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Showing posts from 2015

Francis and Families: 27th Sunday OT

I went to a funeral Friday to pray with a friend whose grandfather has died, and she said a few words about him. One thing that really stuck with me was when she spoke of her admiration of him, as a little girl and throughout life, the way he could work on things and tinker and fix them. She spoke of this as actually being a really important life lesson: that when things get broken, we fix them. We don’t just throw them away. And that lesson about material things carried over, she said, to their family, and it was an even more important lesson when it came to family relationships. When things get broken, we don’t throw them away. We fix them.

When Pope Francis came to our country, he had an impressive schedule. The White House, Congress, the United Nations. But when he spoke of the primary reason for his visit, it wasn’t those things. It was the family. And he originally scheduled his visit to attend the World Meeting of Families. The White House and Congress and United Nations were w…

Stop, Calibrate, and Listen: 25th Sunday OT

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It was the summer of 1990. I was between fifth and sixth grades, and spending the night at a friend’s house. He had the single. He was a pretty cool kid and seemed to have his finger on the pulse of that magical time when the new wave pop of the ’80s was still ringing in our ears and before all those Seattle bands took over and put everybody in a bad mood for half a decade. He explained most emphatically that “Ice Ice Baby” was the coolest thing to drop basically ever. It was the new hotness and everybody liked it. It was the soundtrack of the summer. He pressed ‘play.’ I said I loved it. It is possible that I used the words “totally rad.” We listened to it a whole bunch of times in a row. But I went home the next day with a dark and terrible secret: I did not like “Ice Ice Baby.”

In the Same Boat: 14th Sunday OT.

I don’t suppose anyone else is nuts over Warren Miller ski films? Anyway, one of the lines he always worked in somewhere was “always remember you’re a unique individual… just like everybody else.”
Funny, and also wise in its way. That line comes to mind when I think about what makes us individually amazing, and what makes us the same. There are some things I want to tell everybody here, things I keep repeating, sermon after sermon, hoping it’ll get through to you, and hoping despite all evidence to the contrary that someday it might even get through to me.

Your turn. Ascension 2015

We’re getting ready for staff orientation at Ondessonk next week, so it’s been on my mind a lot, along with the ten thousand other things of course, but summer camp is a really special and demanding time for me. Camp’s about fun, but we also care deeply about outdoor education, the skills and character and faith that Camp is such an ideal place to teach. That kind of teaching isn’t finished once you’ve said it, or even once you’ve shown it. There’s that critical moment when the teacher steps back and says “okay, your turn.” At first the teacher might hover and be ready to jump in any moment, but even beyond that there’s yet another moment, when the teacher must allow real responsibility… and even failure.
I think that has quite a lot to do with the Ascension of Jesus. He taught what he had to teach, showed what he had to show, and now the time has come for him to step back and say, “okay your turn.” You can look at the way Jesus teaches his Apostles in the Gospels, and see what a maste…

Seek the Living: Easter 2015

I make the same mistake about this time every year. I start thinking about Springtime and growing things, and I look at my disheveled eyesore of a front yard and think I’d better get to work on it. It starts with removing the old dead stuff. I have to pull out all the dead stuff so that new life has room to grow. How Lenten is that?
Well, back to my annual mistake. There are some plants that look really dead, by which I mean they look really really really dead. Like brittle and brown and crackly and half-rotted. They literally could not look more dead than they do. So I do the obvious thing and start breaking them off and throwing them away. And then, usually after I’ve ripped out most of it, I find a fresh green growth on the end of one of those dry, utterly-dead-looking stems. And I realize that all of that plant would have greened, if I’d given it the chance. I’d thought that nothing that dead could ever come to life again, but I was wrong.
It reminds me of a visit when I was young t…

]Good Friday Portraits pt. 3: The Bystander

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Jerusalem at Passover is indescribable. The whole kingdom of Judah descends on the city, which seems pretty big until the pilgrims start pouring in the gates. They just keep coming, and coming… and there we were among them, my sons and I. Rufus and Alexander had a long trip from our home in faraway Cyrene. Israel is nothing like Libya, but there on the south coast of the great sea is one of the places our people settled when we scattered. We are few at home, but here we are many. This week in Jerusalem my sons can see what they are part of, and truly participate in the story. The pilgrims come. The Lambs are chosen. The story of the Exodus is retold. The blood is poured out in the Passover sacrifice. And we remember that wherever we are, whatever may happen, whatever the Romans may say, the Lord our God has made us free.
When you pack the city with so many strangers from so many places, you’ve got a recipe for rumor, and the whole city buzzed with whispered stories about the Nazarene. …

Holy Thursday 2015

The idea is to follow Christ through these coming hours. Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, culminating in the great Easter Vigil… the idea is to follow Christ.
These liturgies constantly invite us to enter in to the mysteries - not just to reflect on them, not just to remember, but to become participants. We are not here to be spectators. We are here to give living witness to the Paschal Mystery that defines our own lives, a summons to follow Christ. And when we talk about ‘following Christ,’ we mean that quite literally, to place our feet in His footsteps, to go where He goes, to choose as He has chosen. 
The Mass of the Lord’s Supper, for Catholics, is not just a re-enactment; it is that, but so much more. We haven’t come here tonight to remember what happened in the Upper Room. We’ve come here because it’s going to happen again. Tonight, the words will be spoken, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it, this is my Body.”  The voice that speaks these words will belong to a sinf…

Work in Progress: 4th Sunday Lent

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587 B.C. The Temple was destroyed, the city laid waste, the people exiled to a foreign land. Preachers are always trying to find an analogy to communicate how devastating this was for Israel. Here’s my try: if ISIS succeeded in destroying every Catholic Church in the world, blew up most of our cities, annihilated every last vestige of our government, and if you survived but were forced to live the rest of your life in Syria, it was kind of like that…maybe. Anyway, it was a tragedy that couldn’t be overstated. After the Fall of Adam and Eve, it was the defining tragedy of the Old Testament. It occupies the attention of most of the Prophets and a big chunk of the historical books, even a Psalm or two: “by the Rivers of Babylon we sat and wept…how could I sing the songs of the Lord in a foreign land?… if I forget you, Jerusalem, let my right hand wither.”
Anyone can write down what happened. It’s another thing entirely to say why. That’s what the Prophets do, and it’s what we find in 2 Ch…

Making a Scene: 3rd Sunday Lent

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Part of the preparation for the Sacrament of Marriage that we do is this big inventory thing where the couple answer a bunch of questions individually, it generates feedback, and then we get together and go over it. One of the statements, presented as sort of a True/False item, is: “I know everything there is to know about my partner.” You wouldn’t believe how many engaged people agree. Well, I’m not allowed to slap people, but…
Truth is, of course we never know someone else completely; another person is always a mystery. But we do this thing where we fill in the blanks. Right? To take the most extreme example: how many times have you seen a young person fall madly in love, not with a real person, but with the ideal soulmate they’ve projected on to someone? Come to think of it, people fall madly in hate the same way. Let me propose a True/False question to you. True or False: every relationship - friend, family, spouse - involves a tug between who they really are and who we’ve imagined…

What God takes: 2nd Sunday Lent

I read a piece by a writer who was explaining why he could never be a Jew or a Christian.  Though he found certain elements of these religions really attractive, he pointed to Genesis 22 as a deal breaker. He wanted nothing to do with any God who would ask a father to sacrifice his son. He couldn’t believe in such a God and wouldn’t want to worship Him if he did.
It’s not so hard to sympathize. But I wished there was some way I could write to him and suggest that perhaps he didn’t read all the way to the end. Isn’t it more the point of the story that God didn’t ask Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? Especially if you know the context, that the Canaanite religions all around Abraham and his descendants did practice human sacrifice, as have many religions through history. But the God of Abraham lets it be known here on Mt. Moriah that this is not worship, this is not devotion, this is not what He wants. It’s not a story about God asking something horrible, but a promise that He doesn’t. 
Well an…

How to Fix the World: 1st Sunday Lent

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The story of Noah and the Flood isn’t an easy one for us. How could it be, when its starting point is the sinfulness of the world? That’s where the story begins: God’s Creation has gone wrong.
Maybe the first lesson of the story is just to remind us of the seriousness of sin. You and I are used to the world having sin and disorder in it. But in the Biblical perspective, it’s tremendous and shattering beyond description. We think of big sins and little sins, and we tend to think of little sins as being no big deal really. That’s totally unbiblical. If only one venial sin had occurred in the history of mankind, that would be a monstrous, shattering thing. Because it means that God’s Creation is disordered, imperfect, and fallen. When I’ve recorded piano pieces, the moment I hit a wrong note I stop and begin again. There’s no way I’d want a recording to exist where I’m playing a wrong note. Why should we expect God to have lower standards for His Creation? There’s no comparison: I know th…

Ash Wednesday 2015

Imagine, if you would, a professional baseball player… let’s say it’s Matt Holliday… He’s just had batting practice and he’s leaving the clubhouse. On the way out, two teammates get his attention. The first one says, “You know Matt, I’ve always thought there was something special about your swing, and I was watching you at batting practice and I think I’ve figured out what you’re doing that’s so right. Want to grab a bite and I’ll tell you what you do really well?” The next guy says, “Hey, Matt, I was watching you at B.P. and… hey man, you’re a fantastic ballplayer and I don’t mean to butt in, but I think I noticed a flaw in your swing. Want to grab dinner and talk about it?”
Which will he choose?

Priest, Prophet, and King (pt 3 of 3)

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I was looking for a particular piece of music on youtube a few weeks ago. I happened to find it in the context of the British royal wedding from a few years back. You remember, Kate and whats-his-name. I remember at the time it filled the news and everyone was talking about it for a while, to the extent that it got annoying and I made a point of ignoring it as completely as possible. And so it’s a little surprising to admit to you that watching the entrance procession… it captured me. The music (Holst) was spectacular. The pageantry and ceremony were tasteful and flawless. There was just beauty and elegance and dignity radiating out of everyone.

And then I thought about my niece Mia and her princess obsession. We really need to find her a twelve-step group or something. Maybe it’s not always literal princesses, because I think that word gets applied to basically any female Disney lead character. But they do tend to be princesses, don’t they?
Here’s what I’m saying: there is something in…

Priest, Prophet, and King (pt 2 of 3)

We’re going to start with a pop quiz. Answer in your head. What’s a prophet? Seriously now, some of you aren’t thinking about it, you’re just waiting it out. Think about it. Do you know what it means to be a prophet?
Grade time. If you answered that a prophet is someone who predicts the future… I’m sorry, D+ is the best I can do. But don’t feel bad, that’s probably what most people would say if we took this question to the streets. Predicting the future is indeed one of the things that prophets sometimes do, but there’s so much more to it than that, so… D+.

Priest, Prophet, and King (pt 1 of 3) - Baptism of Jesus

If you find what happened at the Jordan River that day a bit mysterious, you’re in good company: John the Baptist was certainly confused at first. Why should I baptize you? Isn’t that backwards? If Baptism is for the forgiveness of sins, why does Jesus need it? If it’s our entry into the Body of Christ, why would Christ himself need it?
The short answer is that He didn’t, of course. Like everything Christ did, it was out of love for humanity. He went down into the waters not to be sanctified, but to sanctify. Not to be saved, but to save. Baptism is the door through which we enter His Church; this is Jesus creating that door.

And Christmas Comes Once More: Solemnity of Mary 2015

If you were around for Christmas, I promised you the "missing" verse of the carol "O Little Town of Bethlehem." It would have been the penultimate verse:
Where children pure and happy Pray to the blessed Child, Where Misery cries out to Thee, Son of the undefiled; Where Charity stands watching, And Faith holds wide the door, The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, And Christmas comes once more.