“That's me in the Spotlight, Losing my Religion ”

Here is another commentary that I wrote for the News and Religion course that I am currently taking.

If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church

Matthew 18:15-17a

That’s all well and good if it is one person doing something clearly wrong against another person, but life is much more complicated and nuanced than this. While the sexual abuse of young boys by Catholic priests is something pretty much everyone would agree is wrong, one can easily argue whether keeping the details out of the press was important to protect the privacy of the victims, and perhaps even of those priests who may have been wrongly accused or have been treated and recovered from illnesses that lead to the abuse.

Underlying all of this are issues of systemic problems within religious institutions. How do we address them in a way that has meaningful impact? Where does the line lie between protecting victims and protecting institutions? How do we know when we are seeking truth and proclaiming it, something that is dear to both religious people and journalists, and when we are acting out of our own desires?

Within religious traditions, there is the practice of discernment; seeking to determine what God wants us to do. Likewise, journalists always struggle with discerning which story to pursue, how to report it, what details to include, and so on.

This week, for the News and Religion course I am in, we spent time reading the Boston Globe series of articles about sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church. We watched the movie, Spotlight about the coverage and are talking about “the media’s role as a watchdog, and … the pitfalls and challenges of performing this function when investigating religion news stories”.

One of the most obvious pitfalls is the pushback that those seeking to expose the truth face. Prophets and journalists who challenge religious institutions can expect to be told

Do not prophesy to us what is right;
speak to us smooth things,
prophesy illusions,
leave the way, turn aside from the path,
let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.

Isaiah 30:10b-11

There will be pushback, from people who love the religious institutions, including religious leaders we respect and perhaps even members of our own families. It will challenge our own faith. As we examine ourselves and our roles in investigating the stories, we will find ways that the issue has affected us or our loved ones. We will need to explore our own motives and our own complicity.

In an article in The Quill, Keeping the Faith, Debra Mason writes about the toll that covering the sex abuse scandal took on William Lobdell. Lobdell has written about this in his book, Losing My Religion: How I Lost My Faith Reporting on Religion in America and Found Unexpected Peace. This is a very big pitfall. Mason goes on to offer “tips for handling faith on the job” and thoughts on how to address “conflicts of interest”.

For the deeply religious, especially for those with strong ecumenical and inter-faith leanings, everything is a matter of faith tied to competing and conflicting interests.

Let us hope that we will not see a topic as deeply disturbing to as many people as the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. More often, we are likely to see more prosaic issues around misappropriation of funds. Yet there are two current topics related to the core of our religious institutions that warrant consideration; systemic racism and the selection of priests.

As our country addresses over 400 years of systemic racism, we need to explore the ways in which our churches have benefited from, and perhaps still benefits today, from systemic racism. On April 17, 1960 Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about it this on Meet the Press saying,

“I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one the shameful tragedies that at eleven o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours if not the most segregated hours in Christian America”.

Fifty-seven years later, it continues to be a shameful tragedy and predominantly white churches today are still struggling with issues about to what extent they should continue to honor confederate leaders in their statutes, stained glass windows, and even in their names.

When and how do we cover, in an impactful way, ongoing systemic racism in our country and in our religious institutions?

Likewise, various religious institutions continue to struggle who should become priests. Should women become priests? Married people? Gays and Lesbians? Only people of a certain age, economic status, or level of physical ability? Only people that those interested in maintaining the status quo find acceptable?

While both of these issues may lack the intrigue and moral turpitude of the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church, they both have the ability to cause deep spiritual traumas to people today.

How do we cover the ways in which religious institutions seek to perpetuate the status quo while harming individuals who work for change, as well as the institutions themselves? How do we manage the conflicts these issues bring up in our own lives?

It takes a willingness to put our faith and our friendships on the line. It takes a willingness to challenge the existing power structures, not only in organized religion, but in government, and even the press. The roles of prophet and journalists are challenging roles and don’t always end with vindication and accolades, like a Pulitzer Prize. It takes great discernment and courage to seek and proclaim the truth in the face of such challenges. It is also essential to the ongoing wellness or religion and our society .

Postulant to an Unknown Tradition

It is a rainy Sunday morning. One of the cats has crawled into my lap and the dog sleeps on the couch next to me. It is supposed to rain hard here today. I check my messages on Facebook and plan my day: church, followed by choir and a meeting, and then home to study. Yet I know I must be gentle with myself today. Five years ago today was hurricane Sandy and the death of my mother.

Yesterday, my youngest daughter had a recital. She wore a necklace from my mother, and my mother would have been very happy. My mother loved to sing and would have heaped praise upon her granddaughter.

Yesterday was also the anniversary of being informed that my application to become a postulant to holy orders in my denomination had been rejected. It was a spiritual trauma on the level of losing a mother and I continue to struggle with it in many ways.

One of these ways is the frequent reminders I get when people referred to me a priest, reverend, or a member of the clergy. Usually, I just let it pass. I am part of the royal priesthood of all believers; a priest forever, echoing the title of a book by Carter Heyward that a friend recommended to me, that is still on my “to be read” list. In this sense, I am a priest in the Jesus Movement, to borrow Episcopal Presiding Bishop Curry’s language, even though a particular branch of the Jesus Movement has rejected my postulancy to ordination.

At the same time, I realize there are people for whom the word priest carries a special meaning. They often put a plus sign at the beginning or end of their name and are very concerned about whether someone wears a stole or a tippet. I don’t what such people to feel that I am misrepresenting myself and when one of them refers to me as a priest, I feel compelled to offer some sort of correction and amplification.

I ran into this today as I looked at my Facebook feed. A friend had added me to a closed ‘clergy support group’. The group is described as “a group of Pastors, Deacons, Priests and Bishops from Independent Catholic, Episcopal, Anglican, Orthodox, and other Christian traditions who are united in intra-faith efforts in order to further the spread of God's love to all people around the world”

Should I remain in this group?

As I try to discern whom God has called me to be a priest, I’ve been spending more time paying attention to Independent Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and other Christian traditions. Perhaps, as a member of the Royal priesthood and a postulant to a yet to be determined tradition, this is where I am supposed to be right now. However, I don’t want people to have the wrong impressions.

Several months ago, I had sent an email to a friend who is an ordained priest in the denomination that rejected me expressing my uncertainty about whether I could remain in that denomination. The next day, I found she had added me to a clergy support network for ordained priests in that denomination. I believe she had done that in error and given the pain and confusion around my process, I quickly left the group.

The dog snores, the cat is meticulously grooming himself. The rain has paused. I will post this to the clergy support group and see what they have for feedback. I will head off to church and remember my mother and all those who grieve on anniversaries of the deaths of their loved ones.

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Reconnecting Spirituality to Daily and Political Life via Lobbying and the News Media

This is a commentary that I wrote for the News and Religion course that I am taking at the Religious Freedom Center at the Newseum.

“May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, oh LORD, our strength and our redeemer.” Psalm 19:14

How would an epigraph like this sound in our pluralistic secular media? Would we wonder about the use of a quote from the Judeo-Christian tradition instead of from some other tradition, or perhaps a humanist perspective? What role does or should spirituality play in the news media of today? How do views about this vary between the general public and reporters?

The report, Most Americans say media coverage of religion too sensationalized explores some of these issues.

The public and reporters also have different perceptions about what makes for good religion coverage. More than two-thirds (69.7%) of the public says that they prefer coverage that emphasizes religious experiences, spirituality, practices, and beliefs. In contrast, more than three fifths (62.9%) of reporters say that the audiences they serve prefer religion coverage that emphasizes religious institutions, activities, events, and personalities.

The problem is that “religious experiences, spirituality, practices, and beliefs” are often very personal and subjective and are often not breaking news. As a friend of mine quips about spiritual practices, “with priests these days, it’s out with the old and in with the ancient.”

Yet underlying the “religious institutions, activities, events, and personalities” that reporters like to write about these days are these “religious experiences, spirituality, practices, and beliefs”. In our modern age of objectivity, we are losing touch with this spirituality.

A few years ago, my daughter, who grew up in a land of McMansions decided to build and move into a tiny house. She did it as an art project. During her gallery talks, she would speak of the goal of reconnecting art to daily life. Our large houses are filled with mass produced merchandise and we too rarely take a moment to see beauty around us. The same could be said about spirituality today.

Spirituality, morality, and the stuff of religion should be informing our daily and political lives. Yet in our efforts to be objective as well as our efforts to be tolerant of other beliefs, we seem to have lost touch with the spiritual and moral in the public sphere.

I have run for state representative multiple times. While we might acknowledge God in an invocation to an event candidates are speaking at, and our biographies should mention the religious institution we belong to, we seem to rarely bring our spirituality into our stump speeches.

In 2016, I reluctantly ran for state representative again. I wanted to focus more of my time on my priestly journey. I tried to bring the two together as much as I could, and watched my audience squirm as I started a stump speech off with the quote from Psalm 19. It seems like many of us want coverage about spiritual issues, we just don’t want to have to grapple with it in our own lives.

Yet there are people that want to bring the religious into the public sphere and the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life report on Lobbying for the Faithful explores more than 200 “organizations engaged in religious lobbying or religion-related advocacy in Washington, D.C…. [that] collectively employ at least 1,000 people in the greater Washington area and spend at least $350 million a year”.

There are also numerous media watchdog organizations seeking to ensure that faith is adequately and accurately covered. There is nothing particularly new or unique about such organizations. In 2003, I was part of the Dean Rapid Response Team. This was a group of volunteers from across the country that worked together to support Gov. Dean in his presidential bid. There was a feeling that the media coverage of Gov. Dean did not adequately represent his views or our thoughts about why he would be a great president. We had a mailing list where we would share links to articles that we felt needed responses and talking points to help our members respond.

More recently, this week I sent an email to the communications committee of a church I attend. Like the volunteers in the Dean campaign many years ago, we are trying to find ways to get information about our church presented in the most positive manner possible. The local newspapers are short staffed and generally don’t write about matters of faith, so we seek to provide editors and reporters with as much usable information as possible. Often, that includes providing material that can be copied and pasted with minimal effort.

Whatever our cause, we are likely to feel that the news media provides inadequate or inaccurate information about it. We will seek ways of using any media we can to correct this.

Underlying all of this is the question of how we help reconnect the spiritual to our personal and public lives, and do it in a way that embraces other faith traditions. To put it another, even today, we continue to struggle like the psalmist to find ways to make our words and thoughts always acceptable.

The Things that are God's

This is the prepared text of the homily I delivered at Chapel on the Green in New Haven, CT, 10/22/2017

Give to the Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. It’s a well-known quote that we can look at a bunch of different ways. It is Jesus giving a clever reply to some people trying to trap him. We like clever replies; especially in this age of Twitter and Facebook, where the snarkier a reply is the more we like them.

Jesus’ reply takes the focus away from the Pharisee’s challenge to his authority, and puts it on the bigger issues: taxes, money, and God. None of us like not having enough money. We don’t like having to give our money to other people, especially when we don’t seem to have enough money for ourselves. And in all of this, we too often forget about God. We need to be thinking about what we should be giving to God.

After all, that picture on our money is of some dead politicians, but we are serving a living God. Look around you. Where do you see the hand of our living God? Where do you see God in this beautiful fall day, in the leaves changing color, in the squirrels running across the green? Do you see God in the faces of those around you? Do you see God in your own reflection? Think about that for a moment. Stop and look around. Where do you see God?

This is the place in the homily where preachers normally go on to explain that ultimately all things come from God and we should be giving back to God some of the wonderful things God has given us. But sometimes – sometimes it just feels like all those wonderful things from God are too few and far between. We might try to think of great things God has given us and even be able to recognize that this beautiful day is a gift from God, but somehow, in our pain and brokenness, it just doesn’t feel like a great gift.

So let me offer another way of thinking about this. If all things come from God, where do you and I come from? That’s right. God. Each one of us is a gift from God. We are a gift from God to ourselves and to the people around us. We are gifts from God just waiting to be seen and recognized. I see you. I recognize you as a beautiful gift from God, even when you might not feel like a beautiful gift from God.

In a little while, we are going to share food, smiles, perhaps even some hugs. We are going to share with one another some of the gifts God has given us. I hope we will also share the recognition that each one of us is a gift from God, a gift from God that Jesus has called us to give to God. I hope that as we go forth from Chapel on the Green, we will remember that we are gifts of God to the people around us and that we can truly be that gift when one of our friends is particularly struggling.

Give to the Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.


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T.S. Eliot wrote that April is the cruelest month. For me, it is probably October.

Forty-one years ago, I was off in college and received a letter from my mother that one of my high school classmates had disappeared. I called home frantic. Over the rest of the month, I received additional letters from home; newspaper clippings of the search for Rocky, followed by the bulletin from her funeral service. They never found the murderer.

Five years ago, on Sunday, Tropical Depression Eighteen formed south of Jamaica. Over the following week it gained strength and made its way up the coast as hurricane Sandy. As I was digging out after the storm, I received a Facebook message from my sister, “Aldon call me immediately”. There had been a car accident. My mother was dead.

This morning, Facebook suggested a memory from a year ago, my blog post, Good Friday Open Heart Surgery. I spoke about the discernment retreat I was about to go on with the Commission on Ministry and my hopes and fears. A week later, my greatest fear happened.

I am still putting together the pieces from each trauma

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