“But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with compassion.” Luke 10:33
We live in a big world with big problems. But we serve a big God who has given us big hearts, big visions, and big resources. Indeed, it’s complicated to address sustainable, positive change in the world. But it starts with our wanting to be changed and wanting to change things – it starts with our being deeply moved, touched, and stirred from within.
Years ago when I was a Youth Minister, I took a select group of 12 students to New York City. They called themselves “Youth for Justice.” The plan was, first of all, to increase our compassion, to “have our hearts broken by the things that break the heart of God.” We knew that would be the motivation that mattered. The various versions of the story of the Good Samaritan describe what happened within the Samaritan as he saw the man in need: “he was moved with pity;” “he felt deeply sorry for him;” and “his heart went out to the man.” That’s where all good works, ministry, and mission begin – deeply within – as we are moved and motivated.
My students felt it. I could see it in their eyes. Mission accomplished. They were willing to give the gloves off their hands and the shirts off their backs and the cash in their wallets to any homeless person in need. They were willing to spend long, chilly days working hard in a Habitat for Humanity Project on the Lower Eastside. Then things got complicated, interesting, frustrating, and transformative.
My friend Jeff Krehbiel, now Senior Pastor of Church of the Pilgrims in Washington D.C., told our young, impressionable group that now it was time for them to start asking the hard questions, such as “Why are there so many people lying by the side of the road, so desperately in need in our world?” Not an easy question with simple answers. But to ask such questions is to go deeper, to begin to explore all kinds of issues related to systemic justice and sustainable change. On our trip we merely skimmed the surface. But it has forever changed the way we think about making a difference.
When you read this article, I’ll be headed to Africa on a similar journey. I’ll be on an Episcopal Relief and Development Pilgrimage in Ghana and then on to a personal pilgrimage in South Africa. I’m going to Africa because, deep within my heart, I have felt moved to learn, act, explore, participate, and do what I can to make the world a better place, in the name of our Loving God. But beyond my motivation comes the hard part, the deeper questions. How does ERD work with the people of a place, in partnership, to alleviate hunger and increase the food supply, to promote health and fight disease, to create economic opportunities and strengthen local communities, and to respond to disasters and help rebuild? I read nine books in preparation for my adventure, and I know I merely skimmed the surface. But I want to learn more, to share what I learn, and to make a deeper, more profound difference in the world.
I know it’s complicated. But sustainable change can happen. And it still starts with compassion.More
STICKS AND STONES CAN ONLY BREAK MY BONES, BUT UNEXPECTED EMAILS CAN SEND ME REELING
“You cut me deep, Shrek. You cut me real deep just now.” Donkey
“Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver you, and you shall honor me.” Psalm 50:15
The day started well. The roosters held off until 4 a.m. My dog had stayed on his side of the bed, butt facing away from my face. I did not step on a centipede or any other living forms on my way to the bathroom. I grabbed a cup of Kona coffee, went online, and finally found the out-of-print book I had been searching for—an autographed copy! In my early morning enthusiasm, I emailed my friend on Facebook to ask for her mailing address. I was excited to send her this gift, written by a wise mentor of mine who had recently passed away, a volume that affirmed a particular passion and calling that she shared with my author friend.
Her email response sent me reeling. She could not accept this gift, she explained, because I had deeply offended her with something I had said. Furthermore, I was to stay away from a mutual friend, reasoning that my intentions toward her were destructive and self-serving. While I am pretty aware of myself and those times when I fail and fall as a human, in this case her assessment was completely inaccurate. I was absolutely stunned, even sickened, that someone for whom I felt nothing but kindness and connection, could possibly have such a negative and troubling impression of me. I am aware—after many years as a priest and human being—that such attacks frequently have more to do with that person’s issues and wounds than anything I might have done. Still, it hurts!
About the only prayer I could come up with at the time was short and unsweet and not found in the Book of Common Prayer. It went something like “WTF! You have got to be kidding me!” For a brief moment, a host of unhelpful doubts began to descend—about my life, calling, convictions, humanity, faith, and gifts.
And then I got the most extraordinary gift – via email on Facebook no less!
Just a few minutes after the message of doom, a young youth minister and missionary in Romania wrote the following message to me: “Hello Father Bill! Just wanted to say that I have been in need of inspiration lately and I have been reading your blog and listening to your sermons—just wanted to encourage you—they are great! I love the one where you sang about being in God’s Army. I might have even laughed out loud and had to explain to a friend that I am not crazy just listening to something funny. …. Anyway, just wanted to say that your sermons are great and so is the blog—keep it coming! God bless.”
This particular message came as a profound moment of grace and affirmation when I needed it most. It was one of those reminders that God has always got my back. If we’re living life like we ought, we will not please everyone all the time. We will sometimes be misunderstood, and our efforts will be unappreciated. But our attempts to please God will always be pleasing to God. And sometimes that is enough to get us through to the next day.
“People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway.”
Letting Go: An Easter Miracle
“Do not hold on to me” Jesus, to Mary Magdalene, Easter morning
“Don’t you know things can change?” Wilson Phillips, Hold On
I completely get it. When a life preserver is in reach of those who feel like they’re going under, they hold on for dear life. It wasn’t just a big hug that Mary was attempting to give to a Risen Jesus; it was an attempt to recreate a hopeful reality that once was, rather than embrace an unforeseen alternative that might be. She liked how things were—not perfect, but the best she had known, or at least could imagine, at the time. And you have to think she was hoping they could pick up where they had left off, that things could go back to how they had been before the cruel reality of crucifixion. Jesus surprises her by telling her to let go. It’s not that he doesn’t love her dearly; in fact, it is because of his great love that he startles her into relinquishing her hold on him. Things have changed, and so should she. Resurrection, in this case, means that she has to let go of what was so that he, and she, can be raised to a new life of unanticipated possibility.
Christ is risen! But what about you? Most of us find some comfort in staying put in the dank, dark tomb of disappointment. Perhaps we wagered on love and lost. Or maybe we got hurt along the way and turned inward. Or maybe our dreams turned too quickly to disillusionment? Why venture out and take a chance that it might happen again? It seems sadly reassuring to settle in for some long-term groveling in the darkness. The sunlight just beyond and outside might illuminate something we’d just as soon stayed hidden, if not buried. It is easier to deny that which remains in the dark.
The good news of Easter is that it is possible to let go—of a hurt that never healed, a grudge that was never settled, a dysfunctional relationship that keeps one down, an addiction that has power over us because we withhold the fight of our life, a bad habit, an unhealthy behavior, or a terminal complacency to settle for something we know to be less than life for fear that the alternative could turn out to be much worse. The Easter season is brought to you by the word “CHANGE.” Stasis, paralysis, same old same old, contentment, mediocrity, boredom, and all the other “been there done that” attitudes that hold us back and keep us under are now targeted for removal in the same way the stone was rolled away on Easter morning.
You can’t keep a good man, or a good woman, down, unless they choose to hold on to the pre-Easter reality, which wasn’t all we thought it was anyway. The good old days were not that good. And the days ahead are filled with promise and potential. Let go. Move on. Be resurrected. Ascend. It happened once. It can happen again. Even to you.More
“We are here to dream great dreams, have great hopes and carry out a master plan for our lives.”
Malcolm Miner, Healing and the Abundant Life
This is the most challenging reflection I have written in recent memory. It took much longer to write than your average tribute to a good man – probably because Father Malcolm Miner was not an average man! The most difficult part about remembering Malcolm is figuring out what not to remember about Malcolm: his was a rich, interesting, challenging and inspiring life. He was a musician, writer, teacher, healer, and preacher. He lived and ministered in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, California, Alaska, and Hawaii. He wrote three books. He served as the Executive Director of the United Way in Alaska. He lost a wife to cancer. He fathered a child at age 53. He found true love at age 67. He rode a motorcycle until he was 88. He preached, prayed, and presided until the end. He was universal in his outlook and bold in his conviction. He laughed and made us laugh. He left this world with a smile on his face. He was a kind of spiritual father to me, a Hawaiian kahuna and kapuna. I will never forget him. So, knowing that I’ll be preaching about his insights for the rest of the Easter season, if not the rest of my life, here’s a start to the lessons I learned from Malcolm:
Malcolm preached his first sermon, at age 18, on Easter Day. He died on the day after Easter. His ongoing message to us is really an Easter message, one of life, death, and new beginnings. But why not let Malcolm have the last word? After all, he’s used to it!
“The ‘new you’ is an exciting person, one who never stops having dreams and aspirations. The ‘new you’ is in reality the ‘original you,’ one clearly stamped in the image of God and strengthened by learning experiences in the ‘school of life’ but now alive with a new self-awareness. Whether you are a ‘new you’ or the old one revitalized, it does not matter. What matters is your future. There is still much to be done. You have more potential than you can ever possibly realize. It is time to open the doors and let it happen. Remember, this is the day which the Lord has made. Let us step forward and rejoice in it!” (Healing and the Abundant Life 104)More
“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Jesus Christ “No pain, no palm; no thorns, no throne; no gall, no glory; no cross, no crown.” William Penn A few times a year I venture out to […]More
A WORD ABOUT A-WORDS IN LENT “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent.” Opening prayer for Ash Wednesday “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me………………..The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a […]More
WHY ARE YOU SO HAPPY? My fiftieth year had come and gone, I sat, a solitary man, In a crowded London shop, An open book and empty cup On the marble table-top. While on the shop and street I gazed My body of a sudden blazed; And twenty minutes […]More
NEW YEAR’S REVOLUTIONS “Sometimes his words stir to life long forgotten resolutions, call to mind an earlier time when our feet were set in a good path and our plan was for holy endeavor. Like a great wind they move, fanning into flame the burning spirit of the living God, […]More
Charlie, Vince, Snoopy and Me: The Unlikely Choices of Christmas “We will, of course, air it next week, but I’m afraid we won’t be showing it again.” CBS executives, about the premiere of “A Charlie Brown Christmas” “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Charlie Brown […]More
“Waiting patiently is the foundation of the spiritual life.” Simone Weil
“Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.” Isaiah 40:31
Here it comes again. The season that directly contradicts everything our world is telling us to do this time of year is about to begin. The world says: “Shop!” Advent says “Stop!” The world says: “Party!” Advent says: “Pray!” The world says “Want!” Advent says:
Waiting is at the heart of the Advent experience. But such Advent waiting is not passive. It is not an insular work stoppage that removes us from the realities of renewal. It is more of a watchful kind of waiting that is willing to engage in the hard work of preparation: to fill in the pukas (holes) that keep tripping us up as we try to grow and evolve, to level the obstacles that continually arise to make us detour from our true calling, to embrace the possibility that we need to repent, to change our ways, not to mention our hearts, before we can welcome the Full Presence of Christ into our lives.
Advent waiting is expectant, prayerful, active, discerning, mindful, and even sacrificial. It is the solemn witness that too many stocking stuffers can sometimes prevent us from putting on our socks and moving forward into a bold new future. Bishop Stephen Cottrell, who wrote the provocatively-titled book “Do Nothing: Christmas is Coming!” has said: “Waiting is not a waste of time but, as we see in nature, a time for change, growth, and transformation. Advent is the season in which the church celebrates waiting as an essential part of the human experience – it is much more than the countdown to Christmas or the season of shopping.”
The timely truth of Advent is that it is the true antidote to the “isms” that have kidnapped both Jesus and St. Nicholas, and are holding them hostage until we pay the ransom of exchanging a season of much needed preparation in order to arrive at Bethlehem far too soon. Advent comes just in time to remind us that birth cannot be rushed. The full term of faith observes the whole season, so that all is ready, and all are ready, when the child is born.
So, what are you waiting for? Advent is here. And I can’t wait. To wait……More