Archive for September, 2016

Thoughts on the Presidential Debate

Disclaimer: The thoughts and opinions that follow are entirely my own, and not an official position of any particular institution.


In July, the Pew Research Forum conducted a study which showed 78% of white evangelicals planned to vote for Trump.

I really believe that these people are hurting their church.

Hillary Clinton, whatever you think of her, is a lifelong devoted Methodist. She has been involved in the United Methodist Church her whole life, and many of her social policies as First Lady were directed toward “the least of these”: children, teens aging out of foster care, people with disabilities, the poor, and battered women. She has also been subject to the kind of intense scrutiny and scorn that is shocking to some while totally expected by most women in positions of power, and has borne it with great poise and dignity, as befits a truly exemplary Christian.

(And need I remind you that she also did this while her husband was going through charges of infidelity on the public stage?)

Her faith is steady and reserved, in line with what Jesus talks about in Matthew, Chapter 6. She doesn’t talk about it much publicly. I believe this is not a sign of cowardice, but respect for others of different creeds. But an oft-repeated maxim of hers is, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can,” which is a quote attributed to John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism.

In the meantime, she is standing up against a Cheeto-faced cocktail sausage-fingered hobgoblin who has no sense of mercy, no sense of humility, and openly states that he doesn’t see any need to ask for forgiveness from God. He is narcissistic, violent, foul-mouthed, greedy, licentious, and idolatrous. He should be everything you despise, and yet you celebrate him – and not only that, but some of you write shriekingly terrified articles about Obama or Clinton being the anti-Christ.

If anyone living today could ever actually claim that label, I swear it would be Donald Trump.

One bad mood as president and he would destroy the world.

I can’t fathom how you could claim that you are the only ones who actually give any reverence and glory to Jesus, but spit on everything he stood for by supporting this dangerous clown.

I can’t fathom how you could claim the right to call the world to repentance, but put your support and your money and your future vote behind this absolute disaster of a candidate.

You should be ashamed of yourselves.

I pray that you will come into true repentance, and back a candidate who actually has a track record in living her faith.

“The Potter God,” (Sermon, September 4th, 2016)

I referenced both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament readings for the day in this piece. They are here and here.

I’ll always remember my Hebrew Bible professor Dr. Pat Dutcher-Walls’ classes on the prophetic books, which were a specialty of hers. Today’s passage from Jeremiah reminded me of a particularly amazing experience in which Pat decided to illustrate prophetic actions, some of the strange things prophets did as forms of performance art, if you like. These actions were believed to be concrete manifestations of the truths God was trying to convey through the vessel of the prophet.

And so my Hebrew Bible class found itself outside one rainy January morning in the VST parking lot, listening to Pat read from the prophet Jeremiah in Chapter 19, the chapter which immediately follows the one from which we just read. In this chapter God proclaims devastation on the people of Jerusalem, who have strayed from the law and the will of God. To illustrate their wanton separation, God tells Jeremiah to take a pottery jug and smash it on the ground.

This is what Pat did, hurling a thrift store pottery pitcher to the pavement, where it shattered.

I was struck by how the atmosphere changed. Before we had begun, we had been a little giddy, laughing and smiling at how much fun this class was and how creative Pat’s methods were. But when that pitcher shattered, with a sound of great drama and finality, we were all rendered silent and incredibly moved.

It was beautiful, but also quite disturbing. We began to understand how powerful a simple act of protest can be.

You could say it was the “Hands up, don’t shoot” of the ancient world, a concrete marker of a deep injustice that had put us out of sorts with all created order.

Our St. Philip’s community has a consistency in its sense of justice and beliefs about what the reign of God looks like. When we are together, we have a shared vision of the truths that God wants our community to proclaim and enact. We can cheer each other on and support each other in this work, perceiving all the good we do for Christ within and without these walls. And we are very lucky to live in a city where, for the most part, the overall shape of that vision – care for the poor, responsible stewardship of the earth, support for refugees – is valued, if not always enacted, by the vast majority of the people living here. This is a beautiful thing, a manifestation of the in-breaking Kingdom of God among us, which is often seen in fleeting glimpses, at the corner of the eye. All of us should uphold these values at all costs, all the time.

However, we have to admit that, for us, in this time and this place, working to make this vision a reality might be said to often carry a low degree of risk.

Part of what made Jeremiah’s action risky – remember he got thrown into a well for his pronouncements – is that he wasn’t proclaiming to a group of like-minded people. He was not like Amos or John the Baptizer, speaking on the outskirts of society. Jeremiah walked in the halls of the powerful. He spoke to kings and rulers. What’s more, he was not the only prophet. There were other prophets in the courts, and many of them proclaimed exactly what the king wanted to hear. When there is a division of opinion among those who claim to speak for God, who do the powerful so often listen to? The ones who tell them that everything is fine, and God is happy with their actions, or the one who proclaims a potter God who will rework the vessel until it is useful again?

All of us know what it feels like to take risks. It starts early and ends late.

“Do I share these cookies with this other kid even though that means less for me?”

“Do I stand up to this bully even when they’re not bullying me?”

“Do I tell my friends I don’t think doing this is a good idea, even if they’re all doing it?”

“Do I take this job even though I’m not sure it’s going to take me where I want to go in life?”

“Do I raise the ethical concerns I have in this situation to my boss?”

“Do I say ‘I do’ to this person even though I don’t know what the future holds?”

“Do I make choices for my young child not knowing if they’re going to be choices the child will uphold as they grow?”

“Do I tell my teen I don’t want her to hang out with those kids even though I’m sure they could use a friend who’s a good influence?”

“Do I tell my adult child that I’m not feeling as capable as I used to be and need more help, even though I know he’s working full time and has young children and a million other things to worry about?”

These are some of the risks incurred in an ordinary life. And then there are the extraordinary risks we take every day that many of us could just as easily shrug off.

When you finally decide to ruin the dinner party by saying you don’t appreciate the nasty things someone is saying. When you finally decide to come out of the closet. When you finally decide to say, “This isn’t working. I want a divorce.” When you finally decide to say, “I love you, but I can’t keep watching you do this to yourself.” When you finally decide to say, “I can’t work for a company that supports this kind of action.” When you finally decide to say, “I will not condone the actions of my nation in this matter, I will denounce them.” When you finally decide to say, “I believe that God is calling us to be better than this.”

When you decide to say, “I want to follow Jesus.”

This is the level of risk you take when you are a baptized member of the Body of Christ. This is the true cost of discipleship.

Jesus’ words sound terribly harsh. “Whoever does not hate their family and life itself cannot be my disciple.” I really don’t think he meant that we should go about being dour and nasty all the time. That was not the life he lived. He ate and drank with outcasts and sinners. He laughed and cried and healed and loved and spoke out against injustice and corrected people in love. Miseó, the Greek word that is translated “hate” in this passage carries a comparative connotation. It’s about putting God first rather than loving nothing and no-one else.

If it were not so, Jesus would not have elevated the commandment “Love your neighbour as yourself” alongside “Love the Lord your God.”

Following Jesus is about taking a risk.

Tomorrow is Labour Day, and after that, a whole new year begins. This year at St. Philip’s, as we continue in our work and discernment to find a new rector, we are also working toward a year of revival and engagement. This revival will give you and your family many chances to take the risk. I’ll share just a few of them.

Next Sunday will be our official Back to Church Sunday. Take a risk by inviting a friend who has never been.

The Sunday after, September 18th, will be the day that our Bishop Melissa visits us. Take a risk by staying after to hear from her and speak to her in person about your faith and your dreams for the church.

Wednesday evenings at 8pm we have begun a new service here at St. Philip’s called Alt Vespers. It’s a service of Evening Prayer that is contemplative, casual, and concise, and is done in a very different style than what we experience on Sunday mornings here. Take a risk by coming one night and seeing what it’s about.

The clergy team will begin a brand new program geared toward deepening our faith and commitments to Christ’s work in the church. It be intergenerational and may prepare you for baptism, confirmation, reaffirmation – any public statement of commitment to Christ that appeals to you. I don’t have all of the details yet but they will be available within the next couple of weeks. Take a risk by signing up or dropping in.

Finally, take a risk by coming forward today, to this table. It doesn’t look risky, but actually it’s the greatest risk of all. Coming forward means taking the risk of proclaiming that God really does come to see us face-to-face, that God really does willingly break open in order to nourish us for the work of the Kingdom, that God really does reconcile all things in Christ – that God really is.

Take the risk, friends.

It’s worth it.