Taking Risks

In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples the familiar parable about a man tho entrusts his possessions to his servants before going on a journey. “To one he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one – each according to his ability.” When the man returns from his journey, he discovers that the servant to whom he gave five talents, has used them in such a manner that he has ten to return to his master. Similarly, the servant to whom he gave two, earned two more. But the third servant, fearful of taking any risks, merely buried the one talent he was given, and had only that to return to his master. The first two are rewarded by their master, while the third is severely chastised.

There are, I think, several lessons in this parable for us. First, we are all given gifts by God. Those gifts differ. And doubtless, by our human standards, some of those gifts seem better than others, and some people seem to be more gifted than others. We need to learn that any such comparisons are beside the point. The point is not that one servant got 5, another 2 and another 1. (“How unfair,” we might mutter.) The gifts I have are the gifts God has given me. I may wish I could sing like my daughter, or write poetry like my friend Frank, or compose music like my friend Gene, but none of those are my gifts. My task is simply to use the gifts I have been given to the best of my ability, and to rejoice when others do the same with the gifts they have been given.

Second, sometimes using our gifts means taking risks, moving out of our comfort zones. Each of the first two servants took a risk in investing the talents they were given. The third was afraid to take any risks and so hid the money to return to his master. We cannot grow, we cannot participate fully in God’s plan without taking some risks, without, as one commentator on this passage suggested, “stepping out in faith and watching to see God move as we trust in him.”

What are your gifts?

And what risks will you take to use them?


How We Deal With the Weather

It has been incredibly hot over the last week or so here in the Twin Cities. Temperatures records have been broken and the number of people visiting the State Fair has been markedly down. (These folks here are pretty serious about their State Fair.)

Many people, including us for the last couple days, have been running air conditioners. That we’ve run ours tells you how hot it has been – I hate air conditioning and we go through most summers running it maybe three or four days all season.

Part of my dislike of air conditioning is the artificial feel of the air. But my bigger concern is the fact that we seem to allow our bodies to tolerate a smaller and smaller range of temperatures. As soon as the temperature dips, we crank the heat up (interestingly to a temperature above what we set our air conditioners at). As soon as it rises, on go the air conditioners (set to a temperature below what we set our heaters to in winter.) All of this uses an enormous amount of energy.

I’ve spent hot season in Thailand and India with no air conditioning. And I’ve spent winters in the foothills of the Himalayas with no heat. And the truth is that, if we allow them to, our bodies can adjust to a wider range of temperature than we allow them to in the United States.

Maybe we ought to think a little more about how much energy we are consuming to avoid subjecting ourselves to a bit of heat or cold. I’m not saying we have to abandon our heaters and air conditioners all together, but perhaps we could use them a bit less than we do.

The Passion of John

Today the Catholic Church celebrates The Passion of St. John the Baptist. Note that although the Gospel reading for today is Mark’s account of Herod putting John to death to satisfy his promise to the daughter of Herodias, the feast focuses not on John’s martyrdom, but on his passion.

We spend a lot of time during Lent praying with Jesus’ passion. With John, I think we tend to limit our focus to either his preaching or his dramatic death. But I think there is value in the invitation of this feast to focus our attention on John’s passion, which can be thought of as his prison experience. What was it like for John between the time he was arrested and the point at which he is beheaded?

John wasn’t sitting in some swanky minimum security prison being served three meals a day and getting exercise. He was likely in a dark and dank cell, perhaps chained, being served unappetizing and perhaps even rotten food.

As he sat, day after day and week after week (we are not told how long John was imprisoned), he must have had questions and doubts. In our only Gospel account of his time in prison, John sends his disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come or should we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2-3) suggesting at least some uncertainty.

I can see John sitting there wondering if his mission had been worth dying for. Wondering if he had been abandoned by God. Wondering if it had all been for naught.

Pope Benedict wrote

The task set before the Baptist as he lay in prison was to become blessed by this unquestioning acceptance of God’s obscure will; to reach the point of asking no further for external, visible, unequivocal clarity, but instead, of discovering God precisely in the darkness of this world and of his own life, and thus becoming profoundly blessed. John even in his prison cell had to respond once again and anew in his own call for metanoia or a change of mentality, in order that he might recognize his God in the night in wich all things earthly exist.

Most of us won’t be imprisoned for our preaching of the Gospel. But we do each suffer dark moments and, thus, face the same challenge “of discovering God precisely in the darkness of this world and of [our] own [lives].”

We don’t know if John succeeded in doing so, but I would guess he did. May we do the same.

He Had A Dream

Today is the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King’s I have a Dream Speech. In that speech, Dr. King, eloquently and powerfully, set forth his dream of justice, equality and freedom arising from a land of slavery and hatred.

The speech is widely hailed as a masterpiece of rhetoric. If you haven’t listened to it, you should.

Blind Guides

In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus continues his criticism of the scribes and Pharisees, who pay tithes but fail to act with judgment, mercy and fidelity, who “strain out the gnat and swallow the camel,” and who “cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.”

It is what he called them that struck me this morning: Blind guides.

The name is a reminder that what we do and what we say is always a signal to another person. Whether we intend it or not, we are, in a sense guides to others, particularly those over whom we exercise some authority or for some other reason are a persuasive force to them.

Are we guides who point the way to Christ? Who by our words and deeds model lives of discipleship?

Or are we, like the scribes and Pharisees, “blind guides,” worrying more about form than about mercy and fidelity, cleaning the outside of the cup rather than what is within? Are we true guides, or do our words and actions lead people astray?

No Winners, No Losers; No Haves, No Have-Nots

Each Sundays during the summer months, there is an outdoor ecumenical prayer service at the Lake Harriet Bandshell. A different Catholic or Protestant parish runs the service each week. This week the service was in the hands of the parishes of Christ the King and St. Thomas Apostle. Last year at the service run by this team, Bill Nolan (Pastoral Associate at St. Thomas Apostle) presided and I gave the homily. This year we reversed roles and I presided, with Bill offering the homily.

I recognize these services are not everyone’s cup of tea. But I enjoy these opportunity to come together with people of different Christian denominations as members of one Body of Christ to worship together.

In today’s Gospel Jesus tells his disciples that “some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Bill’s homily (which moved through both CS Lewis and a wonderful running analogy) talked about the difference between our world of winners and losers, haves and have nots and the kingdom, observing that

The centrality of the Gospel message is not a prediction of a cosmic role reversal, nor a replacement of one hierarchical structure with its polar opposite. Jesus’ message – Jesus’ invitation to all is, I believe, to be builders of a kingdom, where there are no winners and losers, have and have-nots, firsts and lasts.

You can access a recording of Bill’s homily here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast runs for 10:49.

Thanks to Bill…
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And to the choir…
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And to all who joined us for worship this morning…
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Visual Symphony

One of the things I love about living in the Twin Cities is access to so many hiking trails within a short distance from our home. Yesterday, Dave and I spent a couple of hours hiking some trails in the Carver Park Reserve (a mere 15-20 minutes from us). The sun was shining, the trails meandered through woods, lake and marsh areas.

What fascinated me most yesterday were the cattails and marsh grass. Standing slightly above the marsh, I could look over at a broad expanse of the cattails and grass as they moved with the wind. Different areas moved in slightly different directions and at seemingly different paces. Yet somehow it all seemed to work together. I was watching a visual symphony; that is the phrase that came into my head as I stood there and i can’t think of any better way to describe it. To be sure, I love the sound of wind moving through trees and grass. (For me, it is right up there with the sound of running water.) But yesterday it was the visual, not the auditory “sound” that transfixed me. The beautiful whole created by the varied parts.

I tried to capture it on video, but it was impossible. If I stood from where I was watching, the image it too far away for you to see it. If I moved onto the boardwalk that puts the cattails and marsh grass at one’s fingertips, I was too close to capture anything but the grass just in front of me.

But perhaps some experiences are not meant to be captured on video. They are just meant to be enjoyed in the moment. And, of course, you can always take a walk over to the Carver Park Reserve and catch of showing of the Visual Symphony yourself. There, as everywhere, “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

The Search for Our True Self (Note: We Don’t Have to Look Far)

One of the wonderful books I read this summer is Richard Rohr’s latest, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self. Although I’ve already mentioned the book here and here, I have been meaning to say a little more about it and am finally getting around to doing so.

In Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, which I have recommended to many people (and which I talk about here, here and here), Rohr focuses on the ways in which the ego (part of the False Self) gets in the way of our spiritual maturity. In this book, as the title suggests, the focus is on the True Self).

Rohr calls the True Self, in contrast to our small self or ego (the False Self), is our absolute identity. It is, Rohr suggests “an absolute reference point that is both utterly within you and utterly beyond you at the same time.”

Both within and without. At one level is sounds confusing; at another the truth seems self-evident. I alone is not my total reference point; I think Rohr is absolutely right that to think I am feeds the small I egoic self. Nor, however, is truth totally out there somewhere, completely beyond my experience.

Another way of saying that is to know that “God is both utterly beyond me and yet totally within me. In the first appendix to the book, Rohr has an image of two intersecting circles. The larger one is labeled “God/Reality” and the smaller one is labeled “Me.” I am not totally separate from God (dualsm), but I am also not the same as God (pantheism). Rather I am inherently in union with God.

If we can grasp this, then the Trinity, a concept that is usually difficult for us to grasp, becomes much easier to understand. Rohr writes that good trinitarian theology

says that God is more a verb than a noun: God is three “relations”…God is a process rather than a clear name or idea, a communion, Interbeing itself, and never an isolated deity that can be captured by our mind.

God is relationship itself and known in relationship… The doctrine of the Trinity was made in order to defeat the dualistic mind and invite us into nondual, holistic consciousness. It replaced the argumentative principle of two with the dynamic principle of three. It leaves us inside the wonderfully open space of “not one, but not two either.”

Although we don’t have to look ver far to find the True Self, finding it takes some work. Rohr’s book is a wonderful investigation, relying on Scripture, Tradition and inner experience, to help us uncover it.

Reflections on Prayer as Relationship

This week we welcome our incoming first-year law students, who started their orientation week on Monday. Today, I offered a Mid-Day Reflection for them on the subject of Prayer as Relationship.

In my talk, I shared some thought on the four dynamics of relational prayer described by Sr. Maureen Conroy in her book Experiencing God’s Tremendous Love. The four are: looking, sharing, listening and responding. Following the talk, I led the students on a guided meditation aimed at giving them an experience of relational prayer.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. The podcast, which does not include the guided meditation or the subsequent discussion, runs for 22:44.

Everything is Held in Stewardship

As I’ve said before, every day my prayer includes St. Ignatius’ Suscipe: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, All I have and call my own. You have given all to me. To you, Lord, I return it. Everything is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace, that is enough for me.”

This morning as I prayed it, I heard more deeply than ever the truth that EVERYTHING – all I have, all I am, everything – is gift from God. Not mine to do with as I will, but mine only in trust to use for the benefit of all.

We use the term “stewardship” a lot. For many people stewardship is just about how we use the goods of the earth (sustainable farming, etc.). But while that is certainly an important part of it, my stewardship of my self, of what I have, of the gifts I have been given, is at least as (if not more) important.

Earlier this week I sent to those who had participated in our UST vocation retreat this past weekend an excerpt from Thomas Merton’s No Man is an Island. Given my reflections on the Suscipe, it is a fitting quote to share here:

We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others. What do I mean by loving ourselves properly? I mean, first of all, desiring to live, accepting life as a very great gift and a great good, not because of what it gives us, but because of what it enables us to give to others?

Total stewardship over all is easier to understand when we realize our deep interrelationship and interdependence. My use of my gifts can be no “for me” separate from “for others” or “for others” separate from “for me.” It is all “for us.”