The Society of Campus Ministers

Outrage, Secrets, and Bread

A homily preached at St. Dunstan’s, Madison. Proper 13, Year B, Track 1.
Good morning! My name is Jonathan. I am a priest, the chaplain at SFH, the 103 year old Episcopal Student Center at UW-Madison. Go Badgers. I am Mother Miranda’s friend. Put better, she is my good friend. Wonderfully, I am blessed to count many of you as friends, too. And the ones I don’t know yet, I hope to count as future friends – it’s been my happy discovery that God is generous like that. Miranda has invited me and my family – my wife, Rebekah, our 3 kids, Annie, Jude, and Dorothea – to journey with y’all during this sabbatical time, and I can’t tell you how honored we are to be invited to walk with you like this. There are opportunities for get-to-know-you times between the services today and after the second service next week, there will likely be other times, too, and I hope you’ll risk friendship. It’s one of the many good gifts God means to give us. It’s a gift for me, Bek, our family, to worship the living God with you in this season.

So, uh, yeah, right. Next order of business. David and Bathsheba. I thought all week and finally gave up hope for finding a good segue.

Can I be honest? I said that once to my therapist and he looked at me with a kind of disbelief, like, “Why else are you here?” Can I be honest? There are a bunch of things that bother me about this story, which is maybe an awkward first story with which to begin three months together. First, as my dear friend Mother Dorota has powerfully preached, Bathsheba was not somebody else’s pet, or sheep, or any other kind of property, which is confusing given that when Nathan comes on the scene today to set David right, this is exactly what he seems to say, not entirely surprising given the cultural norms of the time, but today we would not hesitate to say, and absolutely should make clear, that the power differential between Bathsheba and the king of Israel is so great as to make a consensual relationship impossible. This was rape. Not only a violation of Uriah’s marriage, but a violation of Bathsheba’s person.

Second, David is a fool. You might be thinking, David is a lot of other things in this story, too, but let’s not miss also that David is a fool. He doesn’t have Uriah killed in order to run away with Bathsheba for the rest of their lives. That’s a little too forward thinking for David. David has Uriah killed only after several attempts to keep his secret one night stand fail; excruciatingly, David’s attempts to keep his secret fail exactly because Uriah is such a loyal friend.

David is not the first or last politician to remind us that the powerful are often every bit as frightened as the powerless. David kills to hide. He kills to hide from the truth; to protect his reputation; to run from what is real. On the one hand, this is not surprising. The one with the most to lose in the story goes to the greatest lengths to protect what he has. On the other hand, the most powerful person in the story hides from anyone and everyone around him, manipulates conversations and behaviors, leaves no room for laughter or other surprises of grace. Everything is scripted, and the world must act his script. Meanwhile, the king is the one who cowers and lives in a perpetual fear that turns even the loyalty of his friends into a thing he learns to despise. The pressure he feels to hide his failures causes him to hate his people. His world, his relationships, and his deepest hopes for both of these things are distorted, twisted, and mangled by his devotion to the secrets he must guard. But David is the king. If another way were possible, an alternative to this hiding, this hiding which is crippling his way of being in the world, surely it would be possible for him. But fear rejects all possibilities except mistrust and isolation. David of all people has the power – I would think – to live differently and yet he fears all but his own shadow. Maybe there are some things even power cannot change. Maybe David is a fool.

A third thing that bothers me about this story: David’s story stokes outrage in me. I am appalled by David. But then Nathan shows up and tells David a story that outrages David. A story so outrageous even David is appalled. Nathan tells David that, surprise!, David is really outraged at a picture of himself. Suddenly, I feel nervous about my own outrage. What I had mistaken as a two dimensional text that doesn’t care that you and I are looking in, that you and I are listening, now seems to be aware of our presence in the room, daring us, you and me, to be as oblivious as David, sitting there ready to yell to us, “Surprise, it’s you!”

It’s the allure of outrage, in every age. Hate the other in order to distance yourself from that brand of evil. To assure yourself of your difference. Prop yourself up. Subsequently be confronted with your own not unrelated wrongdoing and now take your pick between two doors: door number one, Rationalization and Denial, or door number two, Shame that leads to the isolation and self-loathing of David.

None of this is to say that we cannot speak out with confidence when power is abused, misused, etc. Indeed, we must. To spot the story’s invitation to see ourselves in the pattern of outrage is not to make the case for moral equivalencies. It is to say that secrets that must be held at all costs – get this – will cost us, and those around us, depriving us of the world in which God first planted us, in which we were first gifts and not threats to one another. A world in which we did not need to hide. Think of Adam and Eve before their meetup with the snake.

But such is no longer our world. Like David, like Adam, like Eve, my life has come to be determined by secrets that threaten to distort my relationship with God, my neighbors, and the world around me. My life is determined by secrets I am still learning to speak. Not so secret secrets like white privilege. Not so secret secrets like my nation’s indebtedness to and dependence on the military industrial complex. No nation in the history of the world has ever spent more to produce peace through mastery of war. Not so secret secrets like I don’t have all the answers. Or even many of them. Not so secret secrets like my consumer practices do not reflect a willingness or ability to fully act upon my understanding of my consumptive impact on this world or the generations that will come after me. Not so secret secrets like I sometimes substitute selfishness that mimics love for real love. Sometimes I do this by mistake. Sometimes I don’t. My life is determined by secrets I am still learning to speak.

So David is a fool. I am not David, but I am sometimes also a fool. Taking good gifts of God and imagining them into threats, still protecting some fantasy idea of myself. And maybe you are familiar with this experience.

David is an important figure in the New Testament. The New Testament authors want to emphasize that Jesus comes from the line of David. But the really Good News is not just that Jesus comes from, but that Jesus comes to, people like David whose lives have been twisted by the lies they live out toward others, themselves, and God. Knowing everything about me, David says, the living God sets a table before me. Psalm 23, one of David’s greatest hits. That we are here today is a sign that we have learned to sing David’s psalm; we are learning to trust the One who sets the table before us and insists on God’s love for us.

The bread that Jesus offers, and is, at the table set by God becomes the feast that makes us the Beloved Community in which we find space and grace to become untangled, untwisted, and made whole. Space to discover God’s love for us as the most true and determinative thing about us. Space to begin to trust this love and to grow in trust of this love, with God and one another, even to the point of being able to speak more truthfully about ourselves and the world and God. No more secrets! No more hiding. Instead, the generous exchange of mercy and forgiveness, given and received. Worship of the true God begins and generates this true speech in us. Likewise, worship of the God who is our judge begins and generates the heart of true justice in us. From this bread we receive all we need to become God’s bread for others.

“I am the bread of life,” Jesus says. “All who come to me will never be hungry.”

Gracious God, give us this bread. Today and always.


Red Shoes, Funny Shirt 2018-08-01 18:43:41

Several things collided this week to create a sermon.  One was the ever-wise Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney writing about David and Bathsheba. (If you don’t read her work, you should.  Stop reading this and go read Dr. Gafney.  Just go.)   Ok, I am assuming if you’re reading this then you’ve already read what Dr. […]

Take a break

I feel like I preach this gospel every time I return from vacation, but guys: Vacation is a WONDERFUL thing. This year, I broke my own precedent and took 6 days off of work after General Convention.  6 days where I could just sleep, knit, watch British murder mysteries, and sleep some more.  (And also […]

What Happened

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Snapshots from July 21st’s Thrive! Gathering

Over 30 people representing more than fifteen communities visited St. Francis House this past Saturday for Thrive, an annual gathering of children’s, youth, and young adult ministry leaders from across the Diocese of Milwaukee. The goal of this summer gathering is to connect leaders, build bridges from our the areas where we spend our time (for example, junior high Sunday school) to consider where students come to us from and where they go next in order to be present to the whole of a student’s lifelong formation, and resource each other, firmly convinced that the wisdom is in the room. 

This year’s guest speaker was Melissa Droessler, founding co-director at Isthmus Montessori Academy and Isthmus Montessori Academy Public. She engaged us with dynamic teaching and conversation around the four planes of human development and talked with us about preparation of environment and ourselves. 

Wonderfully, we are developing a strong network of folks with a heart for children and youth and formation in the Church. If you would like to learn more or become a part of this network, please send me a note to let me know.

What follows are some photos from the day, a note from an attendee, and some resources that came up in the course of the afternoon session. I hope they are helpful to you! We are already making initial plans for next year’s gathering. If you would like to receive info about that event, send me a note at the above link.

Very best, and God’s good peace,

The welcome table!

Deanna Clement leads the gathering in music at our opening worship.

Singing the psalms.

In conversation.

Melissa Droessler was a source of encouragement and challenge.

Among those folks who registered, we had 18 first-time
participants this year and 7 returning.

Attendees were lay and clergy, volunteer and paid, representing
more than 15 different churches across southern Wisconsin.

More of the gathering.

One of the attendees and I wore the same clothes, accidentally.
In such situations, I am told that a photo is required.

From an Attendee…

Dear Jonathan,

Just want to take a minute to thank you and the team and St. Francis House for today’s gathering. I found (guest speaker) Melissa (Droessler) to be wonderful and wanted to listen to her speak even more. Even though I am already familiar with the planes of development from my own training in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd (and I’ve even taught others about it) her talk was still informative and helpful. And I particularly loved the session on the work of the adult and the adult’s preparation before heading into the “classroom.” These thoughts were exactly the encouragement, and the kick in the pants, that I needed to help me gear up for teaching in the fall. Please thank her for me. If she’s open to the conversation, I’d love to follow-up with her on a few things/questions that came to mind during her talks. 

Thanks again for putting this event together. I believe strongly in the importance of working together throughout the diocese to strengthen each of us individually, and all of our parishes corporately, as we work toward the common goal of advancing the Gospel. 

Many blessings, 


Additional Resources…

  • Speaker Melissa Droessler talked about the importance of adults learning to be present without interfering in the learning processes of the children with whom we work. This short chapter gives some helpful examples of what this kind of presence might look like while describing a practice useful to classrooms and families alike.
  • Herbie Hancock gives a very practical example of what it means not to judge an effort in a way that can destroy it but to receive offerings in ways that give life:
St. Francis House believes in and knows its unity with children and youth ministries. So each year at this gathering, we offer the following BEGINNING to an imagination for supporting the work you do:
How can St. Francis House support me/my congregation?
• Hosting congregational or diocesan events (lock-ins, youth retreats, vestry retreats – free!)
• SFH’s annual High School Night
• Networking with children’s, youth, and campus ministers across the diocese/state/beyond
• Connecting graduating high school students with campus across the country
• Volunteer opportunities (cooking meals, gardening)
• Taizé spirituality resources

• Brainstorming and trying out ways to be the church outside the walls of the building

Thanks, friends! Maybe we will see you next year!

PS Tremendous thanks to (and for!) this year’s planning team: I was joined this year by Ruth Kearly (St. Andrew’s, Madison), Sharon Henes (St. Francis House Board Member and St. Dunstan’s, Madison), Deanna Clement (St. Dunstan’s, Madison), and Jim Eastman (St. Francis House Board Member).

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Bonsai! or, Seeking the Good, the True, and the Beautiful

Okay, so: storytime. But at the risk of killing the story, let me give you some background.

What I have discovered while training with the Army is that structures that the Army builds are uses are very functional, but seldom are pretty. In fact, there are very few beautiful things when one is training with the Army. Things tend towards function and uniformity, which makes sense, because it’s the Army and that’s kinda what we do most of the time. When you go downrange and into the trees, maybe you could look toward the foliage for something beautiful, but more than likely you will be counseled to smell the roses later, if any drill sergeant finds out what you are doing.

However, during training last summer, there was one jarringly beautiful thing that I remember. At Fort Leonard Wood, in the Central Iowa Chapel, there were huge stained glass windows in the worship space. I wish that I could find pictures of that stained glass, because it made me stop and catch my breath after all the camouflage and foliage that I had been looking at…

Here’s where the story starts:

I don’t remember how far into training I was that I finally wrote to my wife and told her that we were going to go look at beautiful things when I got home. But I did write that and we did go find beautiful things when I was done. We went to the Como Conservatory in St. Paul. Took plenty of time in the greenhouse, and the zen garden, we walked through the Como Zoo that day, too. But what especially held my attention that day was looking at the bonsai trees.

I’m fairly confident that most folks are familiar with bonsai. If nothing else, most are aware that it is a process of training vegetation over the course of years. Many people think it’s just the tiny trees, but in the picture above, the tree was about as tall as I was. In many bonsai, the training may be conducted by using wires and bamboo frames, in addition to the trimming. I think that the Como Conservatory has a really great representation of the art form. So what struck me with this one particularly was that part of the tree that had died was being used as a frame to support the rest of the tree’s training.

This coin is actually available from the Daily Stoic

What I anticipate is that, since this is bonsai and a part of the Japanese Garden at Como Conservatory, there was no small measure of yin and yang intended with this. But more of what I was struck by was the Western concept of momento mori, or “Remember your death.” I think momento mori is something used by teenagers when they’re trying to be edgy and goth, but more to my point, I think it is better suited to remind us that none of us gets out of this life alive. And, at times, it may be the case that you carry around a totem to remind yourself of this idea. And in fact, whomever began training this tree decided that the tree would be wound around the sign of its death.

I had something of a visceral reaction to this tree. The placard said that it’s and Eastern White Cedar, which I like (cedar always seems to have some kind of gravitas to it). But more specifically, bonsai is always intentional. And so when someone decided to build new life on a previous death experience, that’s resurrection if I’ve ever heard of it.

There was another tree in the bonsai display that I also want to tell you about, dear readers. I don’t know whether this one was actually in training as a bonsai, but it was in with all the other bonsais, so therefor I’m going to tell you about it. This one seemed to do nothing but proclaim death and resurrection, on more than one level.

This tree was never supposed to grow. I mean, that’s what usually happens when something is irradiated. The camphor tree that gave the seed that this one sprouted from stood about a half a mile from ground zero in Nagasaki on 9 August 1945. I can’t imagine what kind of obliteration that tree was surrounded by. And really, the fact that the tree gave viable seeds after that is astounding enough. But as if to make death and resurrection all the more real, there are seeds of friendship and cooperation between Nagasaki and Saint Paul; they are sister cities.

I mean, why should any city in Japan work with another in the US? Obliterating someone with nuclear weapons has the ability to drive a wedge between people. But nonetheless, here in front of me, was a tree that’s parent should have died, in a city where it’s seed should never have been given as a gift. And yet. 

Resurrection is a beautiful thing. I’m grateful when I get to experience it.

King of Pogs

I made a joke the other week that the only thing that has changed for my preaching during the Trump Administration has been that I can no longer write sermons prior to Fridays.  Nowadays, enough horror will occur later in the week that people need to hear it addressed. This week, with the several high-profile […]