My address to the University of Oklahoma, Zarrow School of Social Work Graduating Class of 2014


Ever since I heard the practical advice to always wear sunscreen, that youth holds a beauty and power incomprehensible to its possessor, and that inside every adult there lurks a speech dying to get out, I have wanted to address a group of graduates in a public forum. Thanks to the support of my friends and colleagues of the 2014 Zarrow School of Social Work, that dream becomes a reality today.


In preparation I researched famous valedictories. I wanted to see what others had already said. So, I could offer something unique. I put together an outline, poured it in to a word document, and sought to fashion something that would honor you all. It is my sincerest hope that inspiration may be found in the following words. At the very least I hope that no one gets up and leaves in the middle of this.


I remember the first time I read the Preamble of the NASW Code of Ethics, “The primary mission of the social work profession is to enhance human well-being and help meet the basic human needs of all people, with particular attention to the needs and empowerment of people who are vulnerable, oppressed, and living in poverty.” I felt a kinship with these words. I wanted to immediately imprint them upon my heart, live in to them. I quickly discovered that I was surrounded by colleagues that also found comfort in these words. We all aspired to be agents of change. We are people of deeply held conviction that stand against power and speak truth to it. We are people with an enthusiasm for equality. We are people with hearts that embrace human tragedy with compassion. We are people consumed with a responsibility to those caught in the machine of systemic exploitation.


We began as helpers-in-training and over the course of the past few years we have been fashioned in to vessels that promote social justice and social change. Our will has taken on the will of our clients as we advocate for equity and seek to eradicate injustice. Our hearts bear the hopes of those we serve as we seek to affirm the dignity and humanity of all. Our guiding light is the ethical code to which we are tethered.


We all have arrived at the same port by different ships. Ships that bear the scars of the past and hold the treasures of our future. A journey that brought us here at this time, with each other. A time of transition for this institution and for ourselves. A journey that has shaped and fashioned the hopes and dreams that we ponder today. A journey with realized potential and life-long memories.


That journey ends today, and another one begins. We have persevered through doubt, fear, and material obstacles to arrive here at the expiration of our time as graduate students. The dynamic and diverse paths that deliver us to this place and have compelled us to dedicate our lives to securing good for those in which good is not so readily available. We have been equipped and are being sent from here out into the world to challenge injustice, to write history, and to walk alongside the marginalized towards self-efficacy and hope.


We depart from here ready to advance change in a manner that propagates real and permanent good. We dare to dream dreams of peace, tranquility, and a hospitality that shades the oppressed and marginalized. We are not special, nor so different from others. What sets us apart is that we ask ourselves, “What can we do for others? How can we do it with integrity and competence.” We strive to enhance the capacity of others to address their own needs. We advocate for response to the needs of others, believing in the importance of human relationships. Friends, Where peace is desired, there we shall be. Where hunger is alive, there we shall be. Where justice is threatened, there we shall be. Where equality is abhorred, there we shall be.


We embody the delicate work of change as illustrated by the philosopher Jane Addams who said, “Social advance depends as much upon the process through which it is secured as upon the result itself.” We are those that reject the comfort and convenience of silence for the uncomfortable action of speaking up in times of controversy and challenge power. We govern our actions not by political power, or popularity but by the conviction that all of humanity demands dignity. We shall not shy away from truth. Trusting that truth will shape and guide our work and adherence to our ethical foundation.


Having learned to crawl, then walk, we shall now run, along the paths that guide us away from here, forward towards the calling of justice and compassion that bear the name of Social Worker. We shall not sleep through the revolution. We shall not despair at the hard work ahead. We shall trust in the bottomless vitality present in each one of us. Knowing that the moral arc of the universe bends towards justice. Our destiny has been woven in that moral arc of justice. When we are tired, overwhelmed, and discouraged we shall return here to this day and remember, renew, and rest in the shared memories of our time here with each other.

Bohemian Rhapsody

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On this morning two people were walking towards a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about what had happened over the last few days. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and began walking alongside them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And Jesus asked them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?”

They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place here in these days?” He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our…HOW THE…chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and to be crucified. But we had believed that he was the one to redeem Israel, the Messiah.

Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Earlier this morning, some women of our group puzzled us. They were at the tomb very early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of us went to the tomb and found it just like the women had said; but we did not see him.

Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went with them to stay. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to everyone there. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.

They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

Luke 24:13-35


Last year I convinced my wife and a couple of friends to attempt the OKC Memorial Marathon. We set up a training schedule and stuck to it for about 3 weeks. Then life happened. My friends and I got busy with classwork. My wife’s work at the church dominated her life. We all got overwhelmed and lost track of the training regime.


Time passed by and the race drew near. With 2 weeks left before the race we all discussed dropping out. I honestly did not mind that idea. In fact I was trying to seed the soil with this idea. We decided that at the very least we could walk the 13.1 miles to complete the half marathon.


On race day we meet across the street from the memorial. It was humid and warm. I was tired, my wife was angry that I had talked her in to this. We gathered in the race corals not paying attention to where we were. The race began and we realized that we were in the elite area. This meant that we were surrounded with people that ran this race at a very fast pace. This was a pace that we were not prepared to maintain. We did our best to keep up and exhausted ourselves by the time we began to exit Bricktown.


We walked most of the race. Around mile 10 my wife and friends wanted to pick up the pace. I could not. My knees had nothing left and the blisters on my feet begged my to stop altogether. I pressed on but at a snails pace. I encouraged them to go ahead and I would meet up with them later.


That last 3 miles were the most painful steps of my life. I begged for relief and fought the urge to stop. I would walk for 10 minutes and rest for 9. I looked for a way out as I trotted along. Then I popped out of the neighborhoods and on to Broadway, facing the finish line. I gathered all my energy and tried to run. The crowd was going wild. Everyone was willing me forward. I was a galloping steed breaking the air towards the end. In reality, I was an ill-prepared man barely walking. I finally crossed the finish line with the most dejected look on my face.


I bought the photo to put on my wall to remind me to never run a race that I am not prepared to run. My experience at last years race reminds me of today’s text. We have a journey of 7 miles whose difficulty lies not in its distance but what what transpired prior to it. Jesus had just died and along with his death the hopes, dreams, and will of many went along with him.


These travelers’ hearts were burdened. These burdens prevented them from seeing the hope in their midst. “Jesus himself came near and began walking alongside them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Mired in their grief, wanting to see what they wanted to see, they were not ready to see the resurrected might of their leader, their teacher, their friend.


One of the hardest parts of faith is believing in the midst of unbelief. There is this internal debate going on inside us that seeks to weigh the options and seek the straightest path. If we are hurting we seek to hurry through that hurt and want to arrive at that island of peace. When we see folks in pain we offer platitudes of comfort, perhaps their pain, their hurt is too close a reminder of our own inevitable bout with hurt. There is nothing like revealing the mettle of our community than pain and suffering.


Staying the course against increasing difficult odds is another marker of faith. When do you cut bait and row to shore, exiting the waters never to fish again? There is much sense to speak of when one talks about the rationality of what we do. Doing the same things over and over and expecting different results is not a good recipe for change. Sometimes is seems like faith is literally a maze of blind leading the blind with a power that is acquired in some sort of charismatic talent show. What is the difference between divinely inspired and inherently decided? The answer to this can put you on varying sides of a debate that dismantles communities and does little to solve the woes of those that are homeless, dying, hungry, or seeking to exist as the world around them devolves in to a warzone.


What is faith without a little trial? Tell this to those that suffer the hands of violence or those that live in a world of inequality and injustice. Faith in the midst of trials may seem sadistic or cruel. Offering a perspective of trails of faith in this instance may not allow for the kind of intimacy that draws us to relationship, at least the kind of relationship that is needed to reveal the twisted, marred resurrected body of Jesus the Christ.


Walking along that road towards Emmaus that day these people are filled with that kind of communal fashioning and shaking stuff. The community’s intimacy is shaken. Everyone is going in a different direction. Then arrives the broken, pierced, marred resurrected body of Jesus the Christ. “Jesus himself came near and began walking alongside them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.”That’s what the broken, pierced, marred resurrected body of Jesus does; he comes along side us and rebuilds our community. To prepare for this we got to let go of everything. Nothing can be left to interfere with the new life being offered. This is what we are called to do as we move away from Easter and towards the resurrection of Christ’s ministry in the world on the day of Pentecost.


We mustn’t be kept from recognizing Jesus. We must look beyond what is broken, pierced, or marred within us, within our community. Just as we placed all our woes at the foot of the cross, trusting in the power of a swaddled child that rode in to Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. We mustn’t pick them up now. Let us draw nearer to God so that our eyes may be opened and our hearts be prepared. Our community be renewed.

Fight The Power

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As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, and wash in the pool of Siloam”. Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”

He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

John 9:1-41



I have always held sympathy for the Pharisee’s. They always seem to be on the short end of the stick. They try really hard to do the right thing and Jesus keeps on fighting their power. They are the Ancient Semitic version of the Bad News Bears.

I don’t think they are all wrong. Jesus did violate the Sabbath by laboring to healing our blind friend. Jesus may have not exercised the greatest restraint in confronting the temple authorities about the Sabbath law he broke. In the eyes of the Pharisee’s, Jesus is asserting authority without having earned it.

Here is this upstart fella from Nazareth, a Podunk guy from a Podunk town. He comes to the big city and starts telling the establishment how things ought to be run. In fact, as he asserts his opinion over authority he attracts disciples of his own.

I would be a little upset too, if the world to which I offered myself in service were not all that was promised. The countless years in the finest schools being finished to be part of societies upper crust. The Pharisee’s were the movers and shakers of their time.

The Pharisee’s got all the headlines, as the ancient world paparazzi would stake out the temple and their homes just to get us breaking news. The citizens of ancient Israel hung on the words and actions of the Pharisee’s. They were the gurus, yogis and proprietors of wisdom that delivered all that self-help goodness. If you were to climb a mountain seeking wisdom from above you may discover a Pharisee a top that peak above the clouds.

The Pharisee’s were what you dreamed of growing up to become. Being a Pharisee meant you were the peoples advocate to God. For a faithful religious devotee, can it get any better than that?

What do we dream for our children? What do we dream for ourselves? Do any of us dream of being a peacenik, carpenter just scrapping by? Do you still dream? Have we chosen the path through the eye of a needle or have we walked the rocky, thorn-laden path towards the open arms of Christ? Taking that path and delighting in our failing in the name of Christ.

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” This man was born blind neither according to his sin nor the sin of his parents but so that God might be witnessed in his restoration. This is another way of saying it is not about us it is about God.

The Pharisee’s question Jesus’ actions and with or without justification fear rises in the heart of the Pharisee’s. They are concerned with maintaining the status quo. They need their order and structure to exist in a world of ever increasing chaos. If Jesus challenges there place, their power then what is going to happen to them? Things are going to change. If our leaders are forced to change then we will have to change. If we have to change then what are we going to do about the brass plaqued treasures we have stored in our churches?

The early church is in a familiar situation as we are today. The Romans occupy the Holy Lands. The Promised Land in now the rented land. Wickedness visits the chosen people. They await an opportunity to be relevant again. They hunger for that time in the good old days when thousands of folks filled the temple. They remember when they were the rule of the land and they fit in to a way of life that was good for them. There was plenty to eat and everyone pitched in.

Just as fear motivated the Pharisee’s questions, fear can motivate our questions. We can operate in a manner that is more about survival than answering God’s calling for us to prosper through transformation of our minds.

Are we asking the wrong questions? Are we climbing mountains to distract us from the duty of the mundane calling to be justice in the life we lead? Are we in shape to climb the mountain? Are we even called to climb the mountain? If we all climb the mountain, there will be no one left in the valley to offer refreshments.

Where is the Pharisee in us and what are they holding on to? I have no problem relating to and finding the Jesus in me. I could share with you 1,000 ways about the Jesus-like awesome I exhibit day in and day out. I don’t like to admit that there are a 1,000 ways I am a Pharisee as well.

I was watching this film last week called Enlighten Up! It is a film about a guy that is skeptical about yoga and what practitioners’ claim are its benefits. He agrees to practice yoga for a few months and allow a camera crew to follow him around. He goes to a few classes in New York City and is not amused with the perceived hoity toity nature of those involved in the New York City yoga scene.

Then he goes to India to study at the source for a few months. He discovers that yoga is more about being than about doing. He learns that yoga is not just something that one signs up for and attends a couple of times a week to get healthier. Yoga is a way in which one may enter in to a deep conversation with their self and awaken to the real self.

In one of the final scenes on the film the skeptical atheistic American is sitting at the feet of a very famous Guru as the Guru answers his questions.

The American says, “I’m afraid to ask you stupid questions.”

The Guru replies, “Answers are stupid. Questions are never stupid. You came to meet me. You could have come by cycle. You could have come by car. You could have come by train. You could have come by elephant. You could have come by foot. To reach here, there are so many directions. That depends on you, where you are presently. It’s not important what you are doing. It’s important why you are doing.”

The American asks, “What do you mean?”

The Guru answers, “You can prepare food for yourself to consume. You can prepare food for somebody you love. And you can prepare food for your Lord, your god. The action will be the same. Physically, but inside it will be different. Even if you are forced to do some cooking for somebody you don’t like you will do it. But you won’t enjoy it.”

The American questions, “The same can be said for yoga?”

The Guru returns, “Anything…anything under the sun. The same can be said about anything.”

The American replies, “But I’m a godless guy from New York City. It does not make sense to me about bhakti (devotion) or Krishna.”

The Guru says, “Don’t embrace them. I never said to embrace Krishna. No, never embrace. Never do it. If you don’t like, then don’t do it. Go on practicing what you are doing. If you want to believe in God, believe in God. If you don’t want to believe, don’t believe. And still you can be a religious person.”

The American asks, “Then what would make me religious or spiritual?”

The Guru answers, “Being yourself. Being your true self.”

Jesus restores the blind man to his true self. The Pharisees witness this and get nervous and question him three times. They bring in his parents too. The Pharisees press him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

It is not about the questions the Pharisee’s are asking it is about the questions the Pharisee’s are not asking. What condition are their hearts in? Where is fear taking them? Danger is near.

There is danger in hearing the Gospel. When we ask questions of God we hear the Gospel. When we hear the Gospel we are transformed from the inside out. We are born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in us. We are not born blind neither according to our sin nor the sin of our parents but so that God might be witnessed in our restoration! Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

It is good to ask questions of God only if we are prepared to seek answers. Asking questions of God draws us deeper in to relationship with our Divine Creator. This is the root of the child-like faith we are all called to. Parents, does a child not question to understand the world around them? Children ask questions until they understand what is going on and then ask some more questions, testing the parameters of their existence. It is good to ask questions. To question is to discover. To discover is to mature. To mature is completing ones faith. The completion of faith draws us nearer to God. Being nearer unto God is that sweet spot we are all chasing.

God Only Knows

The following sermon was modified from a sermon that was to be preached at Connecting Point Presbyterian Church and was snowed out.  It is presented to you with y’all as the congregation.

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When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.  Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.  Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  Matthew 5:1-12


When I was in the last year of seminary I got a few gems I held on to.  One was enjoy that final year together with those folks that walked alongside of me the past two years.  I did enjoy them.  Between ordination exams, scrambling for what would be next, and writing those papers I should have at the beginning of the semester I savored the presence of these saints.  We held court nightly at the local watering hole.  We sang karaoke and tried bánh mì for the first time.  We explored Austin with a newfound passion.  We knew that our time here with each other, this special place that shaped us and forged a mind and heart of God that we trusted would carry us away from each other and towards the “not yet.”  I have never had a moment of time like that again.


I was also told to practice good self-care.  The physical, mental, and spiritual pressures that ravaged my body for three years did indeed take its toll.  I put on over 70 pounds, got pneumonia, chronic bronchitis, addiction problems, and an academic non-emotional faith.  Towards the end of seminary I did manage to join a gym, watch my diet (some), and quit smoking.  This did little to curb my appetite for destruction.  Much of this pursuit may have more to do with me getting married a week after graduation.


The last gem was that 50% of my classmates and cross-denominational colleagues would not make it past five years of service in ministry.  I always knew I would have to trail blaze a path towards the church I felt called to be a part of.  I imagined I was prepared for that.  I also did not worry, as I was going to pursue social work.


Colleagues prepared for parish ministry, sought work in parish ministry, or worried; I got in to social work school and scored a scholarship.  We moved to Louisville and things went array.  I stumbled into ministry and found myself abandoning my social work dreams.


The last gem of a 50% ministry dropout rate was replaced with ass scrambling to figure out how to transform and equip a congregation to move towards the emerging spaces of missional ministry.  With a largely senior population and with a motivated group of members we had some interesting experiences.  Moments of growth and moments of devastating loss.  For three years I grew, the congregation grew.  Then it came time for us to part ways.


Leaving was emotional.  I was not prepared for this transition.  I lost myself and woke up in darkness.  I hurt and could not shake it.  This was a moment I realized that I could not do this by myself.  I was isolated, felt alone, and scared about what lie ahead.  I was one of those that dropped out of ministry within five years of graduation.  I felt like a failure.  I proved all the naysayers correct.  I pondered if I was ever really called at all.  I lamented the debt I hold sans a viable vocational career.  I was low.  I was in Lo-debar.


I reached out to y’all.  I asked for prayers.  I vented.  I wrestled publicly with faith.  I lashed out and bit those I love.  I was a sour, salty piece of work.  Here is when I became aware of, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Here is when my poverty bound spirit received a gift of ears that hear and eyes that see.


A mentor of mine lovingly shared with me the pain of his life.  This was during a seminary-sponsored event of family celebration and welcome.  We sat there in his library, just around the corner of stories of misadventures and missteps.  He spoke kindness to me.  I listened with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.  I felt, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”  Comfort washed over me.  My warming heart knew I was not alone.  Courage began to creep in to my depressed and anxious soul.


Gone was the uninformed bravado of a green horned pastor of privilege.  The fainted victim posture gave way to something new.  I was naked.  All I had left was a trust that God was still here and wanted to chat.  “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”


I have never seen the difference between humility and meekness.  I have always seen meekness as weakness.  Humility was prostration before God.  In reality it was more of a deflecting all good and bad comments and praise away from me and towards God.  I could not dare allow for any praise or criticism to penetrate the armor of God.  A good solider keeps a tight defense and a watchful eye.


I would also include any emotions in this.  I could not let love or trust in as that would lead to disappointment and hurt.  God does not want me to hurt nor does God want me to have obstacles.  This was the good things happens to good people and good people are Godly people theology of my youth.  It is false and a cheap theology of an immature faith.


I used to believe that I had to guard my heart and mind from knowledge.  That the devil was bound up and hiding in progressive/liberal ideas.  I did not trust my mind to engage divine ways.  In seminary I awakened to, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”  I was told that I was smart for the first time in seminary.  I was encouraged to study and equipped with skills to research, study, critically think, and to listen.  My hunger for knowledge was no longer guarded.  A cocktail of Shiner Bock and cheese fries vanquished that dragon of doubt and fear as we argued and celebrated at “The Crown”, our other seminary classroom.


I fought the love of others for a long time.  I hardened my heart and was an unkind, masked fool.  When I began to receive the freely offered love of others, trust arrived, as did mercy.  For the first time in my life I was washed in the blood of the lamb (figuratively of course) as I read, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”


Mercy…grace…forgiveness…love.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  I did see God. Not in my pursuit to shed the human inside me but in the imperfect communities that loved me in spite of my shortcomings and embraced me because I was me.  Pure in heart was not a procedure as much as it was a diagnosis.


The symptoms include loving kindness, loving mercy, and humbly walking with God.  Treatment includes community, relationships, loving the stranger, and seeing God everywhere you go.


Then you get, “Blessed are the cheese makers…This is not meant to be taken literally, but refers to any manufacturer of dairy products.” 


The Beatitudes are not meant to be a checklist of shit to do in order to get a blessing.  The beatitudes are a path towards being a blessing to others.  The heavenly reward can be debated.  In all honesty, I do not believe in heaven.  If I did my heaven would be Sam Cooke playing a set & welcoming Pete Seeger up to play along.  Thomas Merton & Dorothy Day occupy a table in the crowd & sing along.  James Brown is backstage warming up with Johnny Cash.  Sam Kinison is working the bar, as Judas orders another PBR.


The Cliff Notes version is blessed are those that bless the Other.  The bottom line is be kind to others, be kind to yourself.  Love others, love yourself.  The church is all fucked up and broken.  It is in decline and that 30-40 year career you dreamed of is not getting good odds from Vegas bookmakers.  Resources are dwindling.  It is tough to be the young adult representation and the pastor.  Everyone knows change needs to come but no one will take the first step.  Parish ministry seems more like hospital chaplaincy.  The connectional church feels more like the dysfunctional church.  The good news is that the church is so broken that we cannot make it any worse.  Whatever you are doing is better than what is going on now.  “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  You are fearfully and wonderfully made creature of God.  Go and be your bad self.  And remember the self-care.  That’s important.

The Harder They Come

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Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee.  He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.”  From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen.  And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  Immediately they left their nets and followed him.  As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them.  Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.  Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.  Matthew 4:12-23

Last week we heard Jesus say, “Come and See.”  Which we learned that Jesus was ultimately saying, “Let’s hang out and experience each other.  And we will change this world together.”  This makes the most sense if one believes that this world is indeed in need of change.

One would need to accept the idea of sin as inequality, injustice, and oppression within human systems that impede The Kingdom of God from full manifestation in the world right here, right now.  This is generally more pressing for those that are being oppressed, experiencing injustice, or bound in those human systems that deny full equality.  Those that are bound in these human systems are separated and dominated for the benefit of power.  This power is what Jesus was offered from Satan when he was in the wilderness after his baptism.  This power is privilege and privilege is the root of sin.

Today we encounter Jesus telling more folks to, “Come and See.”  He is continuing his counter cultural march towards his ultimate death in Jerusalem.  He is calculated and unflinching in his action.  On his march towards the cross, Jesus is challenging power and privilege along the way.  Jesus is pushing back against the religious elite of his day making way for a new path for God to emerge.

What Jesus is doing screams in the face of how it’s always been.  Jesus rebukes tradition and demands that the power tied up in leadership be disseminated broadly.  Now replace First Century Palestine with Twenty First Century US and Disciples, Pharisees, and Sadducees with Presbyterians, Lutherans, or Methodists.

Jesus turns over the moneychangers tables in the temple declaring that these wolves have invaded the House of God with greed.  Peter affirms the place of Gentiles in the church and challenges the primacy of Jewish authority.  Paul abandons his role as part of the religious elite to minister to Gentiles and grow the church away from Palestine.  The church splits to East and West over doctrinal differences, each pointing fingers of disapproval.  Iconoclasts are displeased with the religious art and imagery of the Iconodules.  Re-baptizers muddy the church waters with demands of higher righteousness.  Martin Luther nails 95 theses on a door and transforms the church.  Reformers break off further over music, sacraments, and organizational structures.  From Palestine to North Africa to Constantinople to Rome to Avignon to Canterbury to New York to Dallas to Mexico City to São Paulo to Accra to Nairobi to Kerala to Beijing…the church keeps turning.  This is the church reformed, always reforming.

Change is part of our DNA.  Change is something that our faith is rooted in.  Jesus prescribes change at all levels of society.  The Gospel at its core is change embodied, a road map of change.  We see in today’s Gospel, change is something we participate in.  We are change agents.  Change begins when we drop what we are doing and follow Jesus.

Accepting the call to follow Jesus in change is about the last time we have full control over anything.  We do not get to dictate what that change will be.  As Christians this change is laid out before us.  As agents of change we are actors in the grand reclamation of the beautiful intimacy between Creator and creation.

Jesus will use whom ever he choses to bring about change.  More often than not, Jesus uses the outsiders of society, the broken, the lame, and the lost.  Jesus reclaims the brokenness bound up in income disparity.  Jesus convicts the religious elite by offering wholeness outside of its control.  Jesus proclaims that the first shall be last and the last shall be first.  Jesus calls a few fishermen and a tax collector to be the inner circle of the Kingdom of God here on earth.

From the ranks of the disenfranchised, the hopeless, the faithful, and the downtrodden come prophets, priests, and workers that transform this world as we hurl towards the promise of a new day.  We look to the hills, desperate for help.  Faithful we have been.  For 30, 40, 50, and sometimes 60 years we darkened the halls of church.  We have filled that pew and dedicated our life to the ways of God.  Sometimes that change feels like we are being left behind.

No one likes to be left behind or forgotten.  When we feel left behind or forgotten we may close ourselves off from the very thing that God is working in us.  We build up walls to those that seem different than us.  We isolate ourselves.  We may become judgmental of those engaging in change.  We forget the grace we have received and move away from that pool of grace we once calmly waded in.  The theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Judging others makes us blind, whereas love is illuminating.  By judging others we blind ourselves to our own evil and to the grace which others are just as entitled to as we are.”

You see we are called to be love in the world, love that illuminates the saving grace of the Christ.  If we feel left behind by the changes happening around us, perhaps it is a call to affirm the good works of today with the story of the good works of yesterday.  Church is not a monolithic statue to our Beloved Creator but a diverse and complex witness of faith of all saints that strive and have strove to be lights of the Kingdom of God.  Dr. King said, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive.  He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.  There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us.”

Change is gonna come.  How do we engage change in a manner that no one is left behind?  Community is the answer.  We offer space to those that feel left behind or tired from the long journey here.  We offer space to listen to those with energy and creativity that will take us in to tomorrow.  We couple the us and them and fashion a we.  Everyone has a place in church for There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Many Rivers To Cross

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The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!  This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’  I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’  And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, teacher, “Where are you staying?”  He said to them, “Come and see.”

They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day.  It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.  One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Anointed One.  He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John.  You are to be called Peter.”

John 1:29-42


 “What are you looking for?”  This is not a casual inquiry.  Jesus is not “wazzup’ng” these two disciples.  Jesus is investigating the seriousness of their interest.  They respond, “Where are you staying?”  They are interested and intrigued.  Perhaps they are even afraid.  Jesus then invites them past the fear and in to an intimate encounter with, “Come and see.”


Jesus is inviting them to get lost in each other’s company.  This is a mutual experience with each person offering themselves to the collective proximity of fellowship.  In this fellowship stories are shared, hope is garnished, and joys are celebrated.  Intimacy is fashioned with laughter, familiarity, and companionship.  This is not merely hangeroners sitting at the feet of Jesus, the emerging Christ.  This is a two-way street of intimate encounter.  This is the fully incarnate and realized Christ.


Come and see.  Jesus is literally saying, “Let’s hang out and experience each other.”  This is the invitation to peel back the fronts and masks that we use to insulate ourselves from each other.  This is an invitation to see each other through the eyes of God.  To see the divine profanity that lies in the finite, wicked hearts of creation.  When we see each other with the divine eyes of God we begin the physical journey from the here and travel together towards the not yet.


Taste and see that the Lord is good.  Taste the sweetness of God’s goodness.  It is this goodness that draws us nearer unto God and each other.  The sweetness of creation is the sweetness of the Christ.  Taste the bitterness of death.  The bitterness of death is real.  We are reminded that the bitterness of death is not the last course.  There is an eternal banquet awaiting us all.  Taste the sourness of humanity’s sin.  The acidic annoyance of sin moves us towards that savory supper in the hall of Christ.  Taste the saltiness of faith.  The salt of faith awakens the senses as it prepares us to experience the fullness of God if life and in death.


Hear the Word of the Lord.  To hear the Word is to listen to and absorb the transformative nature of the Emmanuel, the God with us.  The great street court hustler, Sidney Deane, of White Men Can’t Jump tells us, “Y’all can listen to Jimi but you can’t hear him…Just because you’re listening to him doesn’t mean you’re hearing him.”  The same can be said about God.  You might be listening to the Word of God.  To hear the Word of God is to be transformed by it; to understand, sympathize with, and to live in the context of the People of God.  Listening to the Word of God is not hearing the Word.  You know when you hear the Word of God when you are moved to action, convicted by it, and are transformed by hearing the Word of God.


Smell the aroma of Christ, a fragrance that comes from knowing God.  I was working with a client a few weeks ago.  They were down on their luck and wrestling with some heavy things.  Mental illness, substance abuse, the loss of their children to the State, and depression had overcome them.  They let go of personal hygiene.  They came in to my office and smelled something awful.  A sour stench of anguish and apathy filled the air.  I choked back my breath, afraid to breathe them in.  I focused on the foul odor.  I let myself slip.  I did my job and collected information.  I assessed their progress.  Meanwhile I gasped for breath.  Then they shared that their dog had 5 puppies.  Then a smile appeared on their face.  The air was not clear but a light shone through the cloud.  These puppies needed someone to care for them.  They found purpose in this.  We discussed the hygiene issue and they responded with understanding and awareness of the need to care for themselves so that they could care for the puppies.  The aroma of Christ was a foul smelling, sour stench that delivered us both to new realities.


Touch the hem of his garment and be made well.  Jesus’ public ministry was one of breaking down power and privilege.  He challenged the status quo and turned the world on its head.  He did this with touch.  He touched the sick, the outcast, and the forgotten.  He embraced them as his family.  He emptied his privilege to dine with sinners.  He used his power to awaken concern for the outcast.  He touched those that no one touched before.  Jesus used touch as a path towards transformation.


“What are you looking for?”  What is it that you desire?  What is missing from your life?  And Jesus says, “Let’s hang out and experience each other.”  And we will change this world together.

Pressure Drop

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Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him.  John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?”  But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.  And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him.  And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”             Matthew 3:13-17

It was a chilly, overcast morning in 1975.  The fog hugged the neighborhood in a blanket of silencing stillness.  The birds were quiet and the families that occupied the colorful homes were beginning to stir.  They prepared to visit the cemeteries and place flowers on the graves of their loved ones.  The picnics and parties would follow as fog lifted and the day move along.

In your average looking Presbyterian Church with simple stained glass windows a baptism was taking place.  The family had gathered in their clean Sunday’s best.  Mother and father standing with children and godparents filled up the space.  The Spirit of God expected to descend and on their heads, rest.  It was Dia De Los Muertos in north LA.  My fortune would never be the same.

This was the first time I was baptized.  I was almost 8 months old.  This began my journey towards identity and who or what I was in this world.  It delivered me through Catholic elementary school, Lutheran middle school, evangelical street preacher, Presbyterian inquirer, and on to an agnostic pastor.

Baptism was a process for me to enter in to close proximity to God.  It was a physical rite that cast away who I was, for who I hoped to be.  I have a weakness for altar calls and baptism.  I have answered countless altar calls as I sought to be washed in the cleansing blood of the Lamb.  I have been baptized three times in a similar pursuit, one that resembles a roller coaster of highs and lows of finding and forgetting Jesus.

The second time I was baptized I was at the beach with the evangelical church that my girlfriend was part of.  We went there for Easter service and I became overcome with joy, the Spirit, and a desire to be worthy to be the husband of this young woman I was with.  I waded out in to the waters of the Pacific Ocean and said yes to Jesus, again.  I soon fell out of the faith and blindly searched for the real me.  The third time was in the backyard of the pastor of the charismatic Hispanic church that I was part of.  We ate carne asada and I found myself in the shallow end of the pool again proclaiming that I wanted Jesus Christ to be my Lord and Savior.  Within a few weeks I departed the Spirit-filled light and wandered the earth as a pseudo-Christian version of Kwai Chang Caine seeking the meaning of life.

There was a fourth time I went to get baptized.  In the wake of a horrible break-up I went back to church.  It was a huge mega church with 2,000-3,000 members worshipping each Sunday.  There was an alter call to get saved and I answered it.  They took me to the back and prayed with me to received the Lord and the pastor asked me, “son, have you been baptized before?”

I told him, “Three times but this one will stick.”

He replied, “You don’t need baptism.  You need to get serious.”  He then prayed with me and they took me to the side where I watched the others get dunked.  I was upset.  I was disappointed.  I felt rejected.  I walked away that day and did not set foot in church again for another two years.

It has taken me almost fifteen years to get what he was talking about.  What he was saying was, “You need to get serious and love yourself.  You need to love yourself like God loves you.  You need to spend time with yourself.  You need to get comfortable in your own skin.  You need to get familiar with your own body.”

Baptism was a drug, an addiction.  I was addicted to the sacramental practice of being made whole.  I was not able to see beyond the sacramental act of wholeness and live as a fully integrated, fully realized and differentiated being.  That part was harder for me to embrace.

Jesus was not addicted to any sacrament, nor was the Christ self-medicating the wounds of dysfunctional family relations.  Jesus was proclaiming his wholeness as fully human and fully divine.  He entered the River Jordan as a man and as God.  He exited the river as an outwardly integrated and realized Christ.  Jesus revealed the path of reconciliation through the fragmented faithful path of his day.  Jesus rising out of the waters hears, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”  A voice from Heaven proclaims pleasure and affirms the fully realized self of divine humanity.

Jesus got serious.  Jesus spent a lot of time wandering this world looking for who he was.  One just needs to read Christopher Moore’s book, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal, to ponder what was Jesus before he got baptized and after he was born.

If Jesus was in deed fully human and fully divine then it is not that hard to imagine that Jesus also wrestled with the realities of being human.  There are numerous accounts in apocryphal and deuterocanonical letters that share stories of Jesus’ “silent years.”

It is human to desire identity.  It is human to hunger for belonging.  It is human to journey towards understanding.  Jesus knew this and Jesus got serious.  When Jesus got serious about who he was and spent some time with himself he grew to love himself.  When he loved himself he got comfortable with who he was, who he is.  When Jesus gets comfortable with who he is, we get the invitation to reconciliation and we are shown the way to familiarity of the Body.

The body matters and baptism is a path towards familiarity with who we are and that eventual reckoning of what we are in Christ.  Baptism is a beginning.  It is not the end.  Baptism is the first step in a journey of 10,000 miles.  Baptism is the outfitters that shall equip you for life.

Right after Jesus gets baptized he is thrust in to the wilderness to be tempted by the world.  In the wilderness Jesus continues to challenge the norms that we bear.  Jesus’ ministry in an assault on human systems of power and wealth as he calls on us, the Children of God, to live life in that familiar way he displayed when he got baptized.  Jesus’ beginning in those baptismal waters is the beginning of something that we have yet to realize, Thy Kingdom Come, Thy Will Be Done…On Earth As It Is, In Heaven…

St. Thomas Merton offers us a prayer in which the certainty most of us seek is reframed under the light of Christ’s action, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.”  Baptism is the beginning of this road.  The road to which we travel, not with certainty but with faith.  A faith that allows for divinity in the face of the profane.  Purpose in the mundane.  A faith of clarity amongst the chaos.

You cannot love others if you do not love yourself.  You cannot accept others if you do not accept yourself.  You cannot honor others if you do not honor yourself.  You cannot take others seriously if you do not take yourself seriously.  You cannot be familiar with others if you are not familiar with yourself.

We live life in the here and now as fully embodied humanity we continue to work towards the marks of Church and seek to glorify and enjoy God.  We do justice, we love kindness, and we walk humbly with our God.  When doing justice, loving kindness, and humbly walking with God we embark on some rather serious business.

Glutinous for your love.


I don’t always think things through. That’s to say I’m highly emotional and impulsive. That would make me one hell of a river boat gambler if I were in to that sort of thing.

I’m not the gambling type. I am a risk taker. I would like to think I am a measured risk taker that holds conservative values. Perhaps that makes me not much of a risk taker at all.

I do like a sure thing. I’m a child of a messy early 80’s divorce. It’s the stuff sitcoms are made of. Only in my case I lack the quirky sidekick & am heavy on the survivor story.

I’m in my 5th day of my self imposed sabbatical from Facebook and Twitter. I’ve noticed a few things about my life without these avenues of interaction. One, I’m less informed. I miss the information, news, and articles I had access to and awareness of via my network of friends. Two, I have found myself wanting to share voice and encounter with this same network and quietly owning these moments for myself. Three, watching football or anything for that matter has become boring.

I’m not sure what will come of this sabbatical. Thus one is rooted in a different emotional stasis than any before. I’ve dropped out previously for a while due to unflinching jealousy or unhealthy relations in social media. I may not be a gambler but I am most assuredly an addict.

It’s this addictive personality that has guided me from alcohol to drugs to food to religion and on in to the horrible self-hate I am most familiar with. This sabbatical is rooted in a desire for self-love and the need for roots. The need for roots is something I’ve needed for the last 10 years but have not had the words to explain or understand.

For the last 10 years I’ve been I. A journey to transform, to realize, or to awaken the fullness of my being. Metro would call this a journey towards the real self. The real self being the me fully realized and ready to be who and what the divine hath prepared me to be.

My addiction has wained to reveal enough of this real self that I am in need of a tether that I may explore this world and be light in darkness. I am in need or roots. Roots that bind me locally to community. A community to which I belong. I have been a part of such a community. This community is indeed real and has shaped me over the last 4 years

That community is hedged in and with my social media connections. This community comprised of friends of old that knew the high school me. Friends the strove alongside me as we explored ministry and what our roles might be. Friends that helped nurture and affirm the flickering light of ministry that I fought to receive. Friends from afar that hold kindred spirits of mischief and cheer that admire my art and acknowledge the whit, astute political acumen, and charm I dispense. Friends from across the globe, political sphere, and ethnicity that challenge and maintain who and what I am.

Real friends. Real relationships. Real community.

Only, I’m not happy, nor fulfilled. I’m laden with friends. I’m lacking roots. I am ready to grow, hungry for roots. Roots to grab depth and connection in ways that allow this potential growth to arrive.

It is in this need that I walk away from Twitter and Facebook. I’m unsure of who I am and where I begin in the face of social media. I have reconciled and healed along with the shifting and awakening of social media. I liken my relationship with social media to that of Todd and Cooper from The Fox and The Hound. We are two natural enemies that found love in each other that will one lead us to break nature or be bound by it.

I do miss those folks that fashion the community of friends. I hope that we will connect in person very soon.

Welcome To The Jungle

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In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”  This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.’”  Now John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.  Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.


But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruit worthy of repentance.  Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.  Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Matthew 3:1-12

I am not a fan of Advent.  I respect its place in the hierarchy of the liturgical calendar.  I appreciate its contemplative holding pattern before the Christmas miracle of Emmanuel.  I try to get pumped up about Advent.  I am impatient and hate surprises.  Also, I suspect that when we talk about Advent we are really talking about is “pre-Christmas.”

You know Christmas trees in our living rooms, strings of lights illuminating our homes, and the BC Clark jingle.  We seek to give and hope to receive that perfect gift.  We unlock chocolates from their captive foiled dens, gaze upon the beauty of the nativity, and visit the memories of Christmases past, and the sounds and spirit of the season consume us.

Yup, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas—in our homes, in our churches, in our communities.   And with all the tinsel, Christmas cards, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire, we begin to think a lot like Christmas, too.  Christmas is here.  Frosty, Charlie Brown and gang, and the army of Clauses that fill the malls signal it is indeed Christmas.

Christians do it differently.  We have Advent.  We are expected to slow our roll and savor the moment prior to the savior being laid in a manger in swaddling cloths.  Advent is a time of anticipation, a period of waiting.  We get bombarded with the “Spirit of Christmas” in a seemingly relentless wave of commercialism and consumer one-upmanship.  We are offered formula after formula as to how we can claim happiness and glee.  Rather, we get further in to debt as these systems of bondage increase.  This bondage challenges the liberation of Jesus the Christ.  A vapid church loses steam in a culture of young adults rapidly drowning in a climate of hopelessness and unrealized dreams.

The crash of cymbals, the sounding of an alarm, John the Baptist bursts onto the scene, bucket in hand, dousing us with cold water, rudely awakening us from our quest for consumer victory and visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads.   His austere manner, frugality in dress, and OG Mediterranean diet, he lacks any obvious Christmas cheer.  John is more Grinch than Father Christmas.  And the midst of all this preparing the way, John seems conspicuously and embarrassingly in the way.

John would not be very welcome at most of our holiday festivities.  Imagine him at Best Buy warning the folks that waited in line that they needed to repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.  There’s John yelling warnings, in between nibbles of crickets and slurps of honey, at the streaming parade of people holding giant inflatable cartoon characters.  John the Baptist is a pain the…you know.

But the gospel—neh, the entire Bible—is filled with people who are, at best—difficult to be around.  People we might describe as kill-joys or wet-blankets.  People who tell us exactly what we are doing wrong and how mad God is going to be.  They usually emerge right about the time things are starting to get fun and the good times roll.

We have a name for these kinds of people—prophets.  Prophets have the daunting task of being the mouthpiece of God and are called to communicate a message from God to the wider world.   But prophets are not cheerleaders or life coaches or therapists—they are more like Bob or Jillian on the “Biggest Loser”—charged with the task to preach a message of reconciliation and repentance.  Generally, God sends a prophet to tell people that they are on the fast track to ruin.  And so, prophets do not have the luxury to mince words or to put a positive spin on the message.  When judgment and punishment is at hand, there’s no time for flowery sentiment—it’s time to cut to the chase.

For John the Baptist, time was at a premium, because Jesus was just around the corner.  His message was urgent—don’t pass go, don’t collect $200, don’t pack your bags or kiss your family goodbye—there is not time for dawdling—you must drop everything and Repent!  Confess your sins, repent, and be baptized!  Because there is no other acceptable way to prepare yourselves for the coming of the Christ.

So here we are…Advent.  The church seeks a tender moment of reflection.  We pine for those White Christmas’, just like the one’s we used to know.  We shun the prophet’s cry to repent and point the finger towards the other brood of vipers.  We fall victim to the warned path and stray from the victorious road of liberated mercy and skip out on the getting ready.  Too busy getting ready for Christmas, we overlook Advent.  We grab nostalgia instead of change.

You see what John is calling us to, what Advent calls us to, is to repent and to repent is to change.  Repenting is changing the way you approach the world.  Repenting is changing the way you engage each other.  Repenting is changing the world to embody “thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  Change is the reason for the season and Jesus is the impetus behind that change.  But we are not there yet.

The church is in a season of change.  It is no longer the axis to which this Nation revolves.  Gone is the monopoly in which the spiritual wellbeing of our Nation is entrusted to the Christian God.  We the church must contend with the reality that as the prophets spoke we chose to secure our treasures, rather than sell all we have to give to the poor.

The wealth of a nation sits broadly in the hands of a few.  Poverty rises as justice and equality is withheld due to a persons love, skin color, nation of origin, and gender.  Change swirls around us.  John warns us to repent.  He calls us to change.  Change always blurs the like between prophet, priest, and people.  Change can bring out the best and worst in us.

Just ask the Pharisees and Sadducees.  “You brood of vipers!” John exclaims, driving them out of the water, creating such a torrent of crashing waves that the men are soaked from head to toe, wringing their tunics out on the river’s bank.  “Unless you are serious about change, get out of my sight!”  Disgusted and embarrassed, the Pharisees and Sadducees turn their heels, get back into their shiny car, and flee the scene.

So what was it about the Pharisees and the Sadducees that caused John to pull a Jekyll and Hyde?  Why did John deny them baptism and the chance to change? If John was calling all people to change, then why were some left out in the cold? Shouldn’t it mean something that they bothered to show up in the first place?

It’s easy to paint John in the same picture as just another insane, self-conversing prophet.  A lunatic.  A outside agitator.   John took his job as prophet very seriously.  He knew that the difference between being angry and prophetic is love.  His job was not only to baptize those who sought baptism—his job was to love people towards change.  His job was to love people into the coming of Christ.  And the best way to prepare for change is through the act of repentance as delivered in love.

We toss around the word “repent” a lot in church; we hear it most Sundays, we read it in the Bible.  Repenting means that we own the times in our lives when we do not live up to God’s expectations of us and we make a concerted effort not to do those things again.  This is why it is difficult to fully embrace Advent and why the Holy of Christmas is so alluring.

It doesn’t matter if we repent, because we can just confess our sins, God will forgive us, and life will be good again.  I have asked God for forgiveness of and repentance for all kinds of sin.  Tim may have shared a few of those stories with you.  And here I am, unlikely that I have ever repented from everything.

Repentance is less about the sin itself and more about the posture of the sinner.  No matter how much we try, no matter how much we pray and confess to God, we are going to keep sinning.  That’s just the reality of the human condition.  As Christians, our job is not to eradicate every bit of sin from our lives, but to do our best to sin less and to make a concerted effort to live as a Child of God.  We are to be changing.

And this is where the Pharisees and Sadducees got it wrong and why John sent them running from the river.  They didn’t give a lick about change.  They were fine, going through the motions, because it was what everybody else was doing.  But they had no intention on re-ordering their lives as baptized, forgiven creatures entering the changing process.  John has little tolerance for those who are not serious about committing their entire lives to Jesus the Christ.

Repentance is a change in our identity because repenting means that we are no longer bound to sin, as prisoners of a world ruled by oppression and violence.  Repentance means that we pledge allegiance not to systems that oppress, but to the Kingdom of God.  The Pharisees & Sadducees and other members of the religious establishment were willing to pay lip service to repentance, but had no intention of changing their basic identity and pledging allegiance to anyone or any system other than themselves.  John knew this, and loudly rebuked them for their misguided religious showboating.

Change is a communal act, as much as it is an individual act.  Change is not just about you, or me—it’s about us, as individuals, as a community—living into our TRUE identity as the body of Christ and citizens of the Kingdom of God.  If we as a church would focus on the contemplation, the reflection, the prayer, the discernment, THE CHANGE I could and would be a fan of Advent.  But as I said earlier, I suspect that when we talk about Advent what we are really talking about is pre-Christmas.

It’s tempting for us to skip over this uncomfortable talk about repentance and change.  We want to jump right to the “good stuff” of Christmas.  But in order for us to celebrate the birth of Christ, we must first make the conscious decision to pledge our faithfulness to Christ and Christ alone.   That’s what these weeks of Advent are for—it’s a period of discernment, for prayer and reflection.  It is a period of change.