meet to mark a life dedicated to the service of God and others, and to signify a life set apart to a specific purpose that is God’s alone.

Who is My Brother (Sister)?

The word Brother or Sister is not an honorific (like Doctor or Father or Madame President). It is not a title. It is an indicator of relationship! And it is a relationship that is based on equality rather than hierarchy. A new religious does not take up the indicator of Brother or Sister in an attempt to be better than, more authoritative than, or more important than anyone else. We take it up so that you might know us as equals, relatable, and present in a way that embodies shared experience and desire, bountifully expressed in our shared status as children of God.

Because we are representatives of mutuality in our relationship with God, we are not like clergy who are sacramental presences of God’s authority. This is why we don’t do things like absolve of sins or celebrate Eucharist. We share in sin and we share in Eucharist equally with others, and our presence is meant to symbolize that.

We often play a pastoral role in the lives of others. So do clergy. To understand the difference, imagine sharing your secrets, your fears, your concerns with your parents as opposed to your closest sibling. Both are valuable. Both are cleansing. But they are different. Clergy who are fashioned Mothers and Fathers are vital to the life of the Church. So are Brothers and Sisters.

The Church often has a hard time understanding the role of Brothers and Sisters in religious community. Unfortunately, there is a long history of demands, educational requirements, responsibilities of clergy in the Church that has led to an equal sense of entitlements and privileges. We call this clericalism in the Church. And although in the Episcopal Church we have tried to mitigate it, it has found its way into the institution nonetheless. As a result, the presence of religious in the Church has created a dynamic that is confusing.

Again, while the Church sees lay and ordained, we find the distinction largely problematic for us. We religious don’t seek entitlement or privilege or authority. We only seek the exercise of a ministry of presence, a life of compassion, encouragement in gifts, and a deep sense of mutual responsibility to God and the mandates of Christ in the Gospels. We know that clergy seek this too, but we also recognize that the requirements and duties of ordained life often compromise the ability to pursue this witness to our mutuality. We try, in most cases, to avoid the entanglements of ordained life (unless it becomes a logical extension of our vowed life) to pursue a life that symbolizes what we refer to in the Church as the “priesthood of all believers.” This priesthood comes from our Baptism, and we as religious try to be icons of the life that Baptism calls us all to live as believers and followers of Christ.

There are Brothers and Sisters who are also ordained to one of the orders of ministry (bishop, priest, deacon) in the Church. We call them regular clergy (as opposed to secular clergy). Interestingly, in most cases, they still refer to themselves as Brother so and so, or Sister so and so…rather than take up the honorific of Mother of Father. This is telling, in that they still recognize that their approach to presence with others is still deeply informed by equality rather than authority.

Eat Pray Love

In the olden days of the Church, while clergy were tethered to the Church building, the parish and the local community, religious Brothers and Sisters especially in the era of the Franciscans and Dominicans, were wandering, itinerant preachers and teachers. The Franciscans were a radical departure from the communities of old who stayed firmly ensconced in the monastery and rarely left.

Most religious in the world today are closer to the Franciscan model, being permitted (or in some cases required) to walk in the world. Communities confined to the monastery or convent are more rare than ever given the way the world has changed. And, in the Episcopal Church which has claimed its Catholic heritage while remaining true to its Reformation roots, there is ever more likelihood that religious will be present in its congregations and life than at any time previously. And so, it is imperative for those religious, and for the Church itself, to understand what role religious play in its life and order.

Brothers and Sisters under a Rule of Life are called to bear witness to the vocation that all Christians are called to live. One of heeding the call of the Gospel life, one of helping to usher in the Reign of God promised by Jesus, and one that takes seriously the requirements that he laid down for his followers to bear witness to the God and Father he called “Abba.”

This means bearing witness to the shared life of all believers that is summed up in the breaking of bread (Eucharist), constant engagement with God (Daily Prayer), and the Great Commandment (love God and one another). Or as the title of a recent bestselling book succinctly put it, “Eat, Pray, Love”.

Religious Brothers and Sisters are engaged in a unique approach to this Gospel life that not only requires them to engage in this manner of living, but also to bear witness to this life to others — both in the world and in the Church. The world is surprisingly open and receptive to this ministry of presence, to the compassion, love and service that religious offer. The Church, too often sadly, simply doesn’t know what to do with us — convinced that we must either be clergy or some other anomaly that is peculiar and curious and perhaps irrelevant.

While a good number of clergy in the Episcopal Church understand and appreciate religious life very well and are truly supportive of our vocations, others often see us either as adversaries, pretenders, or second class citizens. And, sadly, a good number of clergy in the Church don’t even remember that we are there. As for the laity, they often see us as failed clergy or a different kind of clergy. We are not any of these things. We are, simply, what you are called to be. We are not better at it. We have no deeper knowledge or mastery of prayer, meditation, or more clear knowledge of God. We simply bear witness to what it means to take these things as central and essential qualities of life, and then to engage in them more deliberately as means by which we may discover what it means to live — as Jesus called us all to live — as people who claim to follow him more deeply into the love of God.

Thoughts on Liturgical Engagement in the LGBT Community

Having spent last evening at DioCal’s Pride Mass celebrated at a local gay bar, I want to share some thoughts on what it means to bring Eucharist to these kinds of venues, and what the implications are for engagement with the LGBT* community on the ground of their own experience.

It was really a terrific crowd. More people, in fact, than I see in my parish on a Sunday morning. It takes a good deal courage for the Church (especially our beloved Episcopal Church) to step outside of its comfort zone to do what may be considered radical by both other members of ECUSA and also the LGBT* community at large. There are huge opportunities for engagement and mutual transformation. In my experience to date, however, the Eucharist as celebrated in a gay bar hasn’t provided those opportunities. Not yet…

In between intermittent bouts of self-consciousness and a little bit of condescension (OK…maybe slightly more than a little) — there were real moments of grace. There was something powerful and beautiful about the drag performers who stood among us during the Mass — truly in their own way a priesthood *de jure* in the LGBT* community. Watching the film “Milk” begin to play on the television monitors as we sang the closing hymn “We Shall Overcome” was particularly moving. But, I really wonder if we liturgically minded Episcopalians haven’t failed to consider that it is not only unreasonable, but in fact misses a huge opportunity, to merely transpose our liturgy into that type of venue with only minor accommodation for space and circumstance. Really an odd experience.

We religious folks still have to find the right language to speak about what it means to be ministers of the Gospel in the LGBT community. We do not minister to, but we minister among. And, I find myself asking “to what purpose?” Why the Eucharist? And to what ends? Evangelism? Engagement? Apologetic? Welcome? Hospitality?

The Pride Mass was an exercise in unclear motivations and odd accommodation. If it was to make us feel good about ourselves…then I suspect it was a success. If it was to bear witness to others of what our faith proclaims, then it was not a very clear statement. If it was to proclaim “welcome” to others and to engage the community via the patrons and staff of the bar, then I’m afraid it was a dismal failure.

Some observations about the event… From an outside perspective, it would appear that the Episcopal Church is composed entirely of clergy and religious. There were a few people not in clericals there, but overwhelmingly it appeared to be a rather close knit group of insiders, well familiar with one another already, and largely church professionals. I’m proud that my church and its clergy are so supportive and engaged, and are so earnestly trying to provide welcome and affirmation of the LGBT* community. It’s why I’ve made it my home. But, sadly, from the attendance last night you would have thought that no clergy actually informed the folks in the pews that attending would be a good thing.

The liturgy itself was — typically — a scaled down version of Sunday worship. Opening Hymn, Call to Worship, A Reading (Matthew’s Beatitudes), Prayers of the People, The Peace, Eucharist, and Postcommunion Prayer, Hymn and Blessing. The musicians were lovely (piano, violin, and vocalist), but the music choices were a little evangelical for my taste, but that’s just me.

What was apparent, however, is how little the Eucharistic liturgy lends itself to spaces like a bar. Of course, churches are constructed to accommodate the shape of the liturgy. Hence the reason we so often struggle in the church when trying to re-imagine it, confined as we are by a space that was constructed to do things a certain way. So, here is an observation. I have been to many successful Eucharists held on the street in Castro. Beautiful, open, inviting experiences. But bars are a different venue. Constructed for specific purposes. And they do not lend themselves to the liturgical movement or structure of the Eucharist, particularly as it’s done normally in Church. So why do we even try to do it the same way without some inventive re-imagining of what Eucharist could be in this very contextual place?

Were there saving graces? The Bishop’s Eucharistic canon, an almost poetic ex tempore reflection, was lovely. The homily on Trinity as community was excellent, and particularly noteworthy for me was his reflection on the fact that the Gospel reading chosen was most usually one heard at funerals! As for interested parties who were not Episcopalian? Zero. Tone deaf certainly applies for the rest.

We NEED to rethink what liturgical structure, movement, acts and words are appropriate in such a location and space. And we need to do so with a clear understanding of what we hope to accomplish in doing so. Otherwise, it merely looks as though we decided to take over someone else’s space for an hour to do a really poor imitation of what we do on Sundays, with no clear message and no hospitality offered even to our hosts other than an admonition to please tip the bartenders. We can do better.

I think having liturgical experiences in bars and other places *could* be marvelous. But we need to break out of our own comfort zones to re-imagine what might be possible. Firstly, the experience cannot really be about “us” except insofar as we are willing to acknowledge that we are open to being transformed by the community we minister among. To make it about us stepping outside of our own comfort zones, or being challenged comes perilously close to using others’ spaces and experiences as a means to our own ends, and that is most certainly not evangelism, nor is it expressly why we’ve chosen to do such things as works of mission and ministry among the LGBT community.

It should not be about converting members of the community via some liturgical “altar-call” like moment, but rather by engagement that can be mutually transformative. In cases like last night, the liturgical movement of Eucharist precisely prohibited engagement with the community surrounding us. And here, for me, is part of the problem. The Eucharist is not a tool, and so perhaps is not the right type of liturgical experience for this type of venue. Again…what is the purpose? If we, as we did last night, transpose our liturgical celebration as is into the venue of a gay bar, the natural result is that the community that gathers to celebrate becomes a powerful barrier to those who choose NOT to participate. An altar rail made of flesh and blood that bars the way if not the view of an insider celebration being performed outside, for outsiders.

We, for issues of sheer practicality due to the nature of *how* we celebrate Eucharist in church, shepherded ourselves into one side of the bar and “performed” a version of a Mass that was rather awkward and clumsy, and we engaged with no one outside of ourselves until the Mass was ended and the drag show began. So, the question for me becomes…If we are going to have liturgical celebrations in community spaces – particularly in bars that cater to the LGBT community – how do we do so in a way that leads us to engagement with one another?

We have to remember – and I mean really be clear on this – the Mass which is a symbol of comfort and community to us, can be perceived as an act of aggression on the part of a community wounded by the Church, particularly when conducted in their spaces without a suitable way to re-imagine how it becomes an act of hospitality and invitation to engagement with us as religious allies and also LGBT people.

The beginning, I think, of the solution is to look at what the Eucharist symbolizes for us as insiders in the Church. God’s love? Community? An equalizer of differences? A breaking of that which separates us? Unpack what Eucharist is. THEN, find out what symbolizes those things in the LGBT community and find a way to connect them. Liturgy is nothing if the symbolism has no resonance. And what symbols work for those of us who are engaged with the church may hold no meaning at all for those outside of the Church, except maybe that they are uncomfortable reminders of a religion that has wounded, expelled, or ignored them. Time for new symbols or accept the fact that Eucharist is perhaps not the right choice for these venues.

As I said, there were moments of real grace last night. But there has to be a better way for us to be authentically ourselves and yet create a liturgical moment that is inventive, sacred, hospitable, and reverent — and allows space for us to enter more deeply into engagement with the community on the ground of their experience, and not merely by transposing our liturgical narrative in situ — and a poor shadow at that — into a world created in part to escape the very narratives that marginalized the community in the first place.

I give tremendous props to those who coordinated the event last night, and to those who showed up. It takes courage and care to even begin a movement like this, and to find a model that is sustainable for future engagement. And, I think it can be done! But I encourage all of us to look at this with clear eyes, and to step outside of the familiar. I’m sure we can create a liturgical experience that has, at its core, a new language and new model for building community that leads inexorably towards Eucharist — Communion — without forcing the LGBT* community to engage with Eucharist as the entry point rather than a destination we can all arrive at together when the time is right and God wills it.

Christian Anarchism in Practice

There are certain things in the Christian faith that I hold to be evident from the Scriptures and what we can be sure was the major part of Jesus’ teaching. The most important of these is the Sermon on the Mount, with the Beatitudes and Jesus’ most important teachings on forgiveness. For me, this along with the Golden Rule is a sufficient ethical framework for Christian life.

Because I am a Christian Anarchist, and one who above all holds peace to be paramount to all of our works as Christian people — radical peace — then all actions that I take in my life should (I hope and trust with God’s help) adequately demonstrate my commitment. All of our striving for justice, love, and mercy in the Kingdom of God we are called to inhabit find their origins in this peace that I believe in so strongly.

In my opinion, the nation/state is an entity fully and unapologetically committed to violence. Aside from the wars it fights, it’s systems have been set up to perpetuate the power of the powerful, protect the landed and monied classes, and to regulate the behavior of the poor and marginalized to ensure that they do not rise to challenge the elite classes. Because I believe that the state is the antithesis of the Kingdom, and find the state a primary perpetrator of violence, I have committed myself to participate in the mechanisms of the state as little as possible. I believe that God and not the state is the ultimate authority over us. Naive perhaps, but it is my starting point nonetheless and I am committed to where that point leads me.

The “one man revolution” that Christian Anarchism calls us to means that my decision to follow the laws of God and conscience rather than the laws of men is my own, deeply personal, and relies solidly on the teachings of Jesus summarized in the Sermon on the Mount. Here is where I believe that the laws of God as taught by Christ are most adequately summarized, and that the implied ethics of this teaching are, in fact, complete. It is a radical decision to live my faith in action deeply and honorably, but it means making decisions that people don’t often understand.

There are some ways that I am forced to participate in the systems of violence that the government creates. A primary example is being forced to pay taxes that pay for war. My goal is to continue to strive to reach a place where my income eventually falls below the threshold required to pay taxes that subsidize the systemic violence of the nation state.

There are concrete ways I can choose not to participate. I can avoid investing in government bonds. I can choose not to vote knowing that our government comprised as it is of elected individuals, is corrupted by violence. And I can avoid jury service where the government forces me to sit in judgment over another human being – a human being whose truth and story I will never really know because wealthy lawyers are paid to twist the truth into one compelling tale versus another to make their case. Truth be damned. I can avoid fighting in their wars. I can engage in civil disobedience and protest. And I can do all of these things committed to nonviolence.

I avoid what I avoid because I truly believe that these systems simply perpetuate more violence. There are countless ways that I can and do work for justice, peace, and forward the work of the Kingdom that Jesus talked about — without having the be a tool of the state and the government, or participate knowingly or unknowingly in the violence of the system. And all of my decisions are based on discerning how, whether, when I am actually participating in these systems and to make decisions to eliminate or mitigate my own complicity in them.

So, I hope you understand that my choice is at least a principled one, even if you may not agree with my decisions or my means of reaching them. For me, it is a form of radical discipleship and a concerted effort to live with integrity the values that I believe Jesus taught us.

A Eucharistic Prayer for Lent (Abundance)

The people remain standing. The Celebrant, whether bishop or priest,

faces them and sings or says

                  God be with you.

People                        And also with you.

Celebrant            Lift up your hearts.

People                        We lift them to the Lord.

Celebrant            Let us give thanks to God.

People                        It is right to give God thanks and praise.

Then, facing the Holy Table, the Celebrant proceeds

It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and every-

where to give thanks to you, Almighty God, Supreme Artisan

of all Creation.

Here a Proper Preface is sung or said on all Sundays, and on other

occasions as appointed.

Therefore we join our voices to proclaim you, singing with Angels and

Archangels, with all the noble company of the heavens and your

creation, who for ever raise this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name:

Celebrant and People

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,

heaven and earth are full of your glory.

         Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

         Hosanna in the highest.

The people stand or kneel.

Then the Celebrant continues

Holy God: We give thanks to you for the abundance of

possibility which you have made known to us in your creation.

You brought forth on your earth a garden paradise and filled

it with every good and beautiful wonder; things that bloom and

blossom, creatures both great and curious, and commanded all things

to grow and multiply and bring forth life plenteously.

In the midst of the garden you had made, you gathered the rich

soil in your tender hands, and fashioned human kind in your image

Breathing your Spirit upon them, you filled them with creative

possibility and sent them forth to tend and nurture all that you

had made. While in our pride we failed you, you did not leave us.

Through prophets and teachers you called us back. Through Moses

you brought us to a plentiful land. Time and again you offered us

abundance, seeking only that we should bring forth that which you

had purposed for us and for all of your creation.

When the time was ripe for harvest, you sent your Christ. Incarnate of the Holy Spirit, woven together in the womb of Mary, he entered the world to sow the seeds of your kingdom in our hearts, so that finally your mercy and justice might flourish. Through parables and deeds of power, he taught us your will. He proclaimed your purpose as no other, calling us to feed the hungry, clothe the poor and heal the sick.

And when the time had come for him glorify your name to the ends of the earth, he offered himself up to death and, rising from the grave, made the whole creation new again.

At the following words concerning the bread, the Celebrant is to hold it

or lay a hand upon it; and at the words concerning the cup, to hold or

place a hand upon the cup and any other vessel containing wine to be


On the night he was taken from us and handed over to death,

our Lord Jesus Christ took bread made by human hands; and when

he had given thanks to you, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples,

and said, “Take, eat: This is my Body, which is given for you.

As often as you do this, remember me.”

After supper he took the cup of wine brought forth from the vineyard; and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and said, “Drink this, all of you:

This is my Blood of the new Promise, which is shed for you and for all for the forgiveness of sins and the refreshment of your souls. Whenever you drink it, remember me.”

Therefore we proclaim the mystery of faith:

Celebrant and People

Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

Christ will come again.

The Celebrant continues

We celebrate the memorial of our salvation, O God, by this offering of praise and thanksgiving. Recalling his death, resurrection, and ascension, we offer you these gifts from the bounty of your Creation.

Make them holy by your Life-Giving Spirit; to be for your people the

Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of renewed

and unending life in him. Sanctify us also that we may faithfully

receive this holy Sacrament, and serve you as a people, willingly

transformed; that we, like this bread, may be taken, blessed, broken, and given to the world to proclaim your Good News, and at the last day bring us with all your saints into the blessed abundance of your eternal kingdom.

All this we ask through your Son Jesus Christ, the great lover of souls. By him, and with him, and in him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit all praise and honor is yours, Almighty God, until the end of time. To you alone be glory. AMEN.

Do You Know?

To all of our non-LGBT friends, I just want to paint a picture. Because today, I need to get something off of my chest.

Do you know what it’s like to wake up every day and find your life the subject of endless debate? Do you know what it is like to feel like everyone is talking about you when you’re sitting in the room? Do you know what it is like to be treated like an issue rather than a person?

Do you know what it’s like to hear a stream of reasons why your marriage is not a marriage, or why it’s grounds to refuse you service in a local business, or why you deserve no rights, or fewer rights, or why asking for your rights constitutes some completely unreasonable request to be treated differently rather than the same as anyone else?

Do you know what its like to hear debated over ad nauseam whether it is right for you to be around children even though you have loved and raised your own, or nephews and nieces and cousins and the children of your heterosexual friends? And having loved them, and nurtured them, and laughed with them and played tag and hide and seek and kick ball and Easter Egg hunts — hear constantly that somehow there is something dirty and vile just beneath the surface?

Do you know what it’s like when you attend Church, and celebrate holy days with friends of varying traditions, and believe in God — to hear religious fanatics in the public square claim their right to discriminate against you in the name of religious freedom?

Do you really know what it’s like to wake up to another protest by the Westboro Baptists and others like them who say that “God Hates Fags” and that America is being punished because of you? Or that the word “fag” is even still lobbed at you in all seriousness?

Do you know what it’s like to have to fill out a special form for an insurance company to prove you “are really married”, or to have to create a “dummy” tax return to get the numbers right to file taxes “as though you were really married”, or to hear even the most well intentioned new friend ask if your reference to your “husband” means that you were really married for real — I mean for “real” and how and where you managed it?

Do you know what it’s like to have come out at 15 years old, and still at the age of 48 to feel as though you still have to come out again and again and again, an realize that in the 30+ years of trying to be your authentic self that you’re still being discussed as an issue — still — and that the acceptance you’ve worked for your entire adult life is still not necessarily forthcoming? Or that, if it is, it is only coming in the form of protections and laws grudgingly doled out and still more vehemently opposed at every step by people who don’t know you?

Do you know what it’s like to constantly have the temptation of the closet lurking just behind you with it’s own particular hell, always mocking you as an alternative to being truthful about who you really are?

Do you know what it’s like to see laws passed around the world that criminalize you? Do you know what it’s like to see LGBT teenagers, the ones you hoped to create a better world for with your political and social activism, commit suicide in vast numbers rather than face what the world has to offer?

Do you know what it’s like to recognize that homophobia is never ever going to go away, just like racism is never going away, and that your struggle to legitimize your worth as a human being is going to continue as long as you are alive?

Because if you stop for a second, I can guarantee that you that you absolutely have no idea what that feels like. For those who are our allies in the fight, your advocacy and love and fight for justice is so important. You don’t have to search for ways to legitimize us or our struggle by equating it to anything comparable in your own life. Or equating it to other struggles of the past or the present — for all of these struggles are different even while they share some characteristics.

No, it is enough to know that it is wrong. It is enough to know that in standing with us, you will risk much. But stop for a moment and ask yourself what it must feel like to endure this conversation every single day of your life because you can’t check out whenever it suits you to focus on other issues, because this issue is literally about you, your life, and your value as a human being.

I just needed to bear witness to this truth today. Because I’m tired. So many of us are just tired to the bone. And I really want you to understand that sometimes — you really don’t understand.

Genderqueer? Why Facebook’s Gender “Menu” Rocks!

I am not merely effeminate. The expression of that part of myself transcends mannerism and gesture and behavior. The part of me that aligns most closely with what our culture perceives to be feminine is deeper than that.

I am not trans* and yet do not feel comfortable identifying as cis-gender male without a bunch of qualifiers. And yet, I am not only effeminate — or a “sissy” as they used to call us in the old days. I am a gender nonconforming person. And this has nothing to do with the biological sex I was born with. Gender is a purely social construct. It is about me and where I fit on the male/female, masculine/feminine spectrum of false binaries we have created.

Being effeminate was something I used to think I had to overcome. No one has made me feel the need to overcome it more urgently than other gay men, whose investment in cultural definitions of masculinity are often overwrought, preening, and conspicuous.

I began being confused with being a girl when I was only about 4 or 5 years old. Halloween was always the time when my mother, God bless her, would always be told what a beautiful little girl she had, even when I was dressed as a cat or a scarecrow.

I grew my hair long early on, around 9 or 10, and always had the desire to do that until I lost it all at 22 and no longer had the choice. From the time I was a pre-teen, I’d have rather been in the kitchen with the women than watching the game on TV. I’d have rather knit and read and learned French than be forced to play GI Joe’s with my cousins or play stickball. I continued to be confused as a woman in person into my 20’s. And I’m still called ma’am on the phone more often than not.

For a man of my generation, I struggled to conform to a “masculine” identity even when it didn’t fit. I deepened my voice when answering the phone or being around the men-folk, yet finally learned as a teen to cross my legs without feeling self-conscious and to have both ears pierced long before it was fashionable. I learned how to be aloof in public, and navigated what kind of tenderness and vulnerability it was appropriate to show to a lover in private without turning them off. “If I wanted someone feminine, I’d date a woman!” Oh yes, straight acting, masculine for same. I learned while being ashamed that I laughed like a girl, and threw a ball like one, and cried when watching movies, that the women who surrounded me were independent and self-sufficient and strong. Even when confronted with the worst that men had to offer. Today, the residual introversion that still plagues me is largely tied to trying to reign in the femininity that is so obvious when I stop thinking and just act like myself.

I was slender and fey and willowy. I dressed as a woman for the first time at 15. It was the same year I came out as gay, and two years before I met Jackie, the woman who for a short time was one of my great loves, and 7 years before I married my now ex-wife who is still one of my dearest friends. And yet, I never identified as bisexual. I am and have always identified as gay, and the women in my life all knew that up front. And yet I am physically attracted to men, women, and those who identify as in between or neither.

I have done drag off and on since that first time. I have also worn skirts to work as a man — to the beach or shopping or to the playa for the Burn. And I’m not talking about a fetish of some sort – hat tip and all respect to those for whom it is so – it is not about sexual thrill. It just feels good. And logical. I mean, why keep all the bits confined in pants if there’s an alternative!

I love needlepoint and fashion and romance and small moments and beauty and all things delicate and fragile and vulnerable. And I love that all of these caricatures of femininity belie the fact of the ferocity and power and strength and aggression that can be hallmark’s of femininity as well. And I love loud punk rock music and football and fast cars and loved wearing a beard and hard nights of partying and being the aggressive conqueror when I was looking for a lover. And I giggle that somehow that stereotypical “masculine” influence somehow took hold when I wasn’t looking.

I have never, ever been accused of being “butch” or “macho” or “manly.” In fact, when these terms have been lobbed at something I’ve said or done, even or MOSTLY in jest, I cringe. As a cis-male, having to survive by living into the cultural caricature of what masculinity is supposed to be, I at times felt weak and vulnerable and threatened. Yet, when embracing my ambiguity in the binary of masculine/feminine I have felt empowered and strong and sassy only when willing to lay down the judgments imposed on me by myself and others. My “femininity” is a part of my emotional life, my relational interactions with others. It is a part of my attachment to women – their empowerment and their sensuality. Their beauty and their ferocity. It is part of my intense indignation when their rights are violated. And part of my deepest shame when their bodies are violated or exploited, or their strength undermined by what is still an extraordinarily sexist culture. Being true to this side of me is when I feel more authentic, and less reticent about my psychological and emotional responses to the world around me. And it is also in this place where I feel the most judged both inside and outside of the LGBT community that I call home.

I have been told to “butch up” and called “faggot” by lovers and friends and fathers and father-figures, and even wrestled with whether or not I was – in fact – transgender. And I know in truth that I am not. I simply do not feel that I am inhabiting the wrong body of the wrong sex. Though occasionally I wonder if I could not have easily lived as a woman for a time. That time, however, is long past. The choices I’ve made along the way and the life I live have closed that door in truth. And I am perfectly comfortable with that.

I do not prefer to be or to become female. And I am not wholly comfortable identifying as male. So, finally, the politics and social implications of our movement for equality have come around. They have given me space and terms to express myself in a way that is empowering and acceptable. At least in a limited way. And for now, that is good. We have a long way to go. I have a long way to go to relinquish the hold that masculine/feminine binaries have imposed on me and so many of us.

For those of you in the straight and even in the LGBT communities who do not understand where gender nonconformity fits on the spectrum; for those of you who do not know why genderqueer is an important word for those of us who self-identify that way; this is for you. This is my confession.

Some words about praying the Daily Office…

As a religious, it is helpful for me to remember that the Daily Office is not my prayer…it is the Church’s prayer. Familiarity with the words is a help, not a hindrance…as I am bound to pray it on behalf of the Church and her members. It is NOT, however, a substitute for my personal prayer and my time with God in conversation. The language of the BCP (or whatever form we use) may or may not inform and infuse my own prayer with lovely words and phrases that become meaningful for me as they connect the needs of the Church to my own needs. But complacency in prayer comes from a lack of surprise, a lack of allowing its content to shake us and confront us with ourselves. I can become complacent with the words of the Office, but my own prayer often surprises me. Scripture and the Psalms always surprise me – especially my reactions to them. If I become worried that the Office has become boring and rote, because I have become so familiar with its words, then somehow I have managed to forget that it is not my prayer…it is my duty. I will not be transformed by the Daily Office, except in the way that any discipline changes me to be…more disciplined! But my transformation will happen in my own prayer life of which the Office is but a small portion.

After 20+ years of praying the Daily Office, it is hard for the words not to sometimes become rote and familiar (to the point of being able to say them sometimes without even hearing them). But, that being said…the words of the Office have become embedded over time in my DNA, into the very fiber of me. In times of trouble, they become comforting and anchoring. Often, my own prayer time is incorporated into the Office (at times appointed for meditation) or I will pause for my own silence and prayer time as inspired. Or it will lead to my own prayer, or sometimes I will even begin with my own prayer. When the community and I gather together, we are united in those moments as we pray the prayer of the Church together. When I pray alone at home, I feel united to the brothers in the Office because I know that we are all saying it in an unending circle that travels across time zones. And, in this time, I am uniting my voice to the unending voice of the whole Church as I prayer on her behalf. The Office is a rich and beautiful experience, and the discipline of saying it is certainly worthwhile. I will not suggest otherwise. Just that – and I know them well – in those times when it becomes hard to pray the Office, it helps to remember that it doesn’t belong to me and is no substitute for ones own private prayer with God that will truly transform the heart.

Advent Meditation

Blessed are you, God of mercy and might,

with tender comfort and transforming power

you come into our midst.

You remember your ancient promise

and make straight the paths that lead to you

and smooth out the rough ways,

that in our day

we might bring forth your compassion

for all humanity.

For these and all your mercies, we praise you:

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

Blessed be God for ever! AMEN

What am I waiting for?

A voice says, ‘Cry out!’

And I say, ‘What shall I cry?’

When words seem futile

and they seem inadequate

and they seem heavy.

What shall I say?

What am I waiting for?

I wait for a return to our eternal home.

That place of promise where things are as they should be.

The place just beyond the veil that covers my own eyes.

That place on the other side of the mirror

or the other side of the Universe?

I wait for God, the origin of all that is spectacular and plain.

As if I knew what to look for, being rather unaccustomed

to paying attention to the plain,

and rather bad at recognizing the spectacular even

when it unfolds gently before me

in unexpected places.

Isaiah says: “the word of our God will stand for ever.”

I wait for that word… because it sometimes seems silent.

And I forget that, in that silence, God waits with me.

I wait for lighting bolts

and great revelations

as though the Incarnation

were not enough.

The Word made flesh

who dwelt among us

and dwells among us

Incarnating among us

and in us

and with us

Until the end of time.

Get you up to a high mountain,

O Zion, herald of good tidings;

lift up your voice with strength,

O Jerusalem, herald of good tidings,

lift it up, do not fear;

say to the cities of Judah,

‘Here is your God!’

What am I waiting for?

I wait for the One whom eternity cannot contain.

Large enough to surpass the Universe and all that we know and sense and feel…

and yet still small enough to slip through our fingers

to slip through the cells and the atoms and the particles

into infinite smallness.

I wait for the One who is more than time

and space, and quantum physics, and string theories

And I forget that we worship One whose name is Emmanuel:

God with us.

See, the Lord God comes with might,

God will feed these flocks like a shepherd;

God will gather the lambs in upraised arms,

and carry them in a soft bosom,

and gently lead the mother sheep.

I wait for the One who inhabits the Universe

and entered time with the wails of a tiny Child.

One who is infinitely strong

and infinitely vulnerable

One who needs nothing from us

and yet desires everything that we have.

One whose self-emptying sacrifice and love

was laid in a feeding trough

in a tiny backwater town

in a tiny backwater province

among a peculiar people.

One with dubious parentage

who was swaddled

by a woman of ill repute.

One who would know rejection

more intimately

than I have ever known.

A mewling baby… our God,

helpless and at the mercy of the world.

Too young for words

Too young for ideas

The Eternal One… too young.

I forget that we grown-ups often,

if not always,

get it wrong.

I think… one day I will be wise

Age will make me wise.

Experience will make me wise.

I forget that I should be like a child.

But I forget that life is a choice between wise and jaded

and that I can easily fall one way

or another

depending upon my mood.

What am I waiting for?

I wait for that life which informs our living;

for Christ’s compassion which changes our hearts;

I forget that God cannot be contained by our grand theologies and

our random exclusions.

Cannot be contained by our certainties

and cannot be pushed away by our doubts.

What am I waiting for?

I wait for Christ’s clear speaking which contradicts our harmless generalities;

for Christ’s disturbing presence;

I forget that Christ does not permit me to remain silent

on issues of faith, on morals, on issues of war and peace;

And I forget that for all my words

I often say nothing of any meaning

or spend too much time reducing the world

to delightful platitudes

and ultimately meaningless sound bytes.

I wait for Christ’s innocent suffering;

Christ’s fearless dying;

Christ’s rising to life breathing forgiveness;

Because while I deal with the complexities

of my own internal life;

While I struggle to be better:

a better partner

a better listener

a better friend and colleague

While I unpack the meaning of my Christian life

what it means to be a brother among brothers

to serve rather than to be served;

While I try to listen to the voice of God

and look for the face of Christ

I forget that it is as close as the nearest mirror

or the nearest friend;

and that God speaks in the softest whisper

of my conscience, or the unnoticed “hello.”

I forget that Christ has already done

what he set out to do:

That God lived our human life

died a human death

and that he rose again;

Having been rejected, God triumphed.

Having been an outcast, God embraces

one and all

with arms bared in rage at our petty divisions.

What am I waiting for?

Isaiah says again: “Go up to a high mountain,

herald of good tidings to Zion;

lift up your voice with strength,

herald of good tidings to Jerusalem.

Lift up your voice, fear not;

say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’”

When is the beginning I await if it has already begun?

Do I trust the Spirit to rise up within me?

The Spirit who, from the beginning, attracts us to God’s goodness

who even now confronts us with God’s claims.

I forget that God is already with us

and that I need to trust

that God’s plan is unfolding

in spite of my fears and doubts to the contrary.

And I forget that the Holy Spirit

allows me to say such things;

That it is She who gives voice

to words which still astound me

regardless of how many years they have been said.

What am I waiting for?

Do I forget that I already have God’s permission

to speak the Good News;

to give hope to the hopeless?

Strengthen the weak hands,

and make firm the feeble knees.

Say to those who are of a fearful heart,

‘Be strong, do not fear!

Here is your God.

God will come and save you.’

But I forget that praise alone

does not fulfill Gods purpose.

What am I waiting for?

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem!

God has taken away the judgments against you

do not let your hands grow weak. Your God, is in your midst,

God will renew you in God’s love;

God will exult over you with loud singing as on a day of festival.

God says: I will deal with all your oppressors at that time.

And I will save the lame and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise and renown.

I will bring you home.

My brothers and sisters:

as you prepare to reflect

on the Advent of God

as you search for meaning

in words like






Lay down your wisdom

and your will

and your words

search yourselves:

your hearts…

your faith…

your doubts…

empty your hearts,

bring nothing in your hands;

As we open to receive the Spirit

who converts us from the patterns of this passing world

As we trust to God to conform us to the shape of Christ

I ask you:

What are YOU waiting for?