Saturday, May 31, 2014

Prayers for the Way



#SummerOfScripture14 
compiled by Dorota Pruski and Jonathan Melton



The Foolish Wisdom of God

Hidden God,
whose Wisdom compels our love
and unsettles all our values;
fill us with desire
to search for her truth,
that we may transform the world
becoming fools for her sake,
through Jesus Christ, Amen.
Prov 1:20-33; 2:1-9; Mt 11:25-30; Lk 10:30-42; 1 Cor 1:18-25; 3:18ff



The Vision of God

O God,
whose beauty is beyond our imagining,
and whose power we cannot comprehend:
show us your glory
as far as we can grasp it,
and shield us 
from knowing more than we can bear
until we may look upon you without fear,
through Jesus Christ, Amen.
Gen 32:22-31; Exod 33:12ff; Job 38:1-7, 34-41



Dependence on God’s Word

God of all trust,
may we who confess your faith
prove it in our lives,
with abundant joy,
outrageous hope,
and dependence on nothing
but your word alone,
through Jesus Christ, Amen. 
Jer 32:6-15; Lk 7:1-10



God’s Fruitful Word

O God our disturber,
whose speech is pregnant with power
and whose word will be fulfilled:
may we know ourselves unsatisfied
with all that distorts your truth,
and make our hearts attentive
to your liberating voice,
in Jesus Christ, Amen.
Is 55:1-11; Lk 1:46b-55; 4:14-21; 2 Tim 3:14-4:5



God’s Uncontainable Word

God of truth and terror,
whose word we can with comfort
neither speak nor contain;
give us courage to release the fire
you have shut up in our bones,
and strength in your spirit
to withstand the burning,
through Jesus Christ, Amen.
Jer 20:7-11; Mt 10:16-22



Parables

Christ our teacher,
you reach into our lives
not through instruction, but story.
Open our hearts to be attentive:
that seeing, we may perceive,
and hearing, we may understand,
and understanding, we may act upon your word,
in your name, Amen.
Mk 4:1-20



Proper 28 (Book of Common Prayer)   

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: 
Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, 
that we may embrace and ever hold fast 
the blessed hope of everlasting life, 
which you have
given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; 
who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.



Aber du weißt den Weg, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, music: Taizé

Gott, lass meine gedanken sich sammeln zu dir/ God, gather my thoughts to you.
Bei dir ist das licht, du vergist mich nicht./With you is the light, you do not forget me.
Bei dir ist die hilfe, bei dir ist die geduld/With you is help,/with you is patience.
Ich verstehe deine wege nicht/I do not understand your ways.
Aber du weist den weg fur mich./But you know the way for me



Origen (c. 185 – c. 254) was an early church father from Alexandria.

Lord, inspire us to read your Scriptures and meditate upon them day and night. We beg you to give us real understanding of what we need, that we in turn may put its precepts into practice. Yet we know that understanding and good intentions are worthless, unless rooted in your graceful love. So we ask that the words of Scriptures may also be not just signs on a page, but channels of grace into our hearts. Amen.



Gregory of Nazianus (329-389) was an early Church father.

Lord, as I read the psalms let me hear you singing. As I read your words, let me hear you speaking. As I reflect on each page, let me see your image. And as I seek to put your precepts into practice, let my heart be filled with joy. Amen.



Liebster Jesu, Tobias Clausnitzer, from The Hymnal 1982 (440)

Blessed Jesus, at thy word
we are gathered all to hear thee;
let our hearts and souls be stirred
now to seek and love and fear thee,
by thy teachings, true and holy,
drawn from earth to love thee solely.

All our knowledge, sense, and sight
lie in deepest darkness shrouded
till thy Spirit breaks our night
with the beams of truth unclouded.
thou alone to God canst win us;
thou must work all good within us.

Glorious Lord, thyself impart,
Light of Light, from God proceeding;
open thou our ears and heart,
help us by thy Spirit's pleading;
hear the cry thy church upraises,
hear and bless our prayers and praises.



Traditional

Come, Holy Spirit. Amen.



Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Not What We Expected:
In Praise of the God of Surprises


So, we're a few days away from the kick-off of the Summer of Scripture, a 90 day Bible-binge of young adults in Madison and across the country. The project has taken a fair amount of organizing and explaining to get to this point. Also, help. Lots of help. I am already so grateful for the input and participation of the Episcopal Center community at St. Francis House and also for the friendship and cooperative leading of Dorota Pruski. Lots of others. Emmy, Noah, Rebekah. It takes a village, but this is fun, and we're almost to the starting line.

The week before the kick-off has been calmer than the weeks before it. With most of the preparation in place, I've taken up the Apocrypha as a week-long warm-up to the big dance. Part of this is practical: I want to have a sense for how slowly or quickly I read, and, while I think I've the whole Bible at one point or another, I have little confidence I can say the same for the Apocrypha.

The thing that impressed me right off the bat was Tobit's movie-like plot line. Even better, the book doesn't assume much prior knowledge, which is just to say phrases or terms unfamiliar to me are assumed to be unfamiliar to the general reader, and so they are defined. Old Testament redactors take note! I'm convinced that most of us have avoided the Old Testament not because of all the blood and war, but because reading it leaves us feeling stupid.

But not Tobit.

The best part is the prayers. Not just in Tobit - in Judith, too - wonderful prayers. Prayers for death, about lust, revenge, frustration, and disgrace, prayers for victory through deceit, all that God would be known, worshiped, and adored. Maybe because I'm coming to them secondarily, the prayers of the Apocrypha seem to me a kind of real-life, ueber-messy practicum born of the Psalms.

My favorite prayer, though - so far - belongs to Raguel, in the book of Tobit. Raguel has just successfully married off his daughter to Tobias, and - unlike the seven men before him - Tobias survives the wedding night and is not destroyed by the demon who has tormented his now-wife, Sarah. Raguel sends a maid into the bedroom to see, discretely, how Tobias has fared. When the maid reports that all is well, Raguel begins his song of blessing. In the middle, he says, "Blessed are you because you have made me glad. It has not turned out as I expected, but you have dealt with us according to your great mercy."

"It has not turned out as I expected..."

Not, "You heard my cry and delivered me."
Not, "I knew you would come through all along."
Not even, "I had my doubts, but praised your name through the darkness of the night."

No sign of prior belief and so no hiding the amazement. Simply, "It has not turned out as I expected."

And I think of Peter and the Marys. The empty tomb. I think of Moses and Thomas and, God help him, Judas.

I think of all the saints before us with the honesty to despair and the good sense, when he found them, to be wrong. Overcoming the laughter and tears, crying out as anti-prophets, "It has not turned out as I expected."

How wonderfully understated.

I wonder if I will say the same thing in ninety-plus days, turning the last page over, Revelation vanquished, having finished the book. Of the reading, of the experience, I wonder what it will have been about the summer that will cause me to say with a wry smile and bewildered joy, "It has not turned out as I expected."

How strange and wonderful to imagine - to anticipate - the joy God derives from putting these words of delight born of doubt and the deliverance of God on the lips of God's People. For even at the grave we make our song, "Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!"

For truly, my sisters and brothers, it has not turned out as we expected.

Praise God, and amen.

Peace.
Jonathan+

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sweet Like Honey
(On Speaking the Words to Receive Them)

This post first appeared as part of "Summer of Scripture '14", a movement of young adults reading the Bible in 90 days (one summer). The reflection was born in part by Scripture's hard words, but also by the captain-obvious realization - rediscovered at a Festival of Homiletics - that the the Word must be in us in order to surprise us.
+       +       +

I LOVE Russian literature (Dostoyevsky, etc.) AND reading out loud. Sadly, it is not easy for me to read Dostoyevsky out loud because most of the characters have this annoying habit of having names. Russian names. Unpronounceable-to-me names. So I read in my head and learn to gloss over the names (which requires a kind of detachment from the text only achievable with considerable effort) OR I read out loud, resenting Dostoyevsky and Russians generally for every mispronunciation he forces from my lips. 
The same is probably true in my relationship with the Bible, that the unfamiliarity of names forces me to choose between detachment and resentment. And I say this as a priest very familiar with the words. But I’m reading the Apocrypha as a warm-up to our June 1 Summer of Scripture kick-off and coming across strange words again and all those resentful feelings are coming back.
So, here’s my gift to you - a link to an audio pronunciation guide. It comes with the caveat that I’m only commending the audio guide and not the other resources on the website. They’re not bad resources, but I have other ideas if you’re looking for good places to start. The audio, though, could be helpful. 
I think the audio could be helpful not because there aren’t other (even better!) ways to say some of the words, but because I know for myself that being able to say a word allows it to get inside me - and that not being able to say the words keeps me at a distance. I want this summer to make me like Ezekiel, eating the scroll, sweet like honey. If you want that for you, too, and being able to say what you read will help, and if this guide can make that happen, this will make me glad.
Happy reading, friends!
Jonathan+

The God Who Goes Ahead (The 2014 Summer Newsletter)

The following appears in the 2014 Summer Newsletter from St. Francis House (the Episcopal Student Center at UW-Madison), which you can check out - with lots of pictures - here. Additionally, if you would like to receive our twice-yearly newsletters directly, via either email or snail mail, send me a note, and I'll be glad to have you added. Thank you for your support! Peace. JRM+

I am sitting in my office chair, listening to a studier take a break on the piano in the lounge beneath my office. This moment, with its music, is beautiful. 

It’s finals week, and I know how difficult it can be during finals week to make time for beauty. Many students have already gone home for the summer. Others are busily hauling their belongings down sidewalks and into the trunks of their parents’ waiting SUVs. In the midst of joy and revelry, it is the lot of a few to stay behind by themselves and study for exams late on the schedule.

Finals pose a unique dilemma for the student left behind: the exams are all consuming - until they’re not. One student I spoke to this afternoon has two exams in the next twenty-four hours, then nothing. Still, she finds it hard to believe that the stress she is feeling right now will ever be over, much less in a single day, when she too will join the ranks of the joyous and begin busily hauling her belongings into the trunk of her parents’ waiting SUV.

The students already finished may be momentarily less stressed, but the end of it all brings its own set of challenges: relocation, the uncertainty of summer jobs, graduation for some, and - if nothing else - anticipation of the coming fall. 

So it was with amusement and appreciation that I started reading the first line of the gospel lesson appointed for this coming Sunday, graduation weekend. “Jesus said, ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.’” 

Jesus then tells his friends why they should not be afraid: Jesus himself goes ahead to prepare their place. 

It’s a gospel lesson frequently read at funerals, making it an especially fitting passage for finals week. But not just finals week. And not just death. Jesus’ words are for every moment in which we find ourselves aware of the limits of our sight. Each time we find ourselves in this life afraid for what might (or might not) come next - the unknown - we remember Christ’s promise: “I’m going ahead. By the time that you get there, I’ve been there. Don’t be afraid.” 

I was praying with colleagues on campus the other day, when one of them - himself not much older than a student - started praying. “Dear God, I’m praying with these leaders for students on this campus, and I’m realizing that it must have been at this very meeting, this very space, this same time of year, a few years ago, that the prayers we’re praying now were prayers prayed and heard for me. Before I knew you. And now I’m here. You are merciful. Father, I’m here because the others prayed like we’re praying now.”

Everywhere, the reminder: by the time we will get there, Jesus will have been there. 

With the reminder that God goes before us, we receive the assurance not that all will come out as we had hoped, but that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We experience peace as we learn to measure our days by the love of this assurance.

The risen Christ goes ahead of us to prepare a place for us. Not just a reminder for students. A reminder for the Church in the face of an uncertain future; a hope for a world continuously perched on the precipice of its own disaster; an encouragement for parents who love the children whose lives they cannot predict and for the children of parents whose vulnerability comes as an unexpected surprise; a promise for those who risk themselves for others, not knowing the future possibilities of unexpected friendships. A reminder here, at the Episcopal House, as we continue our journey of reawakening and flourishing as a student community and through our commitment to serve the university community. We do not know the future, but we do know the Way. We have come to believe and to love the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Here is our hope. Here is life abundant.

On behalf of the whole Episcopal community at St. Francis House, we thank God for the blessing of walking this Way with you. We are grateful for your prayers, financial support, and friendship.

Jonathan+

Read the rest here.


Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Our God Goes Ahead:
A Homily for Death, Graduation, and All Things Unknown

I was sitting in my office chair the other day, listening to a studier take a break on the piano in the lounge beneath my office. The moment, with its music, was beautiful.

The context, of course, was finals week, and I knew how difficult it can be during finals week to make time for beauty. Many students have already gone home for the summer. Others are busily hauling their belongings down sidewalks and into the trunks of their parents’ waiting SUVs. In the midst of joy and revelry, it is the lot of a few to stay behind by themselves and study for exams late on the schedule.

Finals pose a unique dilemma for the student left behind: the exams are all consuming - until theyre not. One student I spoke to that afternoon had two exams in the next twenty-four hours, then nothing. Still, she found it hard to believe that the stress she was feeling just then would ever be over, much less in a single day, when she too would join the ranks of the joyous and begin busily hauling her belongings into the trunk of her parents’ waiting SUV.

The students already finished may have been momentarily less stressed, but the end of it all brings its own set of challenges: relocation, the uncertainty of summer jobs, graduation for some, transition to the real world,” and - if nothing else - anticipation of the coming fall.

So it was with amusement and appreciation that I started reading the first line of the gospel lesson appointed for this Sunday, graduation weekend. Jesus said, Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.’”

Lots of reasons to be troubled. Afraid. Uncertain. Jesus tells his friends to not let their hearts be troubled. Then he tells his friends why they should not be afraid: Jesus himself goes ahead to prepare their place.

Its a gospel lesson frequently read at funerals, making it a fitting passage for the Sunday after finals week. But not just finals week. And not just death. Jesus’ words are for every moment in which we find ourselves aware of the limits of our sight. Moments in which we paradoxically see our blindness, recognizing that we dont know how a given turn will unfold. And every time we find ourselves in this life afraid for what might (or might not) come next - the unknown - we remember Christs promise:Im going ahead. By the time that you get there, Ive been there. Dont be afraid.

I was praying with colleagues on campus the other day, when one of them - himself not much older than a student (and, so, conspicuous in our group) - started praying.Dear God, Im praying with these leaders for students on this campus, and Im realizing that it must have been at this very meeting, this very space, this same time of year, a few years ago, that the prayers were praying now were prayers prayed and heard for me. Before I knew you. And now Im here. You are merciful. Father, Im here because the others prayed like were praying now. Thank you.

Everywhere, the reminder: by the time we will get there, Jesus will have been there.

With the reminder that God goes before us, we receive the assurance not that all will come out as we had hoped, but that nothing will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. We experience peace as we learn to measure our days by the love of this assurance.

You may remember how the singer songwriter Prince once legally changed his name to The Artist Formerly Known as Prince.” If nothing is to separate us from the love of God, I wonder what otherthings formerly known as impossible” the Gospel would call us to doubt. A good friend and priest once wroteUnless we are willing to doubt our doubts, our doubts are just excuses to avoid the implications of believing.
The risen Christ goes ahead of us to prepare a place for us. Not just a reminder for students. A reminder for the Church in the face of an uncertain future, tempted toward despair; a hope for a world continuously perched on the precipice of its own disaster; an encouragement for parents who love the children whose lives they cannot predict and for the children of parents whose vulnerability comes as an unexpected surprise; a promise for all of those who risk themselves for others, not knowing the future possibilities of unexpected friendships. A reminder here, at the Episcopal House, as we continue our journey of reawakening and flourishing with students and the university community.

We do not know the future, but we do know the Way. We have come to believe, trust, and love the Way, the Truth, and the Life - yea, Christ himself. Indeed, we are here to receive him. Here is our hope. Here is life abundant. Here is our peace. O heart, dont be troubled. Wherever you go, our God goes ahead.

Amen.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Death and Play:
What We Christians Can Learn From My 4-Year Old Daughter


"Death at a Funeral - the British version." That's what Noah said when I asked him for a top pick film suggestion for a finals week shindig at the Episcopal Center. "Done," I said. My woeful ignorance of all things cinematic generally inclines me to give others the benefit of the doubt. "Death" did not disappoint. Brilliant, funny, thoughtful, and - as much or more than any of these - honest.

Perhaps the most honest aspect of the film's depiction of a dysfunctional family's gathering to mourn a beloved husband and father comes in the movie's hilarious and depressing characterization of social engagement between humans. With the exception of the main players' later collaborative efforts to hide a dead body, every human interaction in the film can be summarized as the necessary and accidental overlapping of selfish and self-interested individuals. Everyone is their own bottom-line.

Death got me thinking about a recent Kindermusik class with Annie. (Kindermusik is great time spent with Annie and, as a bonus, regularly leaves me with food for thought in other areas of life - see here and here.) In this recent Kindermusik class, we were reminded of the four stages of play development in children. Here's how one site defines them:
...solitary play, starts in infancy. In this stage, infants are exploring their environment, constantly discovering new things, and learning from them. Solitary play continues into the toddler years. The children, playing alone, are completely absorbed in what they are doing and are not paying attention to others. They may be playing near others but they are playing alone with their own toys without notice of the other children. 
Parallel play is the next stage. It is common in toddlers but can occur in any age group. Children will be in the same room with other children, they will play with similar toys, but they do not play with each other. They are observant of others and may copy how others are playing but seldom interact with them. They are playing beside them rather than with them. 
The third stage, associative play, occurs when children are about three and four years old. These preschoolers play together in loosely structured activities. Although they play together and talk with each other, they are not working together in an organized manner to create something. 
Cooperative play, the fourth stage, begins emerging in four and five year olds. As their social and emotional development matures, children play cooperatively with others. Their play has an organized structure and children will communicate with each other as they work together towards a common goal. In this play stage, children learn respect for others property, realize they may need permission to use others toys, and are more willing to share their toys.
An interesting question is which stages one would use to describe her understanding of the Christian life, both normatively and descriptively. How do people actually experience the life of faith as the people of God? Are they accidentally sharing space? Loosely associating? Cooperating toward common goals? Or, in spite of all of the 'people of God' vocabulary, do some still play alone without notice of the other children?

The brilliance of Death at a Funeral is its blurring of the lines across developmental stages and, of course, that all of the interactions are between adults. For example, though conversations are definitionally associative, there is no doubt that the characters "are completely absorbed in what they are doing and are not paying attention to others," a la the solitary play of the first developmental stage. In other words, just because I'm talking to you doesn't mean we represent a more developed state or that we are capable of achieving worthy goals. Anyone who has ever experienced - directly or through a friend - institutional cynicism or professional meeting fatigue, will recognize what I mean.

An important lesson in this, I think, is that the existence of conversations can be self-deceptive to the extent that we believe conversations or dialogues are, in themselves, superior to solitary play - simply because they involve others. But while children may be capable of self-absorption without the use of those around them, we adults are not always so developed.

A more positive lesson is that our social interactions can be improved simply by paying attention to them truthfully and acting toward them lovingly. What are the patterns of especially unsatisfying content? What are the patterns of form? Which patterns and forms routinely produce the most flourishing? Here I want to emphasize that none of the four stages is better or worse than the others - they're developmental, after all, and so each one is necessary for the existence of the others. In this case, paying attention simply involves becoming aware of an individual's or organization's disproportional tendencies toward one or more of the developmental stages and living our her permission to wonder how things could be different. By identifying our defaults in light of the other possibilities, we find concrete and constructive questions by which we can choose to step out of our comfort zones - to try new things.

Finally, since the content of backdrop of these questions is self-absorption, self-deception, and worthy goals achieved with others, I want to suggest that these conversations can be regarded as significantly more than simple self-improvement and/or steps toward human bettering; processes of play-full awareness, attentiveness, and the discovery of new possibilities may turn out to be just what it is to speak the truth in love. This is another way of saying that these new possibilities are only possibilities because God in Christ did not content God's self with loosely structured activities toward us, but working together in an organized manner, elected to create something new.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Following In My Momma's Footsteps
(How I Became a Priest Like My Dad By Following My Mom)


I am a priest. So it my dad. In fact, I was born midway through his first semester of classes at the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin. So I shouldn't be surprised when people ask the inevitable question, "So you're following in your daddy's footsteps, huh?"

The answers, of course, is "I am."

I am, and I'm grateful. Daddy taught me the great privilege of praise and how to pay attention to the presence of the living, active God, in both broad strokes and detail. Some call this attention discernment; I call it noticing the beauty of God. The best part is, Daddy only taught me sometimes with words. Most of the time, I received the harder-to-come-by lessons born of apprenticeship and example. It's the difference between learning a first language and a second, years later.

Being my daddy's son sometimes leaves me feeling old, which is to say "well seasoned." I don't have all the answers - not by a long shot - but there are certain questions I've abandoned in favor of, what are for me, more life-giving ones. In short, I stopped caring about certain priestly conversations long before I became a priest. I large blame/thank my dad for this.

When I think of my dad's contributions to my understanding of the priesthood, I always remember two off-hand rules of thumb he passed along at no particular time: 1) always only have one point (still working on that one, Daddy), and 2) suppose the grieving, agnostic son of the disaffiliated and recently departed parent, unsure of how to proceed with liturgical plans for the funeral, hasn't ever imagined the process quite like you have, but he's grateful you have - even if he never puts it that way.

Even so, alongside my deep gratitude for my daddy's role in my vocation, I still itch with a mild irritation at the question about his footsteps. The reasons for this are two-fold, I think. The first reason is that the question sometimes feels like a discount to the uniqueness of my journey. I realize the narcissistic danger in making an idol of one's story, but it's simply not true that I am only a priest because my daddy is one. This truth leads me to itchy reason number two, namely that the fascination of friends and discernment committees at my father's vocation relative to my own means that no one has ever asked - relative to my vocation - about my mother. Momma. (She hates it when we call her 'mother.')  But the other day made me realize why I wish someone had asked me that question at some point along the way.

It was about a week ago, and I was thinking about Momma's pending return to the field of occupational therapy. Home health and nursing homes, mostly. Largely, but not exclusively, with the elderly. Momma was about to return to the OT world in which I grew up watching her thrive. She was returning after eight years away, owing to severe health complications caused by multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS). Momma's return marked yet another triumph in a last couple of years full of them, as healing has led to healing and new possibilities for flourishing have opened again. This has been a season of thanksgiving to God for new life, and it has been a joy to witness her journey. So I was thinking of Momma's return and returning myself to memories of the OT world of my childhood.

And that's when it hit me: Momma has been my subconscious and primary model for ministry all along; that is, from the beginning, I've been learning to be the kind of priest an occupational therapist would be.

The signs were there early: I spent high school career investigation days not at church (duh), but in  nursing homes. It was the kindly direction of an activities director there - and not at an off-the-rocker junior high youth group gathering - that first revealed for me the great joy of animal balloons twisted for others. It was there, in nursing homes, that I first learned to listen - as for whispered treasures - to the garbled speech of recently admitted stroke patients, convinced that the words' importance did not depend upon their clarity, and convinced that God was in the conversation. How often did Momma show me the possibilities born of compassion and connection, when the patient's eyes would suddenly grow wide, begin to sparkle, a smile threatening to form from the corner of her mouth, simply because she'd heard said back to her the thing she'd been trying for so long to say. She'd been heard. She'd been seen. She was in relationship and so, in a real sense, she was.

Momma taught me that occupational therapy was distinct - though not altogether separate - from speech and physical therapies because of its primary concern for empowering patients in every day occupations, tasks, simple jobs. Momma came alongside her patients so that, together, they could discover a new imagination - a new approach - for living ordinary life.

Admittedly, "occupations" in the OT sense can be modest, like washing one's hair. But the modesty of the occupations cements for me the connection I have come to recognize with my own work as a priest, which is really a long extension of my training at the hands of Mennonite economists.

Let me briefly explain...

I fell in with a rogue group of Mennonite economists back in college. For this I'll forever be grateful. One of them, a professor, took me under his wing and enrolled me in a larger project of his called "Business as Mission." Business as Mission ('BaM') sought to challenge the idea that certain professions were holy (clergy, teachers, nurses) while others were profane (chiefly, lawyers and bankers). To be sure, some careers require sacrifices clearly beyond the pale of faithful Christian discipleship, but it is not at all clear that many of the careers historically disparaged by Christians (and others) need automatically be on the list. In other words, even entrepreneurs can embody faith in their businesses - and far beyond tithing generously on the profits. My own work focused on micro-finance lending in Pakistan and the women some particular small businesses were empowering, effecting - as a happy side-effect - the reconciliation of Muslims and Christians in certain villages of that country.

At some point, I realized I wouldn't make my career in economics. God had called me to be a priest. I screwed up my courage and went to tell my supervising professor - the Mennonite champion of lay vocations - that I was called to be a priest. He stared at me for a minute or so, blankly. Then he smiled. "I can see that," he said. "You'll be a good priest," which struck me as an unnecessary and wonderfully generous thing for him to say. He meant it. "Jonathan," he added, "just don't let us lay folks off the hook. Keep reminding us that the life of faith is here to challenge all of us, that faithfulness requires imagination for all kinds of careers and every day life."

In my seven-plus years now of this adventure called priesthood, I don't go a day without remembering his charge and my promise to keep it. In some ways, I think campus ministry suits that promise best, coming alongside students so that, together, we might discover a new imagination - a new approach - for the occupations of daily living. Sounds familiar. Every day, invited into the lives of students with aspirations to be doctors, engineers, botanists, french lit professors, I stare into this immense void of pressures and possibilities, a surreal mix of hopes and hopelessness - in the common life of our community and in the particular life of each student - and I say with the help of the Gospel and the conviction and memory of all that has come before this moment, "Holiness can make a home here. It will take some imagination, but Christ is risen from the dead! Yes, even here, holiness will make her home."

In these moments, I'm all priest, happy traveler in my father's footsteps. But Momma knows I'm also still that little boy standing at his mother's elbow in a patient's modest living room - pre-HIPAA - watching unexpected possibilities make a home.



Why I'm Reading the Bible in 90 Days

This post first appeared in the 'Summer of Scripture '14' tumblr.  Jonathan is part of a Madison-based group of young adults taking on the challenge together, beginning June 1. You can learn more -or join them! - here.


Do you ever get tired of trying - unsuccessfully - to fit more of God into your very busy life?

I do. 

For me, the trouble is not just that ‘fitting God in’ is hard to do; it’s the realization that, even if I succeeded, the cumulative result of cramming crumpled bits of a made-convenient-faith into a few unclaimed corners of my life is not a vision especially compelling or beautiful to me.

"Better than nothing."

But somewhere behind this weary ambivalence lies a hidden hope. Occasionally, I glimpse it. In solitude and times of introspection, in the boisterous company of the Sunday Assembly gathered for praise, in song and in silence, in bread broken and shared, in love lived toward another, the Gospel sparks this flame of hope in me that cries in love, uncertainty, and with joy, “More is possible!” 

The truth is, I don’t tire of my attempts to fit God into my very busy, culturally determined, and consumer-oriented life so much as I tire of living a very busy, culturally determined, and consumer-oriented life. I long for the possibility Christ has offered as promise: to live life determined by God’s ocean-depth love. “Abundant life,” he calls it.

I am reading the Bible this summer, I suppose, as mutiny to life less-than-abundant.
Toward this end, I don’t want the Bible to become a part of my story; I want to grow in friendship with the God who invites me to live and move and be inGod’s story. I want to read the Bible this summer as practice in surrendering my story to God’s. I want to learn to love God’s story more. 

I want God to challenge my boredom come the pages of unending genealogies, to challenge my presumptions that some names aren’t worth remembering. Show me, Lord, the roots of the impatience that has taught me there are more important things than your hand at work in the generations of your children. Fill me, Lord, with a new imagination for what is beautiful, redemptive, and life-giving. Give me, Jesus, the ears to hear and eyes to see that you longed for your disciples to more fully possess; even the ears that have picked up your whisper: ”More is possible.”


Yes, I am reading the Bible this summer - as mutiny to life less-than-abundant!

Are you up for a good mutiny, too?

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Body Tells the Story
(How Peter Shows Us the Heart of the Church)

Homily at St. Francis House, May 4, 2014. Here are the appointed lessons.



[Make a series of faces: frowns, smiles, etc.] 

Experts tell us somewhere between 60 and 90% of communication is nonverbal. Unspoken, which is to say, embodied. The percentage range is wide not because the absolute value is unknown, but because it varies day by day. Moment to moment. In each person. Gestures. Expressions. Posture. 

The bulk of communication being nonverbal means our bodies are constantly making suggestions to the hearer for how our words should be heard. Interpreted. The eye roll becomes an indication that the speaker might, for example, mean the opposite of the thing she speaks. Two wearied shoulders and eyes ringed with circles might name a fatigue of which the speaker himself hasn’t yet become aware. A parent’s subtle but undeniable smile and the tears welling up under her eyes, at a grown child’s unexpected return, again betrays any attempt on the part of the parent to downplay with words the significance of the moment.

Because somewhere between 60 to 90% of communication is nonverbal. Unspoken, which is to say, embodied. The percentage range is wide, because it varies day by day. Moment to moment. In each person. Gestures. Expressions. Posture.

Posture, revealing our histories and the stories we carry. Conveying, in an instant, the victories and defeats of a given day. Forwarding to the listener information like self-confidence, insecurities, and humility. I am always stopped short, when I see it, by the distinctive posture of humility. The one who stands always ready to serve. The kindness in the eyes of the one whose face speaks love without condition. Indeed, whose face suggests she will listen with neither judgment nor defensiveness, which is to say she will not be threatened by my judgments. Such a one communicates assurance of both her need for and the sufficiency of God’s great love for her. Humility, as distinct from humiliation, because humility is grounded but never defeated, and humility makes its boast of another, of God’s certain love for her and the others she encounters. Humility is not without love.

Can such an assurance be embodied? Conveyed without words in a person? As a matter of presence? By gestures, expressions, posture?

When Peter, “standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed the multitude,” I wonder what nonverbal stories his body told the people. Could they see his past as he spoke? This is the one, say other gospels, who walked on water with Christ. The first one, say all the gospels, to call Jesus the Messiah of God. The one, says John’s gospel, who cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave in the garden and then, moments later, denied he knew Jesus. So I wonder what posture and gestures went along with the words when he said, "Let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 
That last part - “whom you crucified” - sounds so pointed. So harsh. Not untrue, but could be construed as untoward or blame. I wonder if it wasn’t in these words, though, that Peter’s countenance felt an unexpected resonance with the multitude. On the one hand, words of accusation; on the other, words that marked the people’s kinship with Peter: Peter, after all, denying that he knew his Lord at the time of trial and crucifixion. Did Peter see, from his own experience - both as denier and as one restored, forgiven, and healed by Christ - the guilt, the plight, of the people as the beginning of God’s hope for them? 
Or did Peter’s shoulders drop later, when he heard the helplessness of the people’s words, “Brothers, what should we do?” Was it then that he felt the resonance, catching in their cry the same helplessness that had beset his own spirit as the cock crowed? Did his face change in that moment? His fists unclench? When Peter said, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven,” did his hands begin to shake, did his lip begin to quiver? Was he able to see the multitude at all any more for the growing tears in his eyes and the forgiveness of the risen Christ for him in that moment, active upon his heart? “You will receive the Holy Spirit,” he says. And he knows, because he has. And now he’s not accusing - there’s been a shift - and he’s speaking with the love of a parent for children. “For the promise is for you,” he says, “for your children, and for all who are far away…” No condemnation now, no trace, only assurance that for exactly these Christ came. For “everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him,” Peter says. This last part - everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him - did he say it strongly, boldly, each word with strength? Or did he fade a bit at the end, a tremble to a whisper, because the truth he had come to preach that day was so embodied in his soul?
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said that Jesus built his Church on Peter, so that the Church - not the building, but God’s People - would never forget her need for forgiveness, and also the love and mercy that has found us in Christ. So Peter is called “the Rock,” not because of his own reliability, says Benedict, but because of God’s. If Peter is the head of the Church, then God can come to anyone. So the disciples in Luke’s gospel cry out, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” It’s as if appearing to Simon is as equally amazing as the resurrection itself. But resurrection finds us in our brokenness. Loves us in our weakness. Heals us by our need for God. For the Church “is founded upon forgiveness.” And if we are like Peter, we will, like him, never find ourselves proclaiming a salvation for others that has not first known us in our weakness, in our need for forgiveness, and we will proclaim our need for forgiveness in our bodies. Verbally, yes, but nonverbally, too. In our bodies. You know, where the other 60 to 90% of communication happens. As the prayer book puts it, not only with our lips, but in our lives.
I wonder what it looks like to to speak salvation with one’s body - in a hospital? A software development company? A research lab? A class room? A library? The Sett? And there you were, in the Sett, this past Tuesday, prevailing on the generosity of others for the very poor. Those with no place to lay their heads. There you were. Not only with our lips; in our lives.
Experts tell us somewhere between 60 and 90% of communication is nonverbal. Unspoken, which is to say, embodied. The percentage range is wide not because the absolute value is unknown, but because it varies day by day. Moment to moment. In each person. Gestures. Expressions. Posture. Pray to always tell it with your body. Pray to always tell it with your body - pray to tell the old, sweet story, of Jesus and his love.

Amen.