Ten things your priest should say

Ten Things You May Hear Your Priest Say on a Regular Basis

1) I believe.

The priest should have a sense of vision and clarity about the mission of the church and their own personal mission. If they are mature, tenacious, and self-reliant, the larger community can adjust and implement the vision. When priests tell people exactly what they think, they equip parishioners to manage their own feelings and responses. What does a priest believe? What kind of vision do they have? Do they have an audacious goal for the church and themselves?

2) Tell me more.

Lots of priests talk. Great priests listen. They are naturally curious about their congregation, its dynamics, its patterns. They are interested in people. They want to learn more about the assets in a congregation.

3) You might not be happy with this.

Priests know that their job isn’t to make people happy. Parishes often don’t want to change, and with a pleasant pastor, they don’t always have to. Conversion is perpetual, and clergy should be prepared to remind people that building a community is tough, if rewarding, work.

4) How can we improve?

The Japanese theory of Kaizen provides a perspective for the daily work that clergy and congregations should do. A priest should always trying to make hospitality, teaching and worship better and more transforming. Parishes that are constantly learning, are able to manage the adventure of change. It requires, however, that the congregation agree that it has much to learn.

5) It doesn’t need to be perfect. It does need to be fun.

Perfectionism is impossible. It also kills people. It actually suppresses vitality. Passion is more important. When improvement is fun, the church feels better and people want to be a part of that team.

6) How can we make this happen?

The main function of a church is not just to be a building, but to do work. A church can be a catalyst for all sorts of interesting events. A priest enables people to do the work and then holds them accountable for doing it.

7) Share the work.

Too often people burn out in churches where people do not share the work with others. We should always ask someone else to help us with the tasks that need to be done. If there aren’t enough people, then perhaps its not worth the effort.

8) Can you help me?

The job of the priest is not to be the substitute Christian on behalf of other people. A priest asks people to help because they can help and he knows they would like to.

9) Let’s Party.

Similar to “let’s rock” or “its time to get busy,” or “let’s celebrate,” the point is that gathering the people and serving is pleasurable. It gets us out of the internet, away from TV, and with other people.

10) I’m proud of you.

People often join churches feeling crushed and passive about their own abilities. But when they are given guidance, freedom and authority, they can succeed in reaching their potential. When they do the work and succeed, a priest – on behalf of the congregation – should praise them for their work. Of course, praise when people don’t deserve it is counter productive. Still, offering such praise and being attentive to the work people do well, is a sure way to build an inspired staff.

11) Thank you.

Gratitude is where it begins, and can not be said enough. Not only priests: everyone should thank each other. A church should make sure it spends resources to thank the volunteers who work hard on a regular basis.

Father Cutie Joins Episcopal Church

Should I be amused or shocked? Personally, I think it’s a great addition to the team.

(CNN) — Father Alberto Cutie, an internationally known Catholic priest who admitted having a romantic affair and breaking his vow of celibacy, is joining the Episcopal Church to be with the woman he loves, he said Thursday.
Father Alberto Cutie will deliver a sermon Sunday at a Florida Episcopal Church.

Father Alberto Cutie will deliver a sermon Sunday at a Florida Episcopal Church.

“I will always love the Catholic Church and all its members,” he said at a news conference. “But I want to start today by going into a new family.

“Here before this community where I have chosen to serve and where I live, I am going to continue to proclaim the word of God and my love for God,” Cutie said.

Read it all


Too often, in Westchester, we live close to the margins. And not just the poor.

There are all kinds of margins. Money is an easy one to identify. It is easy feel that we need more. We spend easily, money dripping through our fingers like water. And many don’t even notice it. But we know if we don’t have financial room, and it is tight and constraining.

Some are more so than others: they are only one hospital bill or one child away from poverty: one accident away from financial disaster, or jobless. Those are difficult margins – we don’t have any room or space.

Another margin is time. Westchester is busy. It’s easy to get caught up in the number of tasks we just have to do. We run from picking up the kids to karate to shopping. And as we get more harried, we seek convenience, and then we seem to have less time.

So how do we find just a little bit of space? To have a little cash – just enough not to worry; to have enough time to let the mind be fallow and restful? To allow for some focusing? Well, there is changing the entire system. But aside from that?

It might mean taking a quick break; going on a much needed retreat; insisting on a 1/2 hour walk without an ipod. It might mean taking a morning to try something creative. But resist scheduling; give yourself time to cook, to read, to do what gives you joy. It is in those spaces we become human.

It might mean examining more clearly how we spend our lives. Note the use of the word “spend” as if our lives are themselves commodities, that our time is equal to money. Money can be, however, simply a measurement rather than an indicator of moral worth. I have found that when I journal and monitor my spending and eating and my time, I can make choices that are more joyful. I realize how much I have already.

It takes building a resistance to conveniences, to rushing, to spending, to restoring a sense of what is lovely and beautiful. It often requires saying “enough” or “no” to another task.

It is alright not to rush, to have space. And the antidote is a healthy amount of gratitude. That’s the reason it is beneficial to give to each other, give to our communities, give to ourselves. Through giving, we find we have more space to move, a greater ability to discern what matters, sloughing off the clutter that drives us crazy. Through collaborating and sharing ourselves, we’ll find it inconvenient, but more rewarding, and a lot less costly.

For if we’re always trying to have more, aren’t we distracted from what we have which has previously given us sustenance and joy?

Pentecost Notes

Pentecost is one of those events that a good preacher is always wondering about. There are lots of opportunities in the readings.

The first reading, for many Christians, prefigures the resurrection. I’m not interested if this is a correct interpretation of the prophet, but it may allow for an interesting shape of what it means to be raised. A few questions come to mind: First, where are the bones from? How did they die? What made them perish? I may discuss how institutions die, stay stable, or thrive.

The passage from acts makes me consider language: how do we learn to understand each other? It reminds me of a book I read on the language of cats and dogs: that they have exact opposite signals when it comes to hunting or being friendly. Yet, some get along. I might discuss the problem of translation – that good translation requires charity. It is enough to understand to get the work done: not to get the sentences perfect. The apostles are given the gift of understanding – not just speaking. Perhaps the holy spirit is not really about being able to speak – but being able to LISTEN. Once we listen then we can practice the words we say.

The gospel. Here are the sentences that hit me: “And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment.” What does the world believe about sin and righteousness and judgment? It believes that people deserve the evil they get.

I admit, I find Jesus cryptic here when he says everything that is the Father’s is His and that it will come to us, or the hearers of the gospel. What is the father’s? What is it that will come to us? A feeling of peace? There is a sense that what comes from the father is the divine affection, a sense of wholeness, of being liberated, of not being afraid. How do we find ourselves in this place?

I might also use this time to preach about the nature of being a baptismal community: what does it mean to us? How does it feel? I might have them remember the last time they felt complete joy. The other day I was thanked and appreciated; I heard an inspiring song; one’s wedding. It might be a completely altering experience, like diving into freezing water. A baptized community encourages people to live their passions and share them with one another. I may extend the “song” metaphor: we’re baptized into God’s song….

Another way to look at language: people build language when they work together: sometimes it is more important not to talk, but to make things happen. As people work together, they create a new language.

God happens, the church happens: it is not just an institution – institutionalization may signal the death of the energy in a parish. The church, perhaps, is a catalyst for people making their lives happen.

Now time to go feed people.

Easter 7 Year B

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26
Psalm 1
1 John 5:9-13
John 17:6-19

I might use the first reading from acts to discuss how the church selects leaders. I’d probably diminish using a lottery system (is this a proof text for gambling?), and look for a metaphor that describes how people get selected by God for leadership. The lottery dimension might open up other metaphors using games that require luck, but I’d probably allude to the Hegelian world-spirit idea. I would also emphasize that sometimes we just get chosen. Might be useful to find modern Matthias stories. I imagine Matthias being on the bench, and then being asked to pinch hit. Does he hit a homerun? Who knows? He’s in the lineup.

The Psalmist says “1:3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.”

Using the idea of leadership, this is one way of describing who leaders are supposed to be. Granted trees do sway; but the continue to grow and bear fruit. What is wicked will not last.

The Letter this week is a useful proof-text for those who believe that only a verbal, intellectual agreement with the proposition that Jesus is the Son of God is the way to eternal life. “5:11-12 And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.” I think that “God gave us eternal life and this life is in his son” is a very important phrase that is worth memorizing. It does encapsulate the Gospel precisely.

It is also a truism. It doesn’t give us wisdom in itself. It feels much more like a chant. The hard work for the preacher is defining what eternal life is, and what it means that eternal life is in the Son. I usually interpret “eternal” as “fullness,” so we are looking for a fullness, a completion of our task. We have a life, and we are asked to do work. God will give us what we need to do the work, if we know his Son. But what did the son offer us? Peace. For those who find the language of “life in his son” opaque, I would begin with the promise of peace and wholeness. Once we know our mission in life and have the space to fulfill that mission, we are promised a life worth living: an “eternal life.” Jesus Christ, by offering his faith that destroyed the embarrassment of a failed God, actually returns the power to us. To have faith in his Son, is to accept the gift that our work matters, and that we can do the work. Jesus did not take the power back into himself. He gave it to us.

The sermon in John continues. As I said last week, it has the feel of a hymn, a chant, a series of words designed to be etched into the hearts of the cult. They are like glue, or stitches, to heal a broken people. They tend to speak for themselves liturgically.

However, I might use this as an opportunity to explore “sanctification.” Is it something that happens when we bless? What happens to us when we are sanctified? Is it like washing our hands? Or are we set aside? How so, when Jesus then sends us back into the world. Sanctification is about setting some boundaries, at the very least, so that we can learn to see and discern more clarity. Sanctification, perhaps, allows us to understand the “truth.”

Now “truth” is pretty complex, so I am dissatisfied with leaving such a thick, powerful word become simply a song for the community. Obviously, as a philosopher, such a word requires some exploration. I’m always tempted to move quickly to Augustine’s sentence “all truth is one” (I believe he said this in his commentary on Genesis, but it might also be in On the Trinity, but I forget), and defend how science has examined truth. But I might explore how wrong platitudes are sometimes, and that truth tends to dismantle the convenient beliefs we have. I might explore how truth in Christ destabilizes other “truths” especially those that revolve around social stability, wealth and violence.

Last week my core metaphor was sky-diving and rock climbing. If I go the sanctification route, I might use metaphors that have to do with containers, clutter, and organization – for sanctification is, in some sense, a description of how we organize the soul.

Obama at Notre Dame

The problem is not abortion: it is capitalism. Although I am pro-choice, it is because I disagree that criminalizing women would actually encourage restraint. I post this as someone who believes, also, that a commercial society is a free society. But the biggest threat to churches is capitalism.

From the conservative commentator Patrick Deneen.

Catholicism is a religion of memory and tradition: at every mass we recall the saints and martyrs, the founders of the Church and its greatest heroes – inculcating as if by second nature a familiarity with past generations and our expectation for ones that follow. As Chesterton wrote, we must inhabit a democracy of “the living, the dead, and the not-yet-born.” A Catholic culture is replete with stories passed down from the past and conveyed to the future – after all, we have all the best storytellers, from Dante and Shakespeare (yes, he was) to Percy and O’Connor – and, of course, Chesterton. All this is to say, the dead and the not-yet-born live among us – they are not forgotten or ignored, but among us as sure as the people who share our lives in neighborhoods and communities. This was precisely the point of Jody’s fine essay on why we need to live near cemeteries. Most of us, however, are in living arrangements where the dead are kept distant and apart from us – just as we separate all of the various aspects of life, disaggregating shopping from work from recreation from home. And even in the home, we are likely to be texting or emailing Facebook “friends” or hanging on the edge of our seats to see who gets kicked off American Idol. Much of the time, we are not even home when we are home.

A Catholic culture would inculcate a certain kind of character: one of respect, self-restraint, responsibility, humility, thrift, moderation, self-sacrifice. Courtship and marriage would be encouraged among the young. Divorce would be well-nigh non-existent. Such a culture would not valorize materialism, but understand that things of this world is not to be wholly embraced. At the heart of our culture would not be – as Jody suggests – opposition to abortion – which is, after all, negative – but rather the things that abortion is not: family, Church, community, memory, tradition, continuity of past, present and future. Culture is affirmation, not simply denial.

Our culture is driven by a different ethic altogether: mobility, markers of material or political success, a fetish for technological innovation and distraction, a media that is almost wholly visual and which portrays no past and no future (Read Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death, especially his chapter “Now, this…”), a valorization of choice in ALL things hourly reinforced by advertising that is ubiquitous and insidious. Our culture is one in which previous generations are forgotten – an acceptable price of progress – and even the relationship of parents to children is either chummy friendliness or marked by the knowing sarcasm and irony of youth toward obsolescence (just watch an hour of the Disney channel for confirmation). The abortion of children is to be expected as a consequence of THIS culture: in a culture in which I define my own future in accordance with will and desire, and in which that which is personally inconvenient to me is as disposable as most everything else I use for my convenience everyday, sex is a consumer product and abortion is the trash. Disenchantment and utility defines my relationship to ALL things, in the end.

Easter 6 Lectionary Thoughts

Lectionary Thoughts Easter 6

Acts 10:44-48
Psalm 98
1 John 5:1-6
John 15:9-17

Acts offers a wonderful opportunity to note that some who speak the gospel aren’t baptized. They may not be Christians, but they have the fire of truth. Consequently, perhaps there are places in the culture that do not engage in “God Talk” that reveal, witness, and represent the faith of Jesus Christ. Such a sermon might lead us to remind people some of the core aspects of our faith: do not fear death; have courage; trust in the dream.

The Psalm is about awe. I would connect the emotive content of praise, which unites the soul, with the sense of awe that we are living creatures. Metaphors that highlight being alive – “flow” – could be useful. Perhaps I would flesh out some nature stories.

There are two places I would explore from the letter from John. The first is the sentence:

”And his commandments are not burdensome, 4for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. 5Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”

I would explore what it means that commandments are not burdensome – compared to what? Don’t commandments require some sort of check on self-control? I might use this as an entryway into the problem of self-control, and why it is a virtue: that self-control is not burdensome. There is a New Yorker article about a famous marshmallow experiment. Perhaps faith is a distraction from that which would kill us. And this distraction allows us to find what saves.

The second part of the letter I would want to examine is “water and blood.” This is fairly opaque and deserves a bit of attention. I have in my mind the phrase “blood, sweat and tears.” Water and blood have some relation to “truth.” Perhaps this illuminates the violence that is at the root of all civiliazation, and how Christ’s death reveals it. The truth, in this case, is that we are motivated by desire, and that we desire what other people desire. Perhaps we are invited to continually reflect upon who’s desire is what roots our own: what Jesus desires? (wholeness, liberation, freedom, love, joy), or the cycle of desire that makes us anxious? Perhaps credit cards measure how out of control our desire is.

I admit, there is a mesmerizing, cultic quality to the Gospel reading. The words “abide” and “my love” and “commandment” make it seem much like a chant almost designed to rescribe our neural pathways. Perhaps in order to love one another we have to be able to listen to the music differently. Music, in this way, becomes the key metaphor. We are called, perhaps, to be in harmony.

I might discuss how “loving one another” is like learning to play games together. Another option: the James Alison route and use the word “like” in place of love. “I am giving you these commands that you might like one another.” I think that the constituitive element of love that is most interesting is actually “liking.” In my own parish, one of the vestrymembers said before I was made rector, “we don’t need someone who loves us. We need someone who likes us.”