A View from El Camino

The Camino de Santiago, or the Way of Saint James, is a centuries-old pilgrimage route which traces its way across western France and northern Spain before ending at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela. The path wanders through countryside and small towns, and the cathedral features a massive thurible used for blessing the large crowds that gather in the cathedral. The town of Santiago is connected through legend with Saint James the Greater (much in the same way that folk mythology connects Joseph of Arimathea to Britain). Emilio Estevez’s movie The Way follows a group of pilgrims as they make their trip to the cathedral, and it’s well worth a watch.

The Camino has been on my bucket list for a few years now, and I have been following the adventures of Fr. Eric Hollas, a Benedictine monk and cyber-scribe from Saint John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN (another place near to my heart) as he makes his way towards the legendary resting place of Saint James, the son of Zebedee. His posts offer a quick glimpse, in word and picture, into the life of a pilgrim walking the Way of Saint James. Fr. Eric recorded a few trips over the past year, including to Lourdes and a Germany monastery. Reflecting on his time in Lourdes, he wrote: Continue reading “A View from El Camino”

Sons of Thunder

A Homily for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost

Texts: Isaiah 53:4-12; St. Mark 10:35-45


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who allots us a portion with the great. Amen.

“Can you do me a favor?”

That question always gives me pause.

“What do they want? How much time will this require? What am I about to get myself in to?”

In my mind’s eye, I picture someone asking for the keys and title to my car or my ATM PIN or holding up a mask and asking me to help knock over the Atlanta Federal Reserve.

“Can you do me a favor?”

Knowing that I’m being ridiculous and just a bit paranoid, I wonder, “Can I really take that chance?” And so I respond, half-jokingly, “Maybe…”

Invariably the request in mundane. “Grab me a cup of coffee while you’re up?”

Enter the sons of Zebedee.

“Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

That’s where I would pause. Not a favor. No, they’re hinting at something far beyond that.

What does Jesus think? Does he see what’s coming? Does he see the hesitation in their eye, that James is fidgeting nervously and John, though he’s doing all the talking, is avoiding eye contact with the other disciples? Is that why he is so coy in his response? Is that why he asks what they want before agreeing to it? Or does he want to force them to say it aloud themselves? Continue reading “Sons of Thunder”

You Are Not God’s Only Hands

A Homily for the Feast of Saint Teresa of Avila

Texts: Romans 8:22-27; St. John 14:1-7


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus, our Great Love. Amen.

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The Transverberation of Saint Teresa, 17th c.

There’s no avoiding this topic, so let’s address it head on, shall we? We all probably know Saint Teresa best for the very intimate description of her ecstatic visions. These charismatic experiences are often understood as having at least some erotic subtext as Teresa wrote about the penetrating love of God. In her own words, Teresa discussed the connection between soul and body, the physical sensation of religious experience, the moan-inducing rapture of divine visions. Her writing is put on stunning and beautiful display in Bernini’s famous statue, The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, a sculpture that more closely resembles two lovers than an angel and a prophet. This perspective is so vital to the Church, to a body with such a long, painful, and complicated history with human sexuality and so often confused about the relationship between spirit and flesh. Teresa and Saint John of the Cross, her colleague who incorporated much of her imagery, offer profound sources for feminist and queer prophets to proclaim a Gospel that is at peace with human sexuality. But there are better and more capable voices than mine to expound on the value of both men and women claiming such intimacy with God. Continue reading “You Are Not God’s Only Hands”

Unfolding Scandal in the Vatican

As #ChurchToo continues to unfold — and even brushes up against American partisan fights — the Vatican is finally responding to accusations leveled against Pope Francis and his predecessors.

As a reminder:

  • Ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was long rumored to abuse priests and seminarians. When allegations emerged that he had also sexually assaulted minors, he was removed from the College of Cardinals.
  • His successor in Washington, Cardinal Donald Wuerl, was implicated both in cover-ups in Pennsylvania and suspicions about how much he knew vis-a-vis McCarrick. Wuerl has since resigned his cathedra in DC.
  • Former nuncio to the United States and noted “culture warrior” Archbishop Carlo Vigano published a letter accusing Pope Francis of knowingly covering for McCarrick and even rescinding sanctions against the disgraced cleric.
  • For all of his indignation, Vigano himself has been implicated in cover-ups and was repeatedly seen publicly alongside McCarrick. Which is to say, his credibility is lacking.
  • All of this is mired not only in the latest round of abuse and cover-up scandals but also an ecclesial cold war between “traditionalist” Catholics suspicious of Francis’ reform agenda and more progressive Catholics cheering on the pontiff‘s program.

The Vatican has taken over a month to respond to these allegations. Vigano has written a second letter. Both sides have dug in, and the culture war wages on. Continue reading “Unfolding Scandal in the Vatican”

Marriage, Divorce, and Jesus

This past Sunday, Jesus covered quite a bit of ground. Too much ground for one sermon, really. He hit on points of marriage, divorce, gender, and children. Any one of those topics could have been a book, let alone a fifteen-minute homily.

And because this week’s texts have been used as a cudgel to bludgeon rather than as a balm to soothe the afflicted, it’s important that we spend more time with the text.

Luckily, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Here are some highlights from other preachers. Continue reading “Marriage, Divorce, and Jesus”

“Let the Children Come”

A Homily for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: Saint Mark 10:2-16


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who came to make us children of God. Amen.

Like any early ‘90s sitcom, you can almost hear the studio audience go, “Awwwwww” when our Lord “took the children up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” It’s like something out of a Precious Moments figurine, those round-faced and doe-eyed ceramic figures that seem to be on sale at every Christian book store. Jesus cares about children, and we should include them in the ministry of the Church.

To that end, this verse pops up all over the place when you look at ministry with youth and children. There’s an academic text called Let the Children Come which focuses on raising children in the Church. There’s an evangelical publisher by the same name that prints tracts for children. Our denominational publishing house has a text on infant baptism for parents called “Let the Children Come.” One Lutheran church in Saint Paul introduces their children sermon with this verse, and we have an older translation emblazoned on the side of our education wing: “Suffer the Children to Come.”

sufferthechildrentocome.jpg

Continue reading ““Let the Children Come””

“Be Praised, My Lord, Through All Your Creatures”

A Homily for the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi

Texts: Genesis 1:1-2:4; Isaiah 11:1-9


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Risen Lord, through whom all things were made. Amen.

Saint Francis was born to into a wealthy merchant’s family in the Umbrian region of what is today Italy. In his youth, he was known for lavish spending, but after a very public falling out with his father, Francis renounced his family name and his inheritance for a life of poverty.

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Saint Francis preaches to the Wolf of Gubbio

In 1209, Francis founded the Order of the Friars Minor, a group of wandering preachers known for their devotion to poverty and the poor that continues his ministry across the world today. This group of men and women became fools for Christ, living lives of radical reliance on the alms of stranger and deep trust that God would provide. And yeah, at times their actions seemed incredibly foolish. Not only did Francis give up a fortune, he was also known for his preaching – to people, to birds, to a wolf. That’s why we remember him by blessing animals – Francis taught about the interdependence of all creation.

What is it that animates saints like Francis of Assisi? Continue reading ““Be Praised, My Lord, Through All Your Creatures””

Cutting Off the Hand, Plucking Out the Eye

I’ve long wondered how fundamentalists justify certain stances. I can only conclude that it’s because they take Scripture literally but not seriously.

Consider this past week’s Gospel reading from Saint Mark:

If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

Fundamentalists often use this as a text to support their evidence for the Dante-esque vision of hell as eternal conscious torment in a burning lake. And indeed, that description is in the text as plain as day: a place of unquenchable fire and gnawing worms. In his essay on the matter in Four Views on Hell, SBTS professor Denny Burk points to precisely this passage in Mark 9 as proof of his argument that hell “is an experience of judgment that has no end.” Continue reading “Cutting Off the Hand, Plucking Out the Eye”

“Any Mixture of Error”

I spend a lot of time around self-described fundamentalists — perhaps because I live in the Southeast, in the land of Southern Baptist churches. One of the defining doctrines of the modern SBC (and of fundamentalism in general) is their belief in a literal interpretation of Scripture; this tenant is spelled out in the first article of the Baptist Faith and Message, the SBC’s statement of faith:

It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. [Emphasis added.]

It is worth noting that fundamentalism is a new position, dating back less than two centuries, and it would not come to dominate the Southern Baptist Convention until a concentrated campaign called a “resurgence” by its champions (men like Albert Mohler and Paige Patterson) and a “takeover” by its detractors.

Scripture, according to fundamentalist Baptists, must be absolutely and in all ways true otherwise it is worthless. Continue reading ““Any Mixture of Error””

“Are any among you suffering?”

A Homily for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Text: St. James 5:13-20


Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, who will raise us up as we pray. Amen.

“Are any among you suffering?” Saint James asks.

At the risk of offending the author of my favorite epistle, what an idiotically obvious question.

“Are any among you suffering?”

Yes. Yes. A hundred times yes. Continue reading ““Are any among you suffering?””