Category: Dialog

Blog posts, op eds, articles, and anything else that contributes to our evolving understanding of ministry in Higher Ed.

Advent Is Coming! And There It Goes…

Happy (liturgical) new year! For those of you, dear readers, who come from less liturgically focused traditions, the season of Advent encompasses the four Sundays before Christmas and prompts us to prepare for Christ’s coming as a baby into our world. It’s officially the start of the next yearly rotation of liturgical seasons. And I find this season fascinating, because it’s both the beginning and the end. It prepares us for Christmas, specifically to recognize that when Christ arrived bodily into this world, he was both the savior (big responsibility) and a defenseless, helpless infant (itty bitty operating capacity).

But Advent also points to the end. And yeah, I mean like that crazy guy on the corner with ‘the end is near’ on a sandwich board, end of the world type stuff. Advent also prompts us to prepare ourselves and be vigilant for that. Like the story of the ten bridesmaids in Matthew’s gospel, we don’t know when Christ will come into this world again, so we need to keep alert. And Advent helps us with that, but for me it’s also a reminder that the encounter with Christ changes everything. Christ as a baby changes everything. Christ will come again with angels and loud trumpet calls and everything will change.

Did I mention that I’m fascinated by Advent? But I’m also really bad at it. I’m not usually in the groove of Advent until the third or fourth Sunday. And then it’s basically over and we’ve got twelve days for the Christmas celebration. Yay! And I’m that jerk who will insist on saying “Happy Advent” while everyone else is fighting about “Merry Christmas,” but I’ll start saying “Merry Christmas” on the 25th of December and I’ll keep saying it until the 6th of January, while everyone else is like “what is this guy doing? Christmas is over…”

So that’s (probably) the end of the didactic part of today’s blog…

Lots of updates from me with the new (liturgical) year: Some of you following along at home have been tracking that I finished up with my Army training a couple of months ago. So that’s cool because now I’m a qualified Army medic and I can report to my unit, which is armored and that means that I’m working with the guys who operate the tanks. That’s really cool.


Since I’m done with training, I also got a new tattoo. I had been wanting some kind of semicolon tattoo, but I didn’t know quite how I would go it. But when I was in San Antonio for training, one of my instructors had this ;IGY6 tattoo and he explained it to us and it was like a light bulb for me. I knew right away that that was how I would do my semicolon tattoo. So I think that’s pretty cool too.

The last update before I start doing my reflective bloggy thing is that I got a new job! Since part of the requirements now for Army medics is to pass the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technician’s test, I am a certified EMT. So I decided to take that and go work on an ambulance. The entry level job for EMTs is what’s called BLS/Interfacility transfer. It’s kinda like being a glorified medical taxi. We can transfer medically stable patients from one hospital to another, or we can take old folks from their nursing home to the clinic for an appointment (in cases where they need the ambulance because they can’t sit up in a wheelchair), and we can take discharged patients home if they’re unable to drive themselves or go in a wheelchair for whatever reason.

Some people don’t like working interfacility because it’s not exciting, or you see the same thing over and over. Meanwhile I think it’s important because everyone has dignity. I think this is important work because we can provide care for someone who just went through one of the worst days of their life, and get them to where they need to go for continued care. What sticks with me is that we also transfer mental health patients. Sometimes that’s tough for me because I still need to recognize that these patients are worthwhile and they still have dignity and I’m just tired, I’m not actually frustrated at them when it’s the third or fourth mental health patient in a row that we’re transporting.

These people are still worthwhile. It’s still a privilege for me to provide care and take them to where they need to go.

Take for example the guy that I transferred the other day. I’ll call him K. We got the call for K because he had been in the emergency department too long and he needed to be admitted at a different facility, a facility that could actually provide care for him. Walking in there, all I knew was that K was on a transfer hold, so more than likely he had been suffering from what we call “suicidal ideation.” So whether or not he attempted it, he had told someone he was thinking about killing himself.

And the sad fact is that this guy was too easy to write off. He was anxious and depressed, he had a history of mental health issues, he was a drug user… too easy. But when I walked in, I saw a memorial tattoo on his right arm. It was the boots and the rifle with the helmet perched on top. And the helmet had a unit patch on it. 1st Cav. This guy was a tanker. And suddenly it was like K was one of my guys.

As we got rolling in the ambulance, I was getting K’s info for my report. Part of the report included his destination, which I knew because we were transporting him, but I decided to check with him to see whether he knew. He didn’t. In fact, he had been unaware that he would be transferred that night at all. The last he had been told, the nursing staff was going to look into what kind of options he had, and then get back to him to see what he wanted to do. That never happened and instead, my partner and I showed up all of a sudden and said we were there to take him away. And as I tried to explain the situation to him, he asked whether he was going to a locked mental health unit and I had to tell him the truth. Yes. He was going to a locked unit.

Somewhere in there the mental floodgates opened and he started telling me everything. About the caseworkers who didn’t help him, the troubles he had getting treatment at the VA, about the ways his mind played tricks on him and made him not be able to trust people. He said that he’s tried to kill himself so many times, in so many ways and it hasn’t worked and he didn’t know why.

So I showed him my tattoo. I told him that I got it for him. Because I didn’t want him to be a statistic of veteran suicide. He took one look at it and told me that he loves a semicolon because there was some song about how there’s always more to see after a semicolon and people’s lives are like that; that every time you encounter someone, there’s always going to be something more to see. He said that every time you look for that something more that you come away changed.

When we dropped K off at his destination hospital, I shook his hand. I told him to take care of himself. To keep pushing and get to the place where he needs to be. He thanked me and said that after the ambulance ride tonight, he was feeling some real hope again. He told me that we both were going away changed that night and said I should remember that.

He was right. He was absolutely right.

Meeting with K changed everything. Meeting with Christ changes everything. Are we not called to seek the face of Christ everyday, everywhere, and in everyone? So is everyday Advent?

Forgive me, dear reader, I wax too poetical. But I hope that you see my point. I firmly believe that Christ shows up as one of the least, the last, or the lost (like Matthew 25:31-46). I believe that we see him every day, but most days we don’t recognize him. But in the same way that Advent points to, any encounter with Christ’s divinity can change everything.

Who’s who in the Ancient World

I am well aware that Advent stirs up (ha!) in me the same passion that is sparked by the sports ball, or cute animals. in other people.  When Family Feud asks what the top ten things that provoke emotional tears are, “struggling mightily for justice and right relationship despite great odds!” is not usually up […]

Good News and…Fire?

Here are the readings for Advent II, 2018 (Year C).
Preachers are supposed to be carrier pigeons of Good News. But by now you’ve already figured out that today’s scriptures are full of dubious looking “Good News.” I’m not saying it’s not Good News, I’m just saying it all sounded painful to me. Malachi, perched at the end of the Christian Old Testament, at the end of the beginning – standing therefore in maybe the most Advent position imaginable, waiting, watching, proclaiming –  promises a refiner’s fire, gift of God to purify each and every one of us. Oh boy. Just what I wanted for Christmas. Then, Luke’s gospel, recalling Isaiah, proclaims the return of the cosmic chiropractor, making crooked things right, so that the cracked patches of individual pavement we’d like to call our individual lives can be made again into the way of the Lord. Realignment as Good News?

And not just our individuals lives, but our communal and religious lives, too. After all, Jesus is very much in keeping with the Jewish prophetic tradition before him when he challenges the religious leaders with respect to the ways they distort God’s intention, sometimes on purpose, sometimes without even trying. That’s just to say, God knows things get twisted.

But the Chiropractor’s coming! There’s your Good News. The high will be brought low. The low brought high. Not for the sake of the exalting or humbling but for the sake of the road’s restoration: prepare ye the way of the Lord. Call it judgment if you want to, but the bottom-line is that potholes spoil a good parade. Smooth out the streets. Prepare for the Presence. Let everyone with a lamp to light keep it lit in anticipation of the coming Christ. From every corner of our holy texts today the Advent promise is that things that have forgotten what they’re for will be reminded and, in the reminding, be made whole.

There are parables that have warned us about Good News like this. Jesus, telling the story of vineyard workers who forgot that they’d been hired by the vineyard owner. They didn’t exactly forget. They adapted to their situation and then preferred their adaptation. They’d replaced waiting for the owner’s return with hoping that the owner might never return, justifying all kinds of exploitation and violence, toward other people, toward the land, by their hope. They were accommodated to crookedness. No, it’s not like they forgot, exactly, but more that they buffeted their lives with busyness and other things expressly designed, sometimes, to make it harder to remember. Maybe because there’s profit to be made in the forgetting. Maybe because it’s painful to wait for another when the wait seems long. In any case, they’ve long since grown ambivalent, if not hostile (and sometimes downright hostile), to anything that would change the status quo. Question: do other things distract us from remembering or does remembering distract us from the other things? It’s a question of where you start, I guess, or where you have in mind to go.

I recently read, in a birding memoir of all things, this remarkable observation. Dan Koeppel writes, “I found myself wondering how much of what we end up doing – or being – is inevitable, and how much is choice?…Most of us have met that moment where we suddenly realize the things that we once sought are now falling into a different order of priorities. Sometimes, we have to find a way to change our lives, to re-embrace that which seems to be vanishing. Other times, we simply abandon our dreams.”

We forget who we are. What we’re for.

Sometimes, to remember, we have to find a way to change our lives, to re-embrace that which seems to be vanishing. That sounds so very Advent. So very Malachi to God’s People. So very John the Baptist on the river’s edge.

What John the Baptist was doing on the river’s edge was proclaiming a baptism of repentance, for the forgiveness of sins. Repentance means to change one’s mind, which is another way of saying, I think, that repentance is the ability to be surprised by God. “Once I was sure that God’s love meant only X, Y, and Z. But look, a new thing! Who knew?” You still get the full force of the mind-changing word, but I hope this take on repentance gets us past all the turn and burn characterizations to which the word is so often prone. Most of all, I hope you see that if repentance is the ability to be surprised by God, you can only exercise this ability by tending with your life to the presence of God. This is why repentance, for Christians, is ongoing. It’s only partly because we stubbornly turn our backs on God from time to time. It’s just as much or more about the reality that God isn’t static. God moves! Behold, a Savior is born of Mary in Bethlehem!

When was the last time you were surprised by God?

John the Baptist proclaims a baptism of repentance, which is a turning, an attuning, like a flower turning to face the sun that soars across the sky; is a turning that sometimes gets reduced to moralism, see the naughty/nice list referenced by insipid crooners on your radio dial this time of year, but true repentance names a greater turning, a careful tending to light and life. So Advent measures time in candles and prayers and songs and silence. For a few pregnant weeks, we make a clock of these things. So it follows that the baptism of repentance proclaimed by John is the farthest thing from an exercise in should-ing or shaming: it is the reorientation of the heart toward what is real and true and lasting. Repentance is relational attention, the changed and changing understanding of one who lives in a relationship of love with God.

The repentance – and the surprise – in Luke’s gospel today is that the new thing God is doing doesn’t start with the list of the pompous and powerful that precedes the introduction of John. In fact, it’s almost like we get a comprehensive people and places where the new thing is not beginning. Emperor Tiberius? Nope. Pontius Pilate? Try again. Herod the ruler of Galilee? Not there, either. The ruler of Iturea and Trachonitis? Getting colder. Lysanius, ruler of Abilene? Sigh. Oh, I know. We’re in church. It must be the religious folks. The high priests! Annas and Caiaphas. No, not them. But there, in the wilderness, you’ll have to turn to see him, John. Proclaiming the baptism of repentance, of turning toward God and so away from the kingdoms that make it harder to remember.

Sometimes, if you want to see where God is moving, watch the news. See who’s making headlines. Then, turn away. Look elsewhere. Maybe to the sidelines, but maybe in the opposite direction. Prepare ye the way of the Lord. This, after all, is what we’re for. It’s a vocation we share with John. The high will be brought low. The low brought high. Call it judgment if you want to, but the bottom-line is that potholes spoil a good parade. Prepare for the presence. The promise of Advent is that things that have forgotten what they’re for will be reminded and, in the reminding, be made whole.

As it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

Amen.

How I learned to stop worrying and love the apocalypse

There are a few points I feel honor-bound to hit on a few times each year, from the pulpit.  These include: the Pharisees are actually cool, the BVM is kind of a badass, the Passion narratives carry lots of antisemitic baggage, and chiefly, for our Advent purposes, apocalyptic literature is profoundly liberating. For those of […]

The Rt. Rev. Meryl Streep, and other thoughts

Caitlin Moran said once that the problem with sexism now was that it resembled Meryl Streep.  In much the same way that Meryl Streep so effectively melts into her roles, such that hours after you’ve watched a movie starring her, you bolt upright from a dead sleep and exclaim “OH MY GOD.  THAT’S WHO THAT […]

Baptism

We had a baptism yesterday; my first at St. John’s.   Now, I have been talking excitedly about this particular baptism for roughly 6 weeks.  Partially because I adore baptisms in general (babies!  water!  Baptismal covenant!) and also because of who it was.   Kang has been a parishioner here for several years.  He lives […]

All the Saints, All the Points

You may have noticed, I have strong opinions about preaching.  (In much the same way that Cookie Monster had a slight affinity for sweets.).  However, this particular Sunday, I found myself throwing about 85% of my decided opinions out the window, in favor of a “I have several topics to cover today: sit back and […]

A Parent/Curmudgeon Overthinks Trick-or-Treating

My son is nervous about trick or treating tonight. Honestly, I don’t know why he shouldn’t be. “Don’t take candy from strangers,” he hears. “Except today. They’ll be LOTS of candy. Oh, and the candy givers, like the candy takers, will be anonymous, you…

If Evil is a Hole (A Challenge of Eradicating Hate)

The challenge right now is that, if Augustine is right, evil is a hole. A tear in the fabric. And you cannot tear out a hole. I mean, you can, but only by tearing out the good fabric around it, erasing every good row surrounding the hole. Burn the swea…

Law and Order: Biblical Victims Unit

I promised in my sermon last week that I would preach on Job this week, so I felt honor-bound to do it.  Job is one of my favorite books in the Hebrew Bible, ever since I took an entire class in undergrad on it.  (The professor of which now lives in Ithaca, which means I […]