Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Love, the Bible, and Other Things We Pretend are Easy to Understand

Back in the day, hanging on a wall just inside the doors on the way to the college post office at the school I attended, was a theological disagreement board. On it, students and faculty would post thoughtful and sometimes less thoughtful theological positions, but the exciting thing about the board is that responses were invited and encouraged. In a given week, if you were lucky, you could watch two or three really interesting discussions unfold, on day at a time, as red ink filled the margins of the original post or, if we were really lucky, someone channeled their inner Martin Luther and thumb-tacked amendments or official disputations to the end of the preceding post. 

The theology board had so much potential, but sadly most of it went unrealized. That is because the most common response scribbled in the margins was a three word kiss-of-death that would shame most posters into silence:

"That's not biblical."

(I know, I know. Four words, if you count the apostrophe.)

At an evangelical college, one of the worst things to be accused of was departure from scripture. For all we knew, the recipient of such an admonition might soon find herself on the slippery side of the slope that led to reading the notoriously liberal Karl Barth. I hope my intended sarcasm/humor comes across, but it was also our situation.

Even as an undergraduate student much intimidated by the theology board, I found the suggestion that one's theological opponents, because they did not read the Bible the way you did, did not read or value the Bible, absurd. Of course, there are violent and inaccurate ways to read/twist scripture. But it's also true that the Bible is not self-interpreting. Much is plain, much is not, and within its pages are myriad disagreements and tensions of scriptural interpretation. It is a heavy and cruel burden to be saddled with an outside directive to encounter the Bible and not find it wondrous, mysterious, and strange. Moreover, such a directive wreaks of misused power dynamics and the desire to intimidate, limit, bully, and/or control another person's faithful imagination, which might have become a gift even to the one so directing. So the directive usually comes from those heavily weighted by fear.

I share the story of the theology board and the assumption that my understanding of the Bible is the understanding of the Bible, and should be obvious to everyone, because I have noticed a tendency to apply the same dynamic to the exhortation to love one another. Before I go on, let me say clearly that I believe in the exhortation to love one another! What makes me nervous, however, is the frequent assumption that what it is to love in a given situation is everywhere obvious. In such a moment, love is presented as the one thing we can all agree to do. But agreeing to love has never been my problem with love. 

Some days I want to love, but I don't know what to love well would look like. It's the lesson of ally-ship, for a white, straight, cisgender, male, that pretending to know how to love apart from vulnerable relationship and difficult conversations and similarly difficult feedback is but another way of insulating myself from discomfort while reinforcing the status quo. It's the impotence we feel when we enter the hospital room with a dear friend who is dying. It's a compassionate reading of the foolish things Job's friends say to Job, which we sometimes mock, even as we thank God we weren't put in their shoes. To borrow from a Sam Wells sermon I can no longer locate, quoting the 80s band Foreigner, some days 

I wanna know what love is.

Dismissing other details while appealing to the obvious baseline of love is little different from appealing to one's own "biblical" reading of scripture, with all of its attending dynamics of power and coercion. Both love and sacred texts are not always easy to know. Both are regularly wondrous, mysterious, and strange. Both, I would argue, are projects enhanced by, and which require, the company of holy friends, for surely if, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others have shown us, we cannot know ourselves by ourselves, we cannot by ourselves learn to love our neighbors as ourselves. Such a community of holy friends, if they were Christian, would remember Jesus' commandment to love as Christ has loved us, that challenging transformation of the Golden Rule, and so turn to the scriptures in the expectation of being shown more and more about the nature of the love of God made known to us in Christ Jesus, most chiefly on the cross. Such a turning and expectation, with much prayer, might protect us from claiming as love that which is merely sentimentality. 

But all in its time. To begin, I would be much relieved to find consensus in the modest contention that there are times and situations in which what it is to love is not obvious. I imagine a circle of friends, meeting semi-regularly, each bringing to the circle one occasion in their life for which love's expression is not clear. Each would speak and be received in turn. The ones who receive would have previously foresworn offering solutions or "should." Instead, they would be invited to offer images of scripture which the Spirit calls to mind, or verses from hymns of the community, or wisdom of the saints. No debates or formal conversation, just offerings until they're done, received as gifts to pick up or put down, but locating the difficulty in the resources of faith, of which the circle, the gathered Body of Christ, is not least. 

Monday, May 20, 2019

Wendell Berry on Climate Change

Wendell Berry, wreaking havoc again in his brilliant essay 'Leaving the Future Behind: A Letter to a Scientific Friend,' from his collection, The Art of Loading Brush. Hoping this provocative teaser inspires folks to read the full thing, which is about as profound an exploration of the relationship between presence, character, and activism as I have yet come across.
I feel no discomfort in saying that to require people to 'believe in climate change' as a test of their human worth is both a pointless snobbery and a meaningless distraction....Our time's great wrongs of waste and pollution are wrong in themselves. They would be wrong whether or note they cause climate change. They are wrong according to the economic measure of thrift. They are wrong according to the measure of the sanctity of the living world, and because of their immediate practical harms to nature and to human nature. Their first damage is to the character of the perpetrators (emphasis mine).
A case very much in point is that of a large coal-fired power plant that was planned not long ago for western Kansas. Its construction was successfully opposed by appealing to people's intuitive and inherited disapproval of waste and pollution. The plant's potential contribution to climate change was intentionally never mentioned, because there was no reason to do so and a very good reason not to do so: To do so would have divided the otherwise undivided opposition to the plant. For those aware of the local particulars, the problem declared itself this way: Both the believers and the disbelievers in climate change believed in conservation, in doing 'the right thing.' Their agreement on conservation defeated the power plant. Their disagreement on climate change was irrelevant. 
In other words, if we are only concerned about our relationship to the environment when the stakes are existential, we are completely lost already. Ironically, lowering the moral bar so low requires a consensus whose absence makes room for greater environmental injury. Note: Wendell Berry is no denier of climate change - his argument is wholly practical. Nurturing and sustaining local communities capable of having character to damage in the first place is another question, which he alludes to elsewhere. Predictably, the examples to which he points are local ones, specific ones, which maybe at least occasions for us reflection on the nature of the character to which our own local communities aspire.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

An Urgent Appeal to the U.S. Postal Service

I've found myself recently puzzled by the divergent paths of libraries and post offices in the Information Age. On the surface, both should have been done in by the advent of computers. To that end, one has lumbered along like a dinosaur with a fatal injury, whose days are desperate and numbered. But, unexpectedly, the other hosts elections and remains the lifeblood of the neighborhood, facilitating recreational and informational events for neighbors (game nights!), organizing programs that engage community members, while remaining a desirable third spaces for folks who are simply looking to do work in a quiet space. Why the difference?

Before I go on, I want to say - sincerely - how much I value postal workers. It's a thankless thing to be engaged in work people assume and take for granted as a part of the fabric of daily life, even if those same people seldom avail themselves of the service. Indeed, my desire to see the postal service flourish stems in part from my gratitude for it and my desire to see others come to know the joy of handwritten correspondence.

I know, I know. That refusal to embrace the future is exactly what has landed USPS in the predicament it's in. Fair. But hear me out...

A friend and I recently recommitted to written correspondence ("letter-writing"), but when I sat down to write my first letter to him, I was embarrassed to discover that I had exactly no paper in my house appropriate to the task. Just scraps of envelopes and "computer paper." I get that USPS needs to "get with the times," and increasingly it does feel like they are moving in that direction, but my suggestion is that the post office, if we are to have a physical space designated as such, has an opportunity to be a place that lifts up the value of, and makes accessible, the practice of writing letters.

Here are a few proposals:
  • Host community activist letter-writing nights, with supplies available for purchase at a discount, with politicians' addresses provided. Invite folks to bring snacks. Pick bipartisan issues and introduce folks to each other. (I just received an invitation today from Rabbi Bonnie, inviting folks to write letters of encouragement to the Lutheran pastor recently relegated to a local detention center. Let's get together and build friendships while we write!)
  • Host write-your-favorite-author children's days, along the same lines. Cross-pollinate with the local library and have them bring contact information for the Judy Blumes of the world.
  • Facilitate pen pals.
  • Carry fountain pens and inks! Stationary, too. And at price points that make sense for children.
  • Make space for the local gathering of stamp collectors. 
  • Host waste-management and paper repurposing programs.
  • Card-making events.
  • Introduction to wax sealing!
  • Promote books of famous letter exchanges! Personally, I'd start with The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, but there are lots of possibilities here. Inspire imagination.
I know, I know. None of it's happening. But the libraries these days have become spaces for those applying for citizenship to work with community members on their applications; have become spaces for game nights!; have become tutoring hubs. And don't tell me the idea of gently weening the USPS as it is off of it's gross and financial dependence on generic junk mail flyers isn't at least a little enticing. Yes, I get that the main difference between USPS and libraries is that one is a federal program, the other local, but if the foundation of your business model is delivering letters, doesn't it make sense to invest in and encourage the practice of writing, I don't know, letters?

And if it really isn't going to happen, please let me know. I might see about the availability of some post office-adjacent land and explore an exercise in community building and reciprocal relationship. :)





Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Why I'm Not (Even Trying to Be) the Greatest Parent

My daughter likes to tell me I'm her favorite dad. We laugh. I tell her she's my favorite Annie. And it's true. Occasionally, she'll tell me I'm the BEST DAD EVER (don't worry, she's not afraid either to tell me the opposite - haha). I don't always dispute her in real time, but she knows I don't agree, on principle. Even if she doesn't completely understand it yet (although I would not put it past her), she's heard me tell the story of Stanley Hauerwas' response to being named "America's Best Theologian" by Time magazine. "Best is not a theological category," he famously quipped. 

What to make, then, of the generalization of parenthood that occurs with Mother's Day and Father's Day? And the subsequent and unavoidable awkwardness of invoking absurd titles like, "World's Greatest"? The subsequent and poisonous insinuation that every movement, moment, decision, is taking you closer to or farther from the title? The demonic logic that would suggest that the success of your relationship with your parent or your child is comparatively determined? 

In a favorite Robert Earl Keen song of mine, What I Really Mean, the singer/songwriter describes to someone close to his heart but far from his travels the incredible adventures he's experiencing in his life on the road, each time saying something like, "You should have seen the crowd we drew in there!" Each time, though, he catches himself and says, "What I really mean is, I wish you were here." It's such a gift in any relationship when we catch ourselves leaning on clich├ęs we don't mean, come to our senses, and then say the next true thing we can only truly say to that one. On the same token, the thing about titles like "the greatest" that's so sad is that they invite us to say the thing we didn't mean and sit silent on the things we did. 

It's been refreshing to see the cultural pushback against the Hallmark holidays this year, with the sensitivity that recognizes that these days can be painful for lots of reasons. I think the holidays are potentially as harmful, though, for the message they communicate to those for whom the days are pure celebrations; the relegation of a relationship to a comparative context can only confuse the multi-faceted uniqueness that makes a particular relationship special. And it turns out what really makes the relationship special many times has a tremendous capacity to hold pain and brokenness, incorporate forgiveness, growth, and/or redemption, and invite us toward a place of knowing and being known, even as we disappoint and, sometimes, deeply wound each other.

In a recurring theme of The Jesus Storybook Bible, the author says over and over that God's people were lovely. And they were lovely, because God loved them. It is such a wonderful description of relationship rightly valued, and cherished, from the inside out. May we know ourselves beloved of God and be known in love to one another, where "to me you will be unique in all the world."



St. Francis House Students Gather Friends, Give Away $3,000 for Children & Youth


It started with the observation of one of our student leaders: "You know, Jonathan, I'm only here at St. Francis House - I only walked through these student center doors the first time - because of people who invested in me and made opportunities for me and shared the life of faith with me when I was in middle school."

Middle school? I asked.

"Folks in my parish and people in my diocese, they made spaces for me, when I was a kid." He looked at me directly. "What's going on in this diocese?" he asked. Intuitively, he knew that it is hard to adequately capture the self-destructive effects of a church that does not visibly value and invest in the lives of children, youth, and young adults. Moreover, he recognized the commitment to do so as a central feature of every single baptism in the Christian church.

So, what is going on in this diocese? Wonderfully, there are many good things happening. Challengingly, these efforts can be difficult to coordinate and/or leverage across congregations. It is easy to miss the existing efforts. It is easy to feel discouraged. So many of carry in our hearts the adamant conviction that more is possible.

It's an interesting and important observation, that campus ministry is in some ways a rain gauge for waters that fell nine years before. Kind of how we observe the light of stars whose lives have already run their courses. In other words, we're all connected, both to one another and, within each person, across the seasons of a lifetime. All of the specialized silos of ministry we imagine unravel at the insight that the seasons belong to unified lives in the one Body of Christ, unfolding, growing, and flourishing in God's time.

What to do with this student leader's insight? We gathered the St. Francis House student leadership team and discussed possibilities. We landed on an outreach gathering in which we would invite friends from other "silos" across the diocese to help us give money away. It wasn't a fundraiser - the students were prepared to give away $3,000, no matter who showed up. Instead, it was a wall-leveler, a friends-in-ministry-locator, an evening to strengthen and encourage. The gift would be the people gathered and their help in directing our funds. And we would try to have as much fun as possible.

All of that is the backstory for how we ended up hosting 30 something folks from 16 churches and other faith communities from across the diocese on April 11 for an evening of creative outreach. Attendees helped us disperse $3,000 in 3 directions:
      • Camp Webb scholarship money for first time attendees
      • Resource money for the St. Francis House middle and high school lock-in, November 2-3
      • Funds for students to attend the national Episcopal Youth Event in 2020
​We heard testimonies (yes, testimonies!) from a student who attended several EYEs, summer camp veterans, and parents who gave thanks for the Christ-centered support of others in the lives of their children. We shared photos and stories about the children who have shaped us and the people who made God's love known to us when we were children. We made sure everybody knew about the upcoming and 3rd annual Thrive conference, a summertime gathering of children's, youth, and young adult leaders at St. Francis House, this year featuring the Rev. Nurya Love Parish on July 20. (Spoiler: you can register here.)

By the end of the evening, despite our best efforts to not be a fundraiser, folks had added several hundred dollars to our efforts. We left a community connected (the lock-in found a music leader!), united, and inspired. And very much aware that the most important step was the next one. And the next one after that. And the one after that, as we continue to show up with hearts open and ready to actively engage the new possibilities of God and the new things God is doing among those who can so easily become invisible among us.

We want to keep the momentum moving forward. We want to support one another. We want to make it as easy as possible for a cash-strapped congregation with a plate full of challenges to nonetheless say 'yes,' to ministry that puts children, youth, and young adults at the forefront, even if they aren't a part of Sunday mornings. We want every church in the diocese to be a part of this circle, even if they're not sure they belong or what their place in the conversation is.

One of the things we discovered that night at the outreach gathering is that the Episcopal Youth Event allots 20 openings (give or take) to each diocese every time it happens. For the last several EYEs, our diocese (understandably, and like a lot of others) didn't use the full 20 spots, but relinquished them to dioceses that had more folks wanting to go than they had spots. Over the course of the evening, this became like a rallying cry for our community, "No more charity for other dioceses!" Ha. The rally cry only works in the one context, but it remains a goal that inspires me, mostly because it's a goal that will take us all to realize. Which means we'll have to move the conversation from the periphery to the center, where Jesus is. "Let the children come to me," he said. Wonderfully, the good work of that relocation is alive and well among us. If you haven't already, I dearly hope you and your church will join the circle! There is joy and blessing in it.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Psalm 23: the Psalm that Exactly No One is Excited to Hear a Sermon About

We never preach about the psalms. But if we ever preach the psalms, I suppose it’s on days like this one. Psalm 23 contains some of the most familiar words in all of holy Scripture. Words most of us came to know before we were aware of our knowing them, even if we did not grow up in church. The Lord is my shepherd. Let me ask you, where did these words first find you? Or better, when did you first become aware that these words were inside you? When did you first feel the support or the intimacy of the images lifted up in this psalm? Which of the visuals first spoke to you, opened something of the life of God up to you? Or maybe it was someone close to you whose affection for this psalm you came to know through their sharing.
1 The Lord is my shepherd; * I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures * and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul * and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; * for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; * you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, * and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

My relationship with psalm 23, in a lot of ways, is a picture of my relationship with the rest of the Bible. Mostly, the things I notice in it change over time. Things that jumped out as a kid - I mean really jumped out, they were THE ONLY POINT of a story - are still there, but they no longer demand center stage, at least not always. Some of those things have receded in importance, some things have showed themselves to be connected to other things I hadn’t yet seen over time, and so my understanding of their meaning has grown or been transformed. None of the seeing is wasted. All of it shapes. All of it contributes. Sometimes one image builds on another. Occasionally, a new thing here appears to undermine an old thing there, but mostly the landscape continually opens up, deepens, and layers. It all points to God, who is at once unchanging and surprising.

The Lord is my shepherd. “I shall not want.” Right off the bat, that was a problem phrase for six-year old me. The language was hard to follow; it felt somewhat antiquated (a forgivable feeling, it turns out, this being the KJV), , but I couldn’t have told you how. “Lack for nothing” is closer to the meaning, but that’s how exactly nobody memorizes the verse. Some of the confusion came from the sequencing, combined with the old-timey language: not wanting came after mention of the Shepherd, whom I was pretty sure we were supposed to want, which confused me. Moreover, it was not clear to my six-year old heart why not wanting anything was good. I am not sure age or experience in this world of being sold to has entirely resolved that tension, although time and exposure have certainly highlighted the stakes of it.

As a kid, it was hard to miss, too, the VALLEY OF THE SHADOW OF DEATH (all caps) - there was an eye-opener! - and, with it, the stakes of the trust. That the shepherd wanted life for the sheep was a simple but important thing for me to hear. And that the shepherd wasn’t above walking in valleys. Downward mobility toward the pain of another was a feature of this shepherd’s love. And of course it foreshadows the cross. If Jesus was this Good Shepherd, who knew my name, I discovered in the shadows an invitation to trust that that love would walk with me there. And also that I could go into another’s shadow without fear, even if I could do nothing to make things better for them or dispel the darkness by myself.

This part of the psalm - the shepherd’s refusal to abandon the sheep, even to death - prepared me, I think, to cherish the eucharistic hymns that talk about Christ the victim, Christ the priest. The most famous of these are Easter hymns. And of course they’re not original. Today we heard from Revelation, some of the source material: “the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." The lamb will be their shepherd. The shepherd becomes the lamb.

As I got older I noticed other things. I had always liked the thought of a feast, but one day I read the whole sentence. A feast prepared in the presence of my enemies (or those who trouble me). As our kids have learned to say when they find a possibility repulsive, “No, thank you.” Just, why? While I suppose the point of the story was that a feast in such a context would bring humiliation to my enemies, there was an honest part of me that wondered why they had to be there. And then a fearful part of me that wondered if they had been invited as more than spectators to witness the fruit of my divine favor or success. Was this all a part of that love your enemies business? I began to grow suspicious. What if my enemies had a place at the table, too? Worse still, what if my presence was to them what I had assumed theirs was to me? And what did such a party say about God? What if God wasn’t just with me in discomfort - what if God brought about some of my discomfort, you know, on purpose? What if God’s ends included - but did not center on - me, with my ideas for how things should go? It was blasphemy to imagine.

My nervousness increased years later with a thoughtful consideration of still waters. What I had earlier assumed to be a poetic repetition of the goodness of green pastures now struck me as a detail that could go either way - toward green, lush goodness, on the one hand, or equally toward the way of shadows and enemies at the table, on the other. For context, I was fresh off a family camping trip in which my brother, dad, and I had gone tubing down a river. After a few runs of the chute, we let confidence get the better of us and we floated down past where the signs said we should definitely get out. The pace slowed down suddenly. The quick-moving waters, that had made the chute so much fun, were nowhere to be seen. Before long, things stopped completely. The banks of the river weren’t accessible and it seemed like we’d be lost forever. Our imaginations filled with images of snakes - both in the water and dropping from trees - snakes and stagnation as we strained our muscles hard to keep hands and feet out of and above the water, which of course was to seal our fate as stuck, without the capacity to paddle. Was still water the gift of the oasis in the desert, the match for green pastures, or was still water more like the valley, more like enemies at the table? More like Lauren Winner, the Christian author of Girl Meets God and Mudhouse Sabbath, who followed up these books with an unlikely successor, her memoir Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis? In an NPR interview for All Things Considered, Winner described the situation in which she found herself, her mother dying, her marriage failing, this way: “In my life, I had this dramatic conversion to Christianity and it had lots of intense emotions. I thought that those feelings would just endure, and that those feelings would sort of sustain me in the life of faith forever. And then I came to a place where I was no longer in the glow of the young adult new Christian conversion; I was now just in the middle of my faith life.” She found herself where things got still. He leads me beside still waters. It’s a harder sell on campus, where it is possible that I am talking to at least some students for whom the waters have not yet stopped, but it is maybe easier for us to know that faith that is faith must be faith when things get still. Where it is still, still God is there.

That Easter is fifty days long invites such an observation. If Easter were just the one day, we could maybe imagine that Easter is all confetti eggs and Alleluias, that Easter marks the end of grief, but fifty days - no one can pretend that long. The promise in Revelation, after all, is not the end of the tears, but that God will wipe every tear away. We are right to rejoice and to sing our songs loud, but at some point we also get to let God be God when we are tired and wounded. Yes, Easter is true celebration. And Easter is also the risen Christ finding Thomas one week later in the excruciating anguish of his doubts. Easter is true resurrection, yes, and Easter is the risen Christ seeking, finding, breathing forgiveness on Peter and Paul, walking in the valley of the road to Emmaus when understanding fails his friends and they lose the way, consoling Mary outside the tomb, among the rocks, in the depths of sorrow, grief, and loss. This is all a part of Easter, because this is all the landscape on which, to which, the risen Christ visits us. This is Easter, his touching every broken place, the shepherd calling his sheep by name; the movement of the love Jesus has for his friends, to whom he returns with healing and life.

There is no friend or stranger, however strange they seem to us, who is not in herself the location of the presence and reign of the risen Jesus and so who is not a person for whom we are not called to show up in hope. And on those days when you seem strange to yourself, and you wonder, the love of the risen Christ is already near, the cup already overflowing with forgiveness, the psalmist tells us, the oil prepared already for your head.

Whom then shall we fear?

The Lord is our Shepherd, we shall not want. To dwell, to trust, to rest in the care of the Shepherd/Lamb/King is to meet the wonder, love, and praise of the age-old, anonymous hymn:

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek him, seeking me;
It was not I that found, O Saviour true,
No, I was found of thee.

Thou didst reach forth thy hand and mine enfold;
I walked and sank not on the storm-vexed sea,—
'Twas not so much that I on thee took hold,
As thou, dear Lord, on me.

I find, I walk, I love, but, O the whole
Of love is but my answer, Lord, to thee;
For thou wert long beforehand with my soul,
Always thou lovedst me.

Monday, May 6, 2019

Dear Mayor Pete,

I pray this finds you well!

We haven't met, although your priest, now the Rector at St. James, was on the diocesan commission that presented me for ordination a lot years ago in South Bend. So we have a wonderfully corrupting influence in common. Ha. In any case, I went to pick up my car from the shop today. I didn't know in the moment that I would be sitting down a few hours later to tell you about it, but I now find myself compelled to share what there unfolded and, although you did nothing to repair my automobile, convey my deep and true gratitude for you.

The tires, it turned out, had been badly in need of alignment, and two of them were being replaced. It had been a long day of good meetings at work, so I had missed a couple of messages from the auto shop earlier in the day. I was running late. I found myself sailing in at exactly closing time, hoping someone would let me in. When I arrived, the shop was locked.

A minute later, Paul opened the door. Paul handles intake at the shop and had left me the messages I didn't get. "You, huh?" he said, with a slight smile. "The guy who doesn't check his messages and can't tell time." I laughed. "I knew I was pushing it, but I was hoping to sneak in in time. I missed." "Yep. You missed. Come on in."

Paul flipped through some paperwork, looking for mine. Without looking up from his papers, he asked me, "So, you work with college kids, huh?" I thought for a second, confused. We've known each other for a while, but I've never mentioned my job. He must have heard my voicemail when he left the messages. "At the UW-Madison." Yes. "Yes, I do." He shook his head, half admiration, half exasperation. "God bless you." I laughed again. "One of my boys is in college and hanging out with a hard crowd. I don't like the way it's headed. My thinking is a little science can ruin a faith, but a lot of science can do it good." "That sounds exactly right," I offered. Philosophy, too, I thought.

"They know everything. College students. At least mine do. It makes it hard."

Paul disappeared to the back of the garage, still looking for my paperwork. He came back with a stack of papers, none of them mine. Absentmindedly, he asked me, "What's that mayor - the guy from South Bend?"

"Buttigieg. Pete Buttigieg."

"Right. He's Episcopal. That's you, right?"

"That's right."

"I keep thinking... My son... Y'all are LGBT affirming, right? My son would need to know that - that's you in the Episcopal Church?"

"Absolutely. Yes."

"Mmm. You know, Catholics are sometimes too focused on having babies. And questioning authority on the local level is not something that always goes over well. It's fine for me, the way it is, I'm sixty years in and used to it, but he...you know, I might send him over to you."

"You should! I'd love to meet him."

"Yeah, I'd like to send him over to you. I'd like to let him know about you."

As I left, Paul thanked me for providing him with counsel, but even in the moment I knew I hadn't offered any. Paul knew that there was a church with an unflinching commitment and place for his son because of you and your witness, your openness in sharing about the shape and character of the Christian faith as you have known and received it. I left the repair shop today deeply touched for the way Paul, a devout Catholic, nevertheless counted on the Episcopal Church to be there for his son and was so genuinely grateful that it was. (His is a trust I don't carry lightly, and one for which I am keenly and regularly aware of the church's and my own need for repentance and continued growth.) I left the shop deeply touched that the source of his gratitude for new possibilities of faith was your public witness.

Bless you. Thank you. I thank God for the lives that are discovering new and abundant life, new hope, and the assurance of love, by the Spirit at work in you.

Peace,





Dear Bishop Sumner,

Grace and peace! I am writing to request the renewal of my license to officiate in the Diocese of Dallas for the coming year.  Of cou...