Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What I mean by "The Priesthood is like Spider-man"

IN 1962 Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created a character which has lived on well beyond any of his animated and even live action film incarnations...Spider-man.
Spidey, of course, is really Peter Parker, a mild mannered kid who got bitten by a radioactive spider. This bite conferred upon Peter such abilities as super strength, the ability to cling to surfaces, agility, perfect equilibrium (not matter what stunts he pulls off), and (let us not forget) spider senses.
With all of that, however, Spidey is not the strongest, not the fastest or agile, and is certainly not clairvoyant. All the same, he remains one of the best and brightest.
What I believe to be Spider-man's greatest strength is also at times his greatest weakness. Simply put, for all of his powers, he is incurably human.
After all, how many times do we read about Peter finally giving it up, tossing the costume into the East River and setting out for a more normal life. There are even times when his powers started to fade--only to resurface the moment his conscious urged him to action.
Not only that, but Spider-man was one of the first superheroes that I read about whose most dangerous enemies were at some point his the hell does that happen?
And then there is the issue of the loss of Gwen Stacy during a fight with the Green Goblin--certainly a turning point in Spider-man's work...
So, how does all of this fit the priesthood profile? It's not as if this whole thing couldn't fit other people's vocations--I think that is why Spider-man is so accessible. I also don't want to give the impression that clergy are super-powered individuals, but just bear with me.
As anyone can guess there is a certain costume that a clergy person has to put on--it's not just that we protect a different identity, rather it is a mechanism by which a clergy person is never all too human. So, when "the shit hits the you-know-what", the clergy person is still sterilized enough emotionally to properly respond.
Also, there is this whole idea of never being able to get away from this vocation. Whether we retire, quit, just never seems to end. We always find ways of getting back at it in one way or another.
Finally, the whole human factor is all too real. When the day is done and we've either taken an emotional beating, or even shared in some really joyous experiences, we're still the clergy person. We go home afterward and need to be ready for whatever comes our way next. And for all of the sacramental responsibilities, we can't always take away pain, enliven joy, or really help everyone no matter how hard we'd like to try.
Well...that's all for this entry. Remember this is only a random thought--not an in depth study. Eventually the comparison breaks down, so don't look too closely. Next time I may compare the clergy to Pink Panther, you never really know.

Monday, March 21, 2011


I got up this morning wondering why it was that I agreed to offer Morning Prayer Rite I at 8am on Mondays... This happened last week as well. However, once I got to the church and another person showed up I got it... It was really pretty great.

Afterward in the few minutes that we had to talk, Josh (the other person who showed up) talked to me about how he was enjoying some of the "whacked-out" liturgies that they had been experimenting with on Sunday afternoons. He said that it gave him some idea of what was needed for worship in a more traditional setting--and he appreciated it.
I have to say that I am continuing to turn a corner about all of this stuff. I mean, I really have strong feelings about knowing our tradition, but I can't help but note that there is a wind of liturgical revolution on the air--if not ecclesiastical revolution. Revolution, y'know, is not a banishing of the old and present for something totally new and different, instead it is a reclaiming of what is right and true about a thing. In this case, I start to think back to the whole Oxford Movement when there was a similar issue of low attendance and lack of interest in the Church (if not open distrust). What the Oxford reformers began to realize was that there was need for a stronger sacramental ministry. There was something profound to be understood in the sacraments, but there was just not enough emphasis on them.
I gotta say that I think we're there again...a new kind of Oxford Movement in which we draw on the depth and power of our sacramental symbol. Only in this revolution we need to also reclaim what these symbols are meant to direct us to--namely the mystery and transcendence of God. But along with this, I would posit that we must also reinforce the fact that these sacraments do not stand in a vacuum, that they not only happen in the community of faith, but also draw into them the community of all creation itself.
Cardinal Fulton Sheen said in his book "The Priest is Not His Own" that at the Eucharist the whole world hangs onto the chasuble as the priest raises the elements which are to become the Body and Blood of Christ. I think he has a point, and I can agree with him to a very close degree. Only, I would go further in saying that when we offer our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving that all of the pain of the world is brought into the midst of the celebration. And that it is in the Great Amen at the end of the Eucharistic prayers that we affirm not only that Christ is present with us in the elements, but that we have also joined together as his Body to share in the pain of the world. If it is through Christ's Body that the world's suffering is transformed, than as his Body, the Church, we continue to be part of that transforming work. I just strongly believe that it is through the sacraments that we are able to reset and invite Christ to make us more like him so that we have the strength and courage to do that which we are to do...

Thanks Josh for a really powerful invitation to discussion.
Second Sunday of Lent 2010
It should be no surprise that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night. Nicodemus after all is an important man—he’s a Pharisee and is known as a leader of the Jewish people. Which placed him right among the group that Jesus often used for theological target practice. So under cover of darkness was probably the best way for a man of political and religious import to meet with a radical.
I can imagine all of the anxiety that Nicodemus must have felt—after all, Jesus was bad news to some, but to others (like Nicodemus) Jesus was a breath of fresh air. It just may not have worked out so well if their respective groups happened to see them talking. But Nicodemus seemed eager to make the connection, and before long the two were in a discussion in which Nicodemus tried a little bait and switch only to have Jesus turn the tables. And if that isn’t enough use of cliché, Jesus even tells Nicodemus that he needs to be born from above—or as some would put it “born again.”
In my previous experience in Protestant Evangelicalism, “born again” had a particular connotation. For one to be accepted by God, one must pray a “sinner’s prayer” and accept Jesus Christ as personal Lord and Savior. What followed was a life of certain expectations and behaviors which made it clear that you were set apart from a world doomed to destruction for all of its rebelliousness.
Of course, outside of this tradition, there is an understandable suspicion about prayer formulas for salvation and prescribed piety as a by-product of being saved.
However for as annoying as all of that can be, I don’t think we can completely ignore some of it—especially when we start talking about the intimacy of relationship with Jesus Christ. Because for many people in that tradition, Jesus is not only held up as the Incarnation of God, but there is a deep love and intimacy to their spiritual lives. At times there is even an almost irreverent familiarity with the divine—but at the same time a trust that when all else collapses, it’s faith that maintains them. And even though there is some guilt involved, the tradition touts biblical literacy and vibrant lives of personal prayer as integral to one’s relationship with God. But above all else, it is supposed to be deep love of God that keeps them going…keeps them praying, keeps them awake for sermons which can go on for hours.
And while I’ve found my spiritual home in the Episcopal Church, when I think about some of these things, I have to ask: where is that for us?
I’m not talking about a stalwart faith—I know that to be part of our tradition. But, where is the intimacy in our experience with God?
In the Episcopal Church, we’re really good at liturgies that call us to see the transcendence of holiness, but what about the imminence that can draw out our love and passion for Jesus Christ?
The truth is that for all of the beauty and transcendence of our liturgies, the language and symbol is often so far removed from our daily lives that it may as well all be written and recited in Koine’ Greek—I mean, we haven’t even really changed the clothing style that much in 1500 years… Not that I don’t absolutely love them and think we should wear more of them, but...that’s not the point. Because the question is really about where we find our passion and love of Christ?
I don’t want to give you the impression that I think our liturgy or our tradition is a stumbling block to intimacy with God. There is real meaning to what we do on Sunday mornings. There is something overly formalized—sure, but there is also something that links us to a rich history and past—it gets us outside of ourselves. This is something that I think we stand to lose by dropping everything and going to sandals and acoustic guitars only for our worship.
But if our liturgy isn’t a fine stained glass window keeping us respectfully distant from God, then how do we reclaim the depth and intimacy we know to be part of our tradition?
When Jesus talks about being born from above, he speaks also of being born of the Spirit. The Spirit, he says has this wind-like quality, which moves wherever it will, and no one really knows from where or how… There is this kind of passionate, mystical quality to it. When Jesus tells Nicodemus that he needs to be reborn of this same Spirit, it doesn’t sound very much like fire insurance—in fact, it sounds like an invitation to an entirely new way of living…
For Nicodemus, there wasn’t exactly a paradigm for what Jesus was talking about. But at the core of what Jesus was explaining, Nicodemus could no doubt see the heart of what all of the prophets had spoken of, and the Law had hoped to point toward.
Namely, Jesus was speaking of a life in which God’s people did not look to Torah only to see how to live—but the Law itself would be written on their hearts, and in simply living, they would know the spirit of the Law.
I totally get why Nicodemus met Jesus at night. Because what Jesus was talking about seemed radical. Honestly it wasn’t really all that radical. We only have to look at the Old Testament to see a king dancing before the Ark of the Covenant and Prophets coming down the mountain in an almost Pentecostal frenzy.
Nicodemus got it… The only trouble was that believing in a life and relationship with God that was as personal and passionate as some of our inter-personal relationships sounded absurd. What thinking believer could ever buy into such a thing, after all?
The thing is I don’t believe that it’s a matter of buying into something. It’s about being born again.
Now I don’t mean born again in the way of altar calls or saying prescribed prayers—instead I think it is as simple as asking God for this rebirth that Jesus is talking about.
An inspiration which could not only reawaken our sense of awe and mystery in our worship, but (more importantly) it would draw out in us the deep quiet faith already present within us. It may even inspire us to look more closely at where God may be calling us in our individual lives—what vocations. Maybe it could inspire us to share our stories of faith—or even express the faith that is in us through creative outlets… And perhaps we could even inspire others to a life of such deepened faith.
I can’t say what I think the life of passionately spiritual, Jesus loving Episcopalians would look like. But I know that we are a group ready to act, and ready to serve. I am also confident that being bold enough to love Jesus Christ more deeply, and passionately could only serve to enliven our already deep faith.
Perhaps in our zeal, the world could get a glimpse of another brand of Christianity other than the negative kind which perpetuates a false stereotype. Who knows, maybe we won’t freeze-up in discussions about Jesus anymore, either…
But in all seriousness, what could a life reborn by the spirit, and inspired by a passionate and intimate love of Christ offer to a world which is a bit cynical about faith and Church already? Perhaps it’s only a matter of intrepid believers like ourselves being bold enough to find out.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Ash Wednesday and Beyond

So I haven't really used this as a "blog" in the truest sense--certainly not in the recent past. However, I thought that this might be something I take a little more seriously throughout Lent.
Well, here we are into a holy Lent. Yesterday was a long day which started at 5:30am with a cup of coffee from Phoenix Coffee and a 7am service. The whole thing ended then with a 7pm service and Muay Thai. All good actually.
One of the best parts of the day however was when I got to impose ashes on the group of youth at one of the parishes I work in. The have been working on a production of "Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat" and so did not make it to any of the normally scheduled services. This has become a tradition on Ash Wednesdays.
Anyway, one of the coolest things about it was that we each imposed ashes on one another... I know that doesn't sound profound in any way, but I gotta say that for kids who seem to neither really get nor really be interested in the power of sacrament--when they get to participate in a new way, they get it.
I remember the first time I imposed ashes on someone. It was quite profound to pronounce another person's mortality and then mark them in the same place on the forehead that we mark people with the chrism at Baptism and even where we mark them for blessing.
Anyway, I'm sure none of this is that interesting, but what it has symbolized for me is this idea of renewing liturgy. I'm not talking about using EOW or some other supplemental material necessarily--in fact, I would say that I'm not really one for "experimental liturgy" as such. I do think, however, there could be ways in which we can re-introduce certain aspects of our worship which open the consciousness both mentally and spiritually speaking. It's not enough that we continue to talk about keeping on until people catch-up and get it. The fact is, they thought they got it before and they didn't care. So now it is our job as the Church to renew the symbols of our faith--break open the sacramentals and begin talking about the mystery of God...even how we participate in those mysteries.
In all honesty I'm well known for being pretty spiky not only in hair but also liturgy. But the fact is that I became such because there were people in my life who helped me to learn about liturgy in a deeper way. How do we do that now without defaulting to sandals, acoustic guitars and "worship choruses"? I truly believe that our ancient Church traditions are big enough and profound enough to answer the question, we just can't allow the misconceptions and assumptions of baby-boomers to dominate the forum. (P.S. No offense to baby-boomers).