“That’s not fair!” I said that a lot as a child when my older sister got to do something I didn’t get to do. It just didn’t seem right to me. My parents should have treated my sister and me the same. I heard the same things coming out of my own children’s mouths when they were young. Kelly and I would let one of our children do something and not the other two. That was “unfair!” It seems we’re all born with a built-in fairness barometer that determines from our perspective when life’s circumstances don’t go our way or appear to be fair to us.

We take this idea of fairness with us into adulthood. When we see someone cut in line outside a movie theatre, get preferential treatment at a busy restaurant, or get a social or economic benefit we think we deserve (or, possibly we think the other person does not deserve), we declare those situations to be “unfair.” Examples of this are programs like the SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (better known as “food stamps”), animal grazingrights on government-owned lands, college admission standards, etc. We see some benefit or privilege going to someone else and we ask: “where’s mine? It’s not fair that they get that.”But fairness as a concept is sometimes trapped in the eyes of the beholder. It is often highly contextual and many times we do not know all the mitigating factors. Still, our fairness barometers go off because we presume that everyone should be treated equally all the time.

Fairness is not a Christian theological concept. In fact, our Christian faith is grounded on the central proposition that we are not treated fairly by God. Fairness would presume that we get what we deserve for our sins. It is out of God’s complete mercy that we don’t get what we deserve and are forgiven through the mediation of Jesus on the cross. So, we thank God that God is unfair, giving us a “benefit” that we have neither earned nor deserved. Grace, which is central to the Christian proclamation, is ultimate unfair deal.

This grace then should be incarnated in how we live with others. It should shape our leadership in the Church as well as how we make choices and act in relationship to others in the world. St Benedict in his Rule states that the abbot (the monastery’s leader) should treat all his monks differently, which may at times appear to be unfair. As Benedict writes: “One he must treat with mild goodness, another with reprimands, yet another with the power of persuasion, and thereby accommodate himself according to everyone’s nature and capacity of understanding, and thus adapt himself to the other, that he not hurt the flock entrusted to him.”

Notice how Benedict presumes the abbot is the one who must adapt in his relationships rather than the abbot assuming all those around him must adapt to him. Grace-filled living in the world is then about us adapting and changing our behavior toward others and not expecting them out of some cosmic or internal barometer of fairness to adapt to us. Put differently, grace insists that we be the “adults in the room,” that we not get sucked into insisting on fairness above all else, but rather recognize the deeper action of grace, which trumps fairness always.


The field of moral psychology endeavors to understand why people make moral choices and the rationale they use to justify their choices. One of moral psychology’s recurring findings is that we have a higher opinion of ourselves than we ought to have. Of course, St. Paul arrived at the same conclusion about human nature nearly 2000 years ago when he wrote that very same message to the Church in Rome (Romans 12:3).

Experiments and surveys have repeatedly shown that we believe we possess attributes that are better or more desirable than the average person. For example, we believe by a wide majority that we’re above average drivers. The same is true when we’re asked about a virtue such as honesty. A high percentage of us report that we’re more honest than the average person. Even folk in jail for theft report such superior honesty. High school students consistently judge themselves to be more popular than average. And nearly every state claims that their average student test scores are above the national average. Of course, since we know something about statistics, we know that such judgments about ourselves cannot be true.

Moral psychologists have termed this phenomenon The Lake Wobegon Effect. It’s named for the fictional town of Lake Wobegon from the radio program A Prairie Home Companion, where, according to host Garrison Keillor: “All the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”

What these moral psychologists are documenting is as old as humanity. Our tradition names it as sin born from the cardinal sin of pride. Our creation story reminds us that Adam & Eve were quite clear that their judgment about a particular fruit in the Garden of Eden was superior to God’s judgment.

This truth about ourselves needs to be front and center when we spread the Good News of Jesus Christ. Yes, when sharing our faith with those who aren’t Christians we do need to have a “I-know-something-you-don’t-know” quality to it, because we do “know something they don’t know” when it comes to God’s grace in Jesus. But it’s how we share our faith with others that matters. It should be humble. We’re not morally superior to those outside the Christian faith. We may not even be morally above average.

So, from this humble stance, what is it we are to share?

I want to propose three Bible verses that will help remind us of how we should spread the Good News of Jesus.

The first verse is Isaiah 55:1: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and drink!

Notice how the Prophet Isaiah pronounces God’s word here. Everyone who thirsts is invited. All should come and drink and eat without money or price. God’s invitation to humanity is complete and without condition. Isaiah’s prophecy is a bold declaration of God’s intention, made perfect in Jesus’ words in John’s Gospel, that Jesus when he is lifted up on the cross will draw all people to himself.

That means Jesus is doing the drawing. Our congregations then must be places where we’re trained for our role, not Jesus’ role. It may be a conversation you have in the living room at Columba House. It may be you comforting an exhausted Scout Leader after his troop meets one night at your church. It may be you listening to a co-worker over coffee about her current troubles. Whenever and wherever, we need to say to everyone in our communities: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come!”

The second verse is Isaiah 25:9: “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us.”

Spreading the Good News involves us waiting for God to act. Our salvation, indeed the world’s salvation, isn’t our own doing. But our waiting should never be passive. It must be an active waiting, all the while recognizing that salvation is God’s action and God’s property, not ours.

If we remember that, then we’ll maintain a humble stance with those outside of our faith. Even though the Gospel is God’s bold declaration to the world, we should be compassionate and tender in how we share it, because we know many people have only received a false, toxic version of the Gospel.

Waiting for God to save is actually liberating. We’re free from playing the age-old game of who’s in and who’s out. We can collaborate with anyone, regardless of their faith, if they’re willing to do Gospel work with us in our communities.

If someone wants to partner with the Food for a Thousand Ministry at St Patrick’s, Albany or the community garden at the Oak Street Mission in Thomasville, we won’t worry if they don’t share our faith. We’ll feed hungry people with anyone. The Community Cares Café in Darien serves children whether or not they or their parents believe as we do. After all, we’re not on God’s “Program Committee.” We’re on God’s “Welcoming Committee.”

“Lo, it is God who saves us.” And we’ll share that Good News with anyone.

And the third and final verse is Matthew 28:19: “Go, make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

It’s not a liturgical accident that each Sunday our deacons send us out with this short, powerful verb: “Go!” “Go” doesn’t mean, “stay.” “Go” doesn’t mean hang out inside the church walls until somebody shows up. And “Go” doesn’t mean being so hamstrung by political correctness that we refrain from sharing with others God’s forgiveness in Jesus. “Go” means, “Go!”  

Go into the communities of this diocese with a “humble boldness.” Go share good news with the poor. Go tell the spiritually blind that God wants to give them sight. Go speak to the spiritually thirsty and let them know how you’ve learned that Jesus is the Water of Life.

Go to everyone. Go to the NSA, the NRA, the NAACP, the Rotarians, the Elks Club, the Booster Club, the Garden Club, the Optimist’s Club, the Pessimist’s Club, just Go! Wherever God has placed you, Go!

When we actually do go, God does some amazing things.

  • The community youth group in McIntosh County decided to go and this last year we baptized five young people.
  • The Cornerstone Ministry in Augusta chose to go and now regularly has 35 or more youth participate. And some of those aren’t members of our churches. They’re being evangelized by our youth.
  • In the summer when we go to Lake Blackshear with the Good News, people respond. Because the people of Christ Church Cordele decided to go, their worship attendance has doubled in the last few years.

What might God do in our communities if we all decided to “go?” Because when we “go,” we discover God’s already there. When we go to the ends of the earth or just to the end of our block, we find Jesus already pitching his tent there.

My friends, I firmly believe that the future vitality of this Diocese is directly related to our collective willingness to “go.” Our vitality will only grow in direct proportion to the number of us who are willing to “go.” And, this going can’t be a clergy-centered movement. A few laity still think that since we pay many of our clergy to go, they themselves don’t have to go. But that’s not true. The clergy’s primary task is to equip the laity to be the ministers of the Gospel. As the great lay teacher & preacher Verna Dozier wrote: The layperson’s primary function is out there in the world.  And the wise Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, wrote: Nine-tenths of the Church’s work in the world is done by Christian people fulfilling responsibilities and performing tasks which in themselves are not part of the official system of the Church at all.

That means when we “go,” we don’t go to church, we “go” to the people and places of our lives taking the Good News of Jesus with us. And if the Good News of Jesus saves us, it will save anybody and everybody.

I know I’ve gone a bit long here, but please stay with me for a few more minutes. I want to end on a personal note. Some of you know that I was diagnosed with cancer two months ago. I’m happy to report to you that I’m cancer free today. And I’m most thankful for all of your prayers. I felt each one of them.

The Diocesan Staff has been amazing, as usual, dealing with their already full responsibilities while also picking up after me, which is nearly an impossible task.

I also couldn’t do even one small thing as the Bishop of Georgia if it weren’t for Kelly, who puts up with me even as I am and loves me anyway, far beyond what I deserve.

There were upsides to my getting cancer. It’s been a great excuse for getting out of stuff. When someone asked me to do something I didn’t want to do, all I had to do was say: “You know, I’d love to, but I have cancer.” That worked every time.

The other upside is that it’s sharpened my mind and soul. It’s helped me see how often I’ve taken for granted the truly wonderful people and blessings that surround me.

And cancer has helped me get clear about what I want my life to stand for and how I want to spend the rest of my days on this earth, however long that is.

So, to quote that wonderful hymn by the Reverend James Cleveland:

Right now, I don’t feel no ways tired!

I’m ready to “go!” And I hope you’re ready to “go,” too.

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters”

Lo, this is our God who has saved us.”

Go, make disciples”

Deacons, please stand now wherever you are.  Please help me dismiss all of us from this overly long address with one powerful verb. It begins with a G and it ends with an O. On the count of three: One, two, three – Go!


My friends and colleagues, Bob Gallagher & Michelle Heyne, are currently writing a series of excellent blog posts on clergy transitions in congregations. You can find them here. The basic premise on which their posts are based is that there’s a natural, unavoidable process as a new priest arrives and begins his ministry with the congregation. There are three stages: Honeymoon, Disappointment, and then, if given time, Realistic Love & Reasonable Expectations. Let me explore each of these stages a bit from my own perspective and experience, but please do read their wonderfully insightful posts.

During the Honeymoon, as one might expect, everything is great. People love their new priest. One might hear things like: “Her sermons are great. She’s so personable and accessible, etc.” For the priest, she might be saying: “What great people! I’m so thankful to be here, etc.” But this is really a time of inflated and unreasonable expectations by everyone. Just like in a marriage, the honeymoon inevitably comes to an end. If it’s falsely extended, then fantasy and self-delusion rule the day. It has to end so that a more realistic and mature relationship can be born in the future.

The next stage is Disappointment. It has a door that swings both ways. Eventually, people learn their new priest isn’t perfect. An incident occurs or an interaction happens and they’re disappointed. The spiritually mature will accept this because they know the priest is human and won’t always live up to their expectations, but the less spiritually mature will murmur, gripe, and gossip (often in the parking lot) about what’s lacking in the new priest. The priest also must face his own disappointment when he, in due course, realizes the parish isn’t all he hoped for, that the people aren’t everything he wanted them to be. This is a crucial time for all. If it can be navigated with perspective, grace, and forbearance, then the fruit produced in the future can be glorious.

The third stage is a time of Realistic Love & Reasonable Expectations where the parish comes to love the priest for who he is, warts and all, and form reasonable expectations for the leadership he brings. And for the priest, it’s a time where she can fully accept the “mixed-bag” her parishioners are (aren’t we all?) and can love them as they are and not as she fantasizes them to be. She can even love those less spiritually mature folk who can’t accept her humanity, failures, and faults. This can be a time of great fruitfulness in the parish. Most often this happens sometime in the third year of the priest’s tenure (although it may be somewhat earlier or later) and it can last many years as long as together they remain focused on the spiritual practices of grace and forbearance.

Of course, sometimes a priest and people never make it to stage three. And occasionally, the stages can be quite short. I once had a honeymoon of about 20 minutes (a long story). If the priest and people don’t work together through the first two stages, they can get stuck, resentment can set in, and often either can emotionally and/or spirituallycheck out” even while staying in place. They must commit to work through the Honeymoon and Disappointment to reap the fruit of the shared love that will come.



Saints, Dangerous & Necessary (eCrozier #278)

In the film, The Bridge on the River Kwai, British POWs during WWII are being held in a Japanese prison camp in Burma. They’re forced to construct a bridge over the River Kwai; a bridge that’ll allow the Japanese to move weapons and troops to fight the British. At first, they refuse to do so. But later, in an effort to prove themselves superior builders to the Japanese, the Brits throw themselves into the job. They construct a superior bridge in less time than expected; a bridge that their commander says will “last long after the war is over.” Then comes the climax of the film. In the early hours on the day the bridge opens, the British commander who supervised the bridge’s construction does a final inspection. He notices wiring along the base of the bridge running into the river below. He goes down to the riverbank to follow the wiring. There he comes face to face with a commando who has been sent there to blow the bridge up. He’s faced with a dilemma. Does he stop his countryman from blowing up the bridge or does he allow his pride to be blown up? At first, he tries to stop the commando. His actions draw the attention of the Japanese and they shoot the commando. As he’s dying, he pleads with the commander to blow up the bridge he built. The commander then hears the whistle of the Japanese train coming over the bridge. To him, it’s like the ringing of Church bells. A remarkable look comes over his face and he instantly realizes all he’s done. He comes to himself and moves toward the detonator. The Japanese soldiers shoot him from the bridge. And, as he falls dead, he falls on top of the detonator and bridge is blown up just as the train is crossing it. The train whistle called him back to his true vocation.

That’s exactly what the Church’s saints do for us. They help us, like the Prodigal Son lying in pig slop, to come to ourselves, to face the pride and hypocrisy of our lives, and call us back to our true vocation as God’s children. They serve as fools in our Shakespearean lives. They’re like the commando in the film hunkered down in the shallows of the river, catching our eyes, and reminding us of our true calling. That’s why the saints are both dangerous and necessary. They’re dangerous in that they can upset the best-laid plans for our lives. And they’re necessary because, without them, we wouldn’t know of the hope we have in Jesus. We should have seat belts and harnesses in our church pews, because if we listen to and look at the saints long enough, there’s a good chance our comfortably routine lives may come crashing down.

In my office, saints surround me. An icon of the Apostles hangs on the wall above my head. Every time I go out the door, Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Blessed Virgin Mary stare me down reminding me of the cost of discipleship. Francis of Assisi gazes out at me from my office corner with his stigmata showing, asking me: “Just how bloody have you been recently, Scott?” It’s dangerous to surround ourselves with the Church’s saints. They keep coming at us and calling us to saintly lives ourselves. In every age, they’ve insisted that the poor be treated with compassion; that kings and rulers be held to account for their injustices; and, that all God’s children, regardless of their perceived earthly utility, be treated with dignity. Like I said: Dangerous and Necessary. So, be careful when you come forward and receive the sacrament this Sunday. God may be calling you to be much more than you are right now.



Those of us who find ourselves living busy, over-scheduled lives sometimes have a hard time seeing the other souls around us who need a little grace in their lives. We can come to see random encounters with others as delays or distractions from our important daily schedules. But maybe God wants us to see that these delays and distractions with other souls is actually God calling us to follow Jesus to his Cross? We can become so goal-oriented and schedule-driven that we bulldoze our way through life and never notice those other souls around us.

Every day I deal with delays and distractions. Whenever I think I have my day well planned, I can almost guarantee God will send someone my way to mess up my schedule. I’m sure God enjoys this. I can hear God saying to St Peter: “Hey Pete, watch me mess up Scott’s iPhone calendar for today!” I’m never happy about this, but I’ve come to realize that it’s God’s way of reminding me that to God people are more important than schedules. And that means they better be more important to me.

A few Sundays ago as I left Augusta in the afternoon, I was riding on my spare tire due to a nail my regular tire had taken earlier. The writing on the side of the spare tire said: “Do Not Exceed 50 MPH!” That wouldn’t do. I had to get back to Savannah. I wouldn’t make it in time if I were limited to 50 MPH. Of course, being Sunday afternoon, there were no auto repair shops open. So I took a chance and pulled into an auto parts store. There I met Pedro. I told him I had a nail in my tire. He said they sold a patch kit for $9 and he got it for me. I thanked him and told him that normally I could do the repair myself, but I just had surgery and the doctor told me not to lift anything heavy. He said: “No problem.” He went out, got the flat tire out of my car, and repaired the nail damage right there in the store. He then got a brand new tire jack off the shelf, broke open the packaging, jacked up my car with it, and put the repaired tire back on. Oh my!

I went to the counter to pay for the patch kit and for Pedro’s work while he was putting the jack back in its packaging and returning it to the proper aisle. I told the young lady at the cash register that I was in a hurry and I asked her how much I owed. She said: “Just $9 for the patch kit. The rest was just Pedro being Pedro. And you know,” and she leaned across the counter and whispered, “He was just diagnosed with breast cancer and is having a tough time waiting for the surgery.” God did it yet again. Suddenly getting back to Savannah on time seemed the least important thing to do in my life.

I paid her and walked over to where Pedro was putting the jack back on the shelf. I said to him: “I have breast cancer, too. That was the surgery I told you about. It would be my privilege if you’d let me pray for you.” He just nodded. So right there in the aisle where the jacks were kept, we commenced praying. And we went on at some length. I prayed for him and then he prayed for me and then I prayed for him again. I hadn’t realized I was using my “church voice,” so when I looked around, everyone in the crowded store was watching us. I don’t know for sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Pedro’s last name was Emmanuel, which, as you know, means “God with us.”



Power, Privilege, & Discipleship (eCrozier #276)

Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant – Mark 10:43b

If we want greatness, Jesus says, then we must be willing to live our lives upside down compared to the rest of the world. This is the essence of discipleship that James and John missed in their interaction with Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel reading. It’s one, however, we dare not miss.

For the first part of my life, I missed it completely. When I was younger, I used to think that being a disciple of Jesus meant becoming personally pious. And, as a young adult, I did. You’d have been proud of me. I lived by the motto: “I don’t smoke, drink, or chew, or go with girls who do!” I was the model young adult. I even won the American Legion “God and Country” award at my high school. Impressed, aren’t you? But what marked my so-called discipleship back then was not what I did, but what I didn’t do. About the only thing I did was carry my Bible around. This, I figured, would show my discipleship to the world. But no one cared. No one persecuted me for doing so (sorry Fox News). Most people thought it was nice and cute and everybody should have their own thing.

My discipleship was based on empty piety. I was no different than the disciples, James and John. They wanted power and privilege because of their closeness to Jesus. I wanted it as a reward for my pious behavior. But I was clueless. My Jesus, at the time, was an upwardly mobile savior. He was the exact replica of the world’s standard of power and privilege. I thought that if I just was pious enough, I could have a seat next to him in eternity. My problem was that there was no blood on the cross of my Jesus. It was squeaky clean and neatly polished. My Jesus rewarded inane, pious behavior.

But the Jesus of the Gospel says: “the foxes have holes, the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no where to lay his head.” If I wanted to be his disciple, then I had to accept that I might just end up like him. I better be willing to be baptized with his baptism and to drink the cup he drank. I’ve by no means lived fully into his baptism and his cup. That is my confession and it occupies most of my prayer life. I’m still learning to let go of my unholy desire for power and privilege and to live into a life of service and sacrifice. It’s a daily prayer of mine. I know it’s the right road to be on, but I am a sinner, so I fail more days than not.

But some might not see it as the right road to be on. Some might wonder if this upside down Kingdom really exists, and if it does, is it the right one? Some might think that only a fool would turn his back on the way the world plays the game of power and privilege. After all, it’s a well-known axiom that you need power to get anything done. It might seem foolish not to play by the world’s rules of power and privilege. And yet, our faith tells us that the kingdoms of this world are doomed to pass away; even the kingdom known as the United States of America is doomed to pass away. Only God’s Kingdom is eternal. So, I’d rather, in the end, throw my lot in with God’s Kingdom knowing it’s one based on mercy for an almost daily failure like me.


Not long after Francis, Bishop of Rome, left the United States a media frenzy broke out. It seems while he was at the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C., he met with a number of people those serving at the Embassy had arranged for him to meet. He greeted them, encouraged them in their faith, and then was whisked off to New York to continue his visit there. Among those whom he greeted that day was none other than Ms. Kim Davis, the now well-known County Clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky. As you may recall, she was willing to go to jail rather than issue marriage licenses (just one part of her job) to homosexual couples who desired to be legally married.

Once this meeting became known in the media, the outrage started. It seemed Francis, who many on the political left had embraced as being “on their side,” had met with “the enemy.” The bewildered cries of “how could he?” arose. Many felt he had betrayed them or their particular cause. Others said that they knew all along he was “that way.” Some, trying to explain this apparent aberration, said staff at the Vatican Embassy must have bamboozled him. There was no way he could have known about everyone with whom he met that day. Surely he never would have knowingly met with her? They had hoped Francis would be loyal to their political tribe. Of course, other political tribes, those that support Ms. Davis’ position, were beside themselves with joy, smugness, and relief. Meeting with her proved Francis was really loyal to their tribe after all.

Most folk want (or need?) to put Francis in a particular political box. But he, to my great delight, doesn’t care whether he satisfies the needs of political tribalism. He is, after all, serious about following Jesus. That means he is less concerned about partisan politics and the culture wars in which we wallow and more focused on living in the world in a way that reflects the claims of Jesus on his life. All this media drama showed was how little most people know about what it means to follow Jesus, who in his earthly ministry never cared about what others thought of him when he met or hung out with the mixed-bag characters we read about in the Gospels.

The late Dom Helder Camara was the Roman Church’s Bishop of Recife in Brazil from 1964 to 1985. During his episcopacy a brutal military dictatorship ruled the country. While bishop, he wrote:  Let no one be scandalized if I frequent those who are considered unworthy or sinful. Who is not a sinner? Let no one be alarmed if I am seen with compromised or dangerous people, on the left or the right. Let no one bind me to a group. My door, my heart, must be open to everyone, absolutely everyone. In writing this, the bishop was not shrinking back one bit from his long-standing prophetic witness against the dictatorship in his country. The dictators of Brazil in his day consistently labeled him a Communist. They, too, needed a political box in which to place him. Yet he, like Francis, was merely seeking to follow Jesus, always and everywhere.

We should expect nothing less from those who call us to follow Jesus in his Church, whether they be the Bishop of Rome, the Bishop of Recife, or if he is somehow up to it, the current person who is the Bishop of Georgia.



Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible. – Francis of Assisi

This Sunday thousands of churches across the world will hold annual pet blessing liturgies on St Francis Day. There’ll be the usual dogs and cats, less common animals like guinea pigs and ferrets, and the occasional exotic snake or two. I’ve always been careful to keep my distance when asperging such exotic animals. You just never know how holy water might be received in such circumstances. I think it wonderful that the Church holds such liturgies. It’s a celebration of the whole of God’s creation, something our brother Francis daily encouraged.

Yet focusing only on this part of Francis’ witness doesn’t do justice to his genius as a transformational leader of the Church. You’ll no doubt recall that Francis came to adulthood in the early 13th Century in Europe when the Church seemed everywhere and nowhere at the same time. As an institution it controlled vast wealth, but as a movement following Jesus it had grown poor. It was more concerned with keeping people chained to rules than liberating them through the Good News of God’s grace in Jesus. It was like a big, old leaky barge still afloat going down the river, but it needed transformation.

Enter Francis. Whether Francis deliberately set out to be a transformational leader is unclear from the historical record, but he actually followed closely what has come to be known among organizational theorists as Gleicher’s Model for Change. This holds that change happens when there’s dissatisfaction with the way things are, a vision for the way things might be, and then the first few concrete steps toward that vision for change. If all those steps are greater than the resistance one encounters, then the change will occur. Gleicher’s Model for Change is written like this: C = D x V x V1 > R.

Francis first tapped into his personal dissatisfaction with his own life. By acknowledging his own dissatisfaction, he invited others to do the same with their lives. He and they did not need to go along with the way things were. But dissatisfaction alone just produces grumbling and complaining. It never brings transformational change. Francis also had a vision for how things might be. What if we followers of Jesus sowed love where there was hatred, hope in the midst of despair, or pardon where there was injury? That was the vision Francis put before himself and the first folk who gathered around him. They then took steps to incarnate such virtues in their life together. Soon others shared this vision and the movement grew. The old, leaky barge of the Church never did accept Francis’ vision. In fact, he faced powerful resistance from bishops and princes who were threatened by such a simple vision for living the Gospel together.

While Francis didn’t change the whole Church, he transformed some of it. His witness continues today. His vision calls us in the Church to really become instruments of God’s peace in all parts of our lives.



You can observe a lot by just watching – Yogi Berra

As I read the words of Jesus in the Bible, whether they be in his Sermon on the Mount or in his parables, he seems to be less concerned with the purity of his disciples’ arguments or the rigidity of their doctrine and more concerned with the purity of their hearts and their steadfast commitment to live out the Good News he was ushering into the world.

Yet, like with Mr. Berra, we can observe a lot by just watching how many of us maintain a death grip on the purity of our arguments and the rigidity of our doctrines, whether in religion or in politics. My hunch is that the death grip we’ve deployed is caused by our fear that we’re somehow losing what we once hoped we could control. But that was always a fantasy. Our culture is changing and people different from people like me are now a part of the conversation about what we will become. Religious and Political leaders sense this fear and exploit it for their own ends. But such fear mongering about people who are different than me will lead only to our collective downfall.

One of my favorite episodes of the old TV series, The Twilight Zone, is about a meteor that lands near Maple Street somewhere in Middle America. Soon rumors begin on the street that aliens disguised as humans have invaded. Everyone’s electricity goes out on the block so people gather in the street. One neighbor begs for everyone to remain calm. But then the lights in his house go on, while every other house remains dark. One of his neighbors shouts that he must be an alien. As suspicion and panic overtake the street, guns are produced. In the faint distance, an “alien” is spotted and promptly shot, but when they run up to confront the alien, they discover he was no alien. He was simply a neighbor who had gone for help. The next scene is on a nearby hill where two real aliens are seen with a device that manipulates electricity. One tells the other “there’s no need to attack the humans. All you have to do is turn a few of their machines on and off and then they pick the most dangerous enemy imaginable: themselves.” Rod Serling then appears on camera concluding the episode with these words: “The tools of conquest don’t necessarily come with bombs and explosions. There are more powerful weapons; the ones found in the thoughts, attitudes, and prejudices of men.”

We seem to take great delight as a culture in arguing about who’s acceptable and who isn’t; who has the correct position on a particular issue and who doesn’t. And then we listen to the voices of those who tell us to fear those who are different than us; those on the outside of whatever side we’re on.

I’d rather spend my energy trying to follow Jesus. When we stand before the great judgment seat of Christ, I don’t think Jesus will ask you and me about the correctness of our beliefs or how rigidly we stood on principle. I believe he’ll ask if we tried in our lives to bring good news to the poor, hope to the hopeless, comfort to those who suffer, and mercy to the sinner. I may well be wrong about Judgment Day. I’ve been wrong before. But I’m willing to stake my eternal life on it.



But you’re gonna have to serve somebody – Bob Dylan

When I was a child I often wondered about the life I’d have when I grew up, what I’d end up doing with my life. Being a bishop of the Church, by the way, was never a part of that. It just never occurred to me. As children, we all dream of what we’ll be when we grow up. Often those dreams are rather grandiose: we’ll become a professional athlete, or a doctor who cures cancer, or a famous movie star. I’ve always found it more than fascinating that people who believe in reincarnation never seem to have been mere cobblers or maids in previous lives. They always seem to have been more exotic people like kings or queens. As children, we dream of greatness in some form some day, at least as our culture defines greatness.

Our human desire for greatness, or at least to have a lasting name for ourselves, is related to the fear that our death will be our end. It’s not entirely rational, of course, but it’s still real. It’s an avoidance technique. But our fear of death also makes us servants, not of God, but of whomever can promise us a denial of the truth of our existence. Politicians, advertisers, and, yes, preachers regularly tell us that if we don’t heed their guidance, we’re dead. Not dead literally, but metaphorically, as in the academic sense of “publish or perish.” For students, “if you don’t get above this SAT score, then you’re dead.” Or politically, “if the candidate doesn’t win in New Hampshire, she’s dead.” Or in sports, “The Reds still have a chance to make the postseason (I can dream), but they must win their next series or they’re dead.” Dead, in this sense, means a loser. Death, after all, in our culture is for losers. Death isn’t for the great. It’s for the insignificant.

Recall Shelley’s sonnet, Ozymandias, whose empire covered the known world of his day:

“My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away

Ozymandias is long dead. Nothing remains of his great empire, except a small part of the huge statue he had created. Shelley’s sonnet exposes the futility of those who want to see themselves as great, for like everyone else, the “lone and level sands stretch far away.

The disciples struggled with this issue of greatness. They were mostly poor fishermen who before meeting Jesus had no hope for greatness. They’d die as unimportant people. But as they followed Jesus and the crowds grew, their egos expanded. So, they argued about “who among them was the greatest.” When Jesus asked about the topic of their argument, they fell into a sheepish silence. Jesus then used that opportunity to tell them the true purpose of all human life. It has to do with whom we serve, and not who serves us. Human life isn’t about receiving honor or fame or power. So, the question really can’t be avoided: Whom are we serving these days?