Current Homily

Open Your Inner Eye

“The eye adores the visible world,” John O’Donohue wrote. “Once it opens, it is already the guest at an unending feast of vision….[It] falls in love with the… visible. This fascination is addictive; then almost immediately our amnesia in relation to the invisible sets in. We live in this world as if it had always been our reality and will continue to be….Fixated on the visible, we forget that the decisive presences in our lives—soul, mind, thought, love, meaning, time, and life itself—are all invisible.” John O’Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us (New York: Doubleday, 2008), 187-88.


That fixation on the visible prevents us from seeing beneath the surface of reality more often than not. And, more often than not, it leads us to believe our perspective is accurate and to mistrust those with a different point of view. Our opinions and actions are colored by the play of dark and light. Even the words I’m using are visual—color, dark, light, view, perspective. As O’Donohue says, the visual is captivating. It is covertly addictive. It seduces us to remain on the surface because we falsely believe if we can SEE something then we both KNOW it AND understand it. The problem is we don’t just SEE. We interpret and judge and form opinions about what we see and then, without knowing, we plunge ourselves into darkness and are totally blind. We think we see but all we are seeing are our own biases, opinions, anxieties and judgments.

This is the problem facing those poor Pharisees accompanying Jesus in John’s Gospel. “Are you saying we are blind,” they ask? And Jesus says “yes.” In believing they already ‘know’, they are making no effort to see what’s in front of them—that God is doing something new in Jesus. That the Spirit is working through him. The face of the Divine is staring them in the face and they can’t see it. So—yes—they are blind without realizing it! How often does this happen to us, I wonder? How often is God staring us in the face and we don’t know it? We think we know what’s happening but we are only seeing the top layer while God is looking up at us from below the surface, from the actual heart of the matter? (more…)

Praying With Humor

In Mark’s Gospel Jesus’ deep sensitivity to human suffering is quite obvious. He suffers ‘with’ the broken people he encounters. His emotions are real, visceral. He can be angry, sad, surprised and indignant, just like us, and when he is ‘moved with pity’ his own heart is wrenched, and tender compassionate acts follow. In her commentary on today’s reading, Mary McGlone says: “the [leper’s] request for healing stirred Jesus to his depths. Even before he could speak, his hand was reaching out, touching the man’s spurned and suffering body, transforming it with tenderness. Then, pronouncing the words that explained his gesture and made his will effective. Jesus said, “I do will it. Be made clean.”

I also imagine Jesus must have had a sense of humor. He couldn’t possibly feel such deep compassion without also experiencing the comical, even hilarious aspects of ordinary life. I like to think of Jesus out in the desert having a belly laugh with God after his encounter with the leper in Mark’s Gospel or over some ridiculous experience he’s had while preaching in the town. The leper story surely must have given them a laugh. Here’s this guy who has been isolated from family and friends for who knows how long, possibly with sores all over his body, and he gets up the courage to do something that is absolutely forbidden. He comes right up to Jesus, comes within inches, in fact, and begs to be healed. He must be pretty desperate, right?

And when Jesus sees him his own insides convulse with empathy. He reaches out his hand, does another forbidden thing by touching the man, and says with deep feeling, “yes, I do will it. Be healed.” And the leprosy vanishes. Then Jesus STERNLY orders the man to tell no one, but to go immediately to the priest and do what is required by law to prove he’s clean so he can return to his family and friends. And what does this guy do? He runs around town telling everyone he meets what just happened to him. He didn’t follow the rules before and doesn’t follow Jesus’ strict orders now. I can almost see Jesus rolling his eyes and shaking his head in disbelief as he watches the man take off running, wildly excited, not for a minute remembering what he was just told to do! Now Jesus can’t go anywhere, can’t freely walk in and out of the city without people falling all over him! So he goes out into the desert to get a little space and tells God what just happened. They both have a good laugh. “Geez!” says Jesus. “What have I done now, dad?” (more…)

Community or Chaos

On August 23rd, 1963, the March on Washington for jobs and freedom brought 250,000, mostly African-American citizens, to the nation’s capital. Near its climax Martin Luther King, Jr. came to the podium. At a critical moment during his speech, his good friend Mahalia Jackson who was sitting behind him said, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” At that moment, as anyone can see watching the tape, King set aside his notes and began, “And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that [ALL people] are created equal.” King believed modern societies had solved the problem of producing wealth. Now we needed to invest that wealth in the solution of social problems, starting with the overwhelming problem of poverty. That was 55 years ago!

In his book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? King declared: justice “cannot be achieved without radical changes in the structure of our society.” The “black revolution,” he said, “is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws—racism, poverty, militarism and materialism. To those statements written in 1967 we must add classism, gender privilege, and misogyny. This last year has brought us face-to-face again with racial and gender tensions, and the growing social and economic inequalities at the heart of our current system. The newly passed tax code will surely exacerbate these tensions. King’s question remains for us to answer as a society: will we choose chaos or community? If community, then how do we reweave the ragged fabric of our nation? What part might God be asking us to play in the evolutionary drama playing out across the globe? (more…)

Enough Fuel For the Lamps

Author Molly Srode introduces her book on Spiritual Retirement with these words: “As the New Year dawns crisp and clear, a bell goes off inside my head. Rather, it is more like an alarm….Passing another decade, I see my life very much like a car that has a quarter tank of gas left. Three options loom ahead. I could just keep going until I run completely out of gas. I could park the car along the side of the road, hoping that I will never use up the fuel, or I could acknowledge that the tank has a limited supply of gas and make plans about where I need to go. My choice is the latter, and now I have to decide where and how far I go with my quarter tank of gas.”

With Srode’s words in mind let’s look over at those ten attendants waiting for the bridal party. They are in a similar predicament not knowing how much time they have or how much fuel they will need for the responsibilities that lie ahead. Wisdom advises the attendants and the author to make decisions about these matters so they can prepare. All will need fuel. The element of time is a complete mystery in both cases. Still, they need to be ready.

Life presents us with unknowable realities and also with limits. Still we have to make decisions that will determine the course of our lives and the quality of our experiences. We instinctively look for signs. Our inner compass, which is the light of Wisdom within us, draws our hearts toward people and places that resonate with something deep inside. Wisdom lights the path that leads to fulfillment of our soul’s purpose, though we don’t always take it. Sometimes we choose a path through the dark woods instead not realizing how desperately we are relying on that inner light to help us find our way home. As we learn to move in step with Wisdom, the light within grows stronger. If we move out of step it grows dimmer, but it never goes away. The light within us is God’s own life, and it never leaves us. It never dies. (more…)

Gratitude vs. Entitlement

Yesterday a friend of mine told me about an appointment she had with her doctor last week. As she entered the office the doctor said, “have you come for an anti-depressant too?” My friend was perplexed and quietly said, “well…no…” at which point the doctor told her that in just that week she had over 100 patients come in [for a prescription]. The state of the world is getting to all of us I think! Isaiah’s words about God wiping away the tears from every cheek, removing the mourning veil from all peoples and the shroud covering all nations touches something inside each of us, I’d guess, that desperately looks for relief. On one hand, we believe in this God—the God of Israel, the God of our ancestors the God of Jesus and the apostles. We want to trust those ancient promises and some, if not most of us, long for the world Isaiah describes. But I think many have given up hope humans can actually get there—or that it makes sense to even have that as a goal anymore.

The political philosopher John Gray, a critic of utopian thinking, said “destructive behavior…flows from inherent human flaws. “These defects are not only or even mainly intellectual,” he wrote, then continued: “No advance in human knowledge can stop humans attacking and persecuting others.” And on the level of knowledge alone, I’m sure he’s right. FACTS don’t change people’s minds as we are clearly seeing today. People make decisions based mostly on feelings and attitudes. (more…)

God Holds the Mirror

We are only days away from the horrific scene outside the Mandalay Bay casino in Las Vegas. Such sights as these, on larger or smaller scales, are becoming all too familiar here in our own land and worldwide. What is happening to us? Why would someone devise and execute a plan to kill as many people as possible? Even in asking the question we instinctively realize there is no answer that could calm the underlying anxiety and horror we feel in the face of such cold, murderous behavior. Within this appalling human carnage, what does a loving and merciful God want us to see, to hear, to pay attention to? I ask this question believing God is with us in this as in everything, accompanying us and leading us through the thicket of shock, confusion and grief. We seem awash in an ocean of hatred and fear, where senseless acts of violence happen daily. And God, the life force within us and within all things, looks lovingly into our eyes holding a mirror, asking us to look deeply into the dark corners of our own hearts for answers to questions that mystify, confuse and enrage us all. We see ourselves as lone individuals, isolated families, separate and sometimes marginalized communities rather than as a ‘people’, and the forces that benefit from our separateness fan the fires of ‘otherness’ and the flames of hatred and fear. (more…)

Love Is The Only Law

“My heart is moved by all I cannot save:

So much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those who, age after age,

perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world.”

This poem by Adrienne Rich comes to me as the Eagle Creek fire continues to burn nearly unchecked in the Columbia River Gorge. Like so many others I am grieving the destruction of our forests, the eradication of habitat, the terror unleashed for humans and animals trying to escape the smoke and flames. Within this horrifying scene are those ordered to evacuate their homes as well as those placed on alert who must prepare to leave at a moment’s notice. I see anxiety in the faces of those being interviewed by reporters and I think of the 800,000 young people across our country who have been placed on an even more devastating alert. They may be deported to countries they don’t remember, whose language and culture they may not know, for reasons that are baffling and beyond their control. Unlike people in the path of Hurricanes Harvey and, Irma or Jose, those facing the devastating fire in the Gorge as well as the children and young adults facing deportation know their personal disaster could have been averted except for the foolish or callous choice of one individual—a boy of 15 in one case and a man playing to his political base in another. One individual choice, one decision, can have such far-reaching, devastating consequences on the lives of millions—of trees, plants, animals, humans—on the fabric of communities large and small. (more…)

Why Are You Here?

When we met for the first time 10 years ago over at University Park United Methodist in Portland and First Christian Church in Eugene I never imagined we would still be meeting, and as a community, 10 years later! I never imagined our annual retreats and summer picnics, or that I would have the privilege of serving clusters of people in separate cities who would work to form bonds of community across such large geographic distances! Ten years ago many were calling what we do here “Toni’s Mass.” I can’t tell you how happy and relieved I was to see that phrase disappear! and for us to identify ourselves, by unanimous vote, as the people of Sophia Christi. These flowers on our altar today represent all of us. It is because you are here, because of your commitment of time and energy, that I am here, that we are here.

At our very first anniversary we invoked Sophia using the same chant we sang together just a few minutes ago. We asked her “to breathe in us, flow to us, shine in us, and take root in us.” As I look around this room I see evidence of her Wisdom flowing through this community. I see her joyfulness shining through your eyes and feel the breath of her dancing spirit rising and falling as we breathe together on this perfectly delightful day. And as I look at these flowers I also see you, and the faces of so many who can’t be here today but are part of this community. Sophia has taken root in us, and the flowering of that rootedness is symbolized here for all of us to see. The flowers symbolize our respect for difference and diversity. They anchor an awareness of who we are and who we are called to be.

“Why ARE you here?” God asks Elijah as he hides in the cave of God’s mountain. And it seems he is there for just that purpose—to listen for the voice of God, to get a sense of direction about who he is and what he is to do next. As I consider the question myself, I realize several things. For one, I am here because you are here. In some mysterious way I believe Sophia has pitched her tent here among us, her people, and that she sings the praises of Wisdom through us in ways we will never even know. She sings of heartfelt hospitality and understanding. She sings of wise consideration for the problems of our day, and insight into the underlying tensions confronting our world. She knows the waves sloshing against our tiny boat are huge, and the head winds are sometimes brutal and vicious. She doesn’t abandon us. She’s right there, walking calmly toward us across the water whether we see her or not, instilling courage. (more…)

Divine Community

As a kid my family belonged to St. Patrick’s parish and I attended the parish school for eight years. As students, of course, we were immersed in the lore and legends surrounding our Irish patron saint. And probably like most of you, our first exposure to the Trinity came in the form of a shamrock. I vaguely remember the nuns’ using the shamrock when we came to that section of the catechism, but mostly I remember shamrocks everywhere in our school throughout the month of March, pinning them on our uniforms, drawing them in art class, taking them home to show our parents. We really got into celebrating the feast of St. Patrick! His symbol represented our school identity, and the Trinity didn’t even enter our minds. Everyone, including the nuns I think, just basically let it go.

And that’s mostly what happened from the end of the 4th Century until recently when theologians began re-visioning the foundational beliefs of our faith to bring them in line with new language and insights from philosophy, science, psychology and various other areas of research. Back in 325, when the Council of Nicaea articulated its understanding of who Jesus was bishops depended on the philosophical language of their time. They also wanted to debunk the Arian position that Jesus, as Son of God, was not equal to God the Father. The arguments were fierce including street brawls between ordinary people, not unlike what is happening between political factions in cities across our own country today. Even after the Council formulated the Nicene Creed the matter wasn’t really settled. It wasn’t until the end of the 4th Century that the doctrine of the Trinity essentially reached its present form. And though belief in a Trinitarian God is accepted across denominations, everything about it, including its history, is so confusing people tend to ignore it, discount it, refuse to believe it or simply call it a ‘mystery’ and let it go. (more…)

God our Mother

Julian of Norwich was a 14th Century Christian anchoress and mystic who wrote a book called Revelations of Divine Love. What most characterized her theology was that she equated Divine love with Maternal love. One scholar (F. Beer, Women and Mystical Experience in the Middle Ages, Boydell Press, 1992) says Julian believed Christ is not like a mother, but is literally The Mother. He says she believed the primal bond between mother and child is the nearest we can come to understanding the kind of relationship a person can have with Christ. “Just as God is truly our Father, so God is truly our Mother,” Julian says.

Today is Mother’s Day, and it seems fitting to reflect on God as our Mother today. It’s good for us to at least occasionally challenge the exclusive use of male pronouns and images in referring to God, and even to Christ, and the Spirit. God, Spirit, even Christ, has no gender. Using gendered pronouns helps us RELATE to God, and Jesus models that relationship by calling God, Abba, daddy, beloved and loving Father. But that doesn’t mean Jesus saw God as a man! God is beyond all names. When we get stuck in limiting images that pigeonhole God we are engaging in a form of idolatry. (more…)

People of Hope

And so it is Easter! Even when the sky is overcast and the rains seem endless, the beauty of spring is intoxicating! This year, perhaps more than any in recent memory, we need spring! We need signs of new life, signs of hope! The Easter Gospel is a story of hope. We see love, dedication and hope in the women who rise before daybreak to take the spices they’ve prepared to the tomb where Jesus was buried only three days before. In their grief, though still traumatized by the horrific events they have witnessed, they do not give up or retreat in fear. In every gospel the women are there. In every gospel they appear in the earliest hour of daylight, on the first day of the week, as midwives bridging the chaos of Jesus’ agony and death through his astounding transition into a new and glorious life. Mary of Magdala, Mary the mother of James, Salome, Joanna and the others were there through his trial, death and resurrection. Love held them in the drama and Love gave them reason to go on when all seemed lost forever. (more…)

Within the Womb of God

With crowds of people surrounding him on the road into Jerusalem, Jesus rides a donkey who, along with her colt, carry him into the city. He has garnered quite a following by this time, and also a fair number of enemies. His triumphal procession into Jerusalem, even seated on a beast of burden, has likely angered them even further. They plan to get rid of him for good. The woman with the alabaster jar sensed what was coming. With extravagant generosity and gentleness she cared for him and anointed his body for burial. He was so moved by her tender care of him that he directed her story be remembered whenever this gospel was proclaimed, and that it be told “in memory of her.” Judas, though, fumes about the wasted oil and is furious with both the woman and Jesus. Out of anger he steps into the quagmire of the elders’ decision to get rid of Jesus and, knowingly or unknowingly, sets the plan in motion.

Events move quickly from there. The chief priests and elders craft an image of Jesus as criminal, traitor and blasphemer of God. They feed these hostile images to the crowd who just days before hailed him with grand Hosanna’s. They turn the crowd into a rioting mob. With trumped up allegations they continue to incite the mob until it becomes a violent beast bent on destruction. People act against their better instincts and highest values. They even forfeit their own safety by calling for the release of Barabbas. They become a killing machine demanding the crucifixion of an innocent. It is a story of barbaric cruelty, of wanton persecution. It is also a timeless story as we know from watching similar dynamics play out on the national and world stage.

The crucifixion we remember today was horrific on so many levels. But I am convinced Jesus wouldn’t want us to stop there. He would want us to recognize the crucifixions in our own day as an assault against Divinity itself, on a par with his own. They include the merciless torture and death of countless populations around the world—from Syria to Honduras, Somalia and beyond. They bring to mind purposely ravaged fields, destroyed water supplies, bombings, government-sanctioned torture and killing, negligence toward women, families and children fleeing bombs, guns, hunger, thirst. These crucifixions are no less tragic or horrific than the one we remember today. (more…)

Leave All You Know

Almost 20 years ago I was living in Eugene when an acquaintance invited me to visit a graduate program in the Bay Area. It sounded exciting and I decided to check it out. The visit went well and I met some wonderful people. But when I left I had the oddest feeling—like something was pulling me to that city—but the feeling wasn’t connected to the school itself! Back in Eugene the feeling continued to grow. I told my spiritual director I felt strangely “pulled” to Oakland, but not specifically to that school or program. It didn’t make sense and I didn’t even like the city. I couldn’t see myself living there at all…   But eventually I went. I felt ‘called’ there.

It wasn’t easy leaving everything behind, letting go of all that was familiar—family, friends, the network I’d created that gave my life meaning. And when I arrived and met with the Director of the school I quickly realized it truly wasn’t for me. So I continued to explore the area, trying to figure out why I’d packed up and left everything else behind. There were a series of frustrating dead-ends and I felt adrift for months. Then one afternoon I walked into an admissions office on the GTU campus and met a warm, friendly woman who welcomed me with open arms. I still wasn’t sure this was the reason I’d moved there, but it somehow confirmed my risky decision to leave friends and work to follow that odd pull to Oakland. As it turned out I spent three years there, and those years prepared me for what I am doing here today. God had led me there. It changed my life.

“Leave all you know and journey to a new land I will show you,” God said to Abram and Sarai. Leave all you know… Leave all you know… (more…)

Holy Ground in Crisis Times

“Not even a month and I’m already weary,” a friend said yesterday. “How will I ever make it through 4 years of this?” Another responded “I don’t read the paper or listen to the news anymore. I know I need to stay informed but I can’t handle the daily assault on things that matter so much to me. I don’t want to give up but I need a break and I don’t know what else to do.” “I know how you feel,” I said to them both. “I feel the same way.” People come into my office each week with overwhelming personal and family issues. Yet those issues rest in a cauldron of social unrest and general anxiety that amplifies their concerns because the foundation of the world appears to be crumbling.

When the ground gives way beneath us people scramble for something to hold onto. I remember being at the epicenter of the Loma Prieta earthquake in Santa Cruz, 1989. Like most people, I suppose, I had always taken for granted that the ground I stood on was dependably solid and stable. But in those few minutes the earth itself gave way. It shook and rumbled with an unnerving roar and I reached for the door of my office, holding on, unsure the building would remain standing. When the first wave was over a second, third and fourth followed.

When it seemed safe to leave and go outside, everything was absolutely and eerily still. I made my way home through debris cluttered roadways, downed power lines. I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw my house still standing but inside the shelves were askew, their contents thrown across the floor. Cupboard doors were blown open, dishes flung and broken. The rooms were in shambles. Now and again the earth would thunder to life once more. Many chose to sleep outside that night and the next as aftershocks continued. Downtown looked like a war zone. Heaps of rubble were everywhere. The bookshop, coffee shop and other local landmarks were gone. Many died—friends of friends, neighbors. All roads leading into and out of town were impassable. We were cut off from the world for over a week. The inability to move in or out was frightening.

These memories return as I look at the state of collapse in so many of our inner cities with people stranded and dying on our streets, social networks and environmental protections threatened, healthcare divorced from a basic need for support in sickness, the value of a healthy society shattered, pieces strewn across the lawns and fields of every town. The earthquake mirrors my experience of what I see and feel happening today. The ground of shared reality has come undone. Gaping craters appear where there were once stable roadways. Even many of our operating principles lie in piles of rubble or are threatening to collapse. Laws we passed and thought invincible are being torn from their moorings. The nation-town has crumbled. Everyone is in shock, waiting for the next wave of after shocks. (more…)

Sitting at Mary’s Knee

In the dark days after the destruction of Judah Isaiah tells his listeners—do not be afraid. Look! he says. Your God is coming! Your God is coming to save you.  In these dark days, when one report after another gives us reason to worry about the future of our planet, our nation, our struggling communities—wouldn’t we love to believe God will come and save us? Isaiah’s words lie at the heart of Advent, this season dedicated to WAITING and HOPE.

The unfathomable abyss of God’s mysterious ways, God’s pregnant darkness, fosters terror. We teeter at the edge of a vast unknown, often grabbing at whatever knobs and handles are available trying to gain control. But the controls are not, and never were, in our hands. Instead we are asked to wait—faithfully, patiently, expectantly—trusting God is with us and will, somehow, save us.

There are those who believe that Jesus will return and right the wrongs of humankind. The words of James have been used to validate that belief and argue for the second coming as an antidote to the world’s woes. But perhaps the most important words for us in James’ letter are found in his last sentence: model your lives on the example of the prophets who suffered tremendous hardships patiently while carrying God’s message to the people. (more…)