Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Woman and The Sacristy

This past weekend, I traveled to the Diocese of the Central Gulf Coast to run a retreat for the women of the Diocese.  The women were extraordinary.  We talked about Mary Magdalene and her role as someone who suffered from demons and who became one of the greatest followers of Jesus.  Some of these women were Daughters of the King and many had served in their churches for years.  There were some incredible stories told.  I want to share one of them with you…

After fifty years of marriage, one woman came home to find that her husband was leaving her for a younger woman.  She was so distraught that she went to bed.  Her sisters convinced her to come to this same Diocesan women’s retreat and she went but immediately got back in bed once she arrived.

One of her sisters scolded her and told her to get up, that God had work for her to do.  So she got up and started wandering around the Camp and Conference Center.  She wandered into an old sacristy which was messy, dirty and covered in cobwebs.  She said to herself, “This room looks like how I feel,” and she began to clean.

As she cleaned that sacristy, God came to her and it became clear that she was to work in her church.  This was her way forward, this was her path through her pain.

This past summer, at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, she was recognized as a Woman of Distinction for all the work that she has done.

What makes us who we are?  It is not only the crises that we must endure, but it is how we choose to respond to them.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Great Divorce: Faith and Mental Health Today

This presentation was made on Saturday September 14, 2015 at the conference on Faith and Mental Health offered by Baptist Medical Center in Jacksonville, Florida…

I want to dedicate this presentation to a young woman. I will call her Kathy.  I knew her years ago, when I was a young minister in my very first parish.  She was very tall and generally scary looking. She wore black always. Combat boots. She looked like the kind of person you didn’t want to cross. She came not just on Sundays but began to drop by my office during the day. It was a small rural church in South Carolina. We would sit together in my office. She would perch on my sofa and wring her hands, unable to speak. She showed me where she had cut herself.
Over the months, Kathy told me what had happened to her mainly by writing it down on small scraps of paper that she would bring in with her.  I got her to see a therapist quickly, but she still wanted to come by and talk to me. And this was her story.
Kathy was raped beginning around the age of four.  Her uncle came to live with the family and he would find many ways to hurt her.  Her mother was working full-time. She was often alone with her uncle. She didn’t know how to explain what was happening, how to put it into words. She thought it was her fault.
So she began washing her hands. Over and over again, many times a day, she would wash her hands until they became chapped and dry and red. And still she would wash them.  Her mother didn’t understand why. It took her mother four years to discover what was really happening.  Four years.
There are many different kinds of vocabularies that we use when describing mental illness.  What Kathy did was suffer trauma as a child that resulted in mental health issues.  Voices inside her head told her she was dirty and unworthy and that she should die.  These voices and feelings originally came from outside her.  They were instilled in her by trauma. They were a normal response to a horrible situation. Kathy was just trying to make sense of a crazy world.  She was just trying to survive.
Kathy grew up into this tough young woman who carried a knife in her pocket, took martial arts and was plagued with anger and misery. We would pray and she worked so hard in therapy.  When I moved away, I was certain she would be OK. But just three weeks ago, I heard from her mother that she had moved away from her support system and all alone in a new city, she had taken her own life.  She was gone.
Like so many of you who have worked with patients or had loved ones who suffered, I feel such sadness and inadequacy when I think of Kathy. I wish I could have helped her more. I wish she had been born into a world that was fair and kind and treated her like the child of God that she was and even still is.  So I dedicate this presentation to her and to all those who suffer from mental health issues. To you, Kathy.  I am so sorry.

And as I look back, I wish that I had talked to Kathy about the value of her therapy.  I wish that I had taught my entire congregation about the value of mental health professionals.  We were on the same team. I simply referred her to a therapist and then did not mention it again.  As a clergy person, I might think of Kathy’s struggle as a struggle against the evil that happened to her as a child, as the spiritual battle with demons of self-hatred that were instilled in her when she was raped.  The therapist would have other words…But why did we not support one another?  Could we have done more for Kathy if we had acknowledged each other? 

This is a presentation about a divorce that happened at the dawn of psychoanalysis.  The divorce that Sigmund Freud initiated when he brilliantly began to articulate a new discipline called psychoanalysis in order to understand and heal the human mind.  It is my firm belief that if we are ever to truly help young women like Kathy or others who suffer from mental illness, we must join the hands of faith, science and medicine in a multidisciplinary approach to mental health. This divorce of the psychological from the spiritual has left us inadequately prepared to hear the sufferings of our fellow human beings. We have tried to dissect the human mind into psychological issues as opposed to spiritual issues.  This has handicapped us in our treatment and in our compassion.  Jesus made no such distinction.  Nor did the great teachers of other faith traditions. It is time for us to admit that this divorce has not done us any good. The segregation of our practices weakens our work and ministry.  It is time for a reconciliation.  Human healing and wholeness can only be achieved when we join hands, when mental health professionals teach in churches and clergy come to the rooms of patients. We need one another.

In 1907, in one of his first books, Obsessive Actions and Religious Practices, Freud argued that religion was a neurosis created in an effort to fend off a fear of death.  He called religion a “universal obsessional neurosis.” (The Freud Reader, p. 435) Those who truly wanted to be mentally healthy must admit that religion was a crutch created out of a need to answer questions which could not rationally be answered. If one was to be taken seriously, in Freud’s opinion, one must say good-bye to any kind of faith in God.
Freud was a genius in many ways. Because he was the pioneer in a new discipline, his voice still echoes today.  All mental health professionals must consider at some point Freud’s thesis that faith is born of neurosis and is just another sign of mental fragility.  For decades, mental health professionals were taught in some circles that matters of faith could only serve to illumine a patient’s mental illness.  Religion was a symptom of dysfunction and not a source of support. This is very much the case in New England, where I am originally from. 
If faith and the spiritual life are in themselves symptoms of deep insecurity, then they can never be part of a treatment plan for mental health. Even if you go to therapy, you must not admit to prayer or any such nonsense, lest that become another symptom of your neurosis. 
At the same time, the religious community has reacted to the rise of the mental health profession with skepticism.  Mental health practices have often been criticized, even as seen in direct competition with faith communities.  If you want to be well, all you need to do is pray.  Jesus said clearly that your faith made you well so if you are struggling with mental health issues, then you must not be praying right. Don’t go to a therapist, simply put your trust in God and God will heal you. And if you do go to a therapist, it means that you are being unfaithful. You are not putting your trust in God.
In addition, Christianity has piled on guilt and even spoken of damnation when addressing the mentally ill.  Talk of sin and demons and evil itself has made those who suffer from mental health issues afraid to admit that they need help.  Look at this cartoon…Mocking the mentally ill…
Without realizing it, the Church has accused children of God of succumbing to temptation, wallowing in sin or simply making bad choices.  The formula of prayer alone as a remedy for mental health has led to shame and in many cases suicide for those who cannot find relief simply by praying. The Church has abandoned them to judgement and loneliness. St Paul taught us that all illness is community illness-that we are the body of Christ, but we have abandoned our brothers and sisters who suffer from mental health issues.  Our fear of that which we do not understand has caused us to shun them, label them and force them into hiding. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, those who struggle from mental health issues find themselves running away from God and hiding for fear of showing their vulnerability in a church that has no words of comfort, nothing to wrap around their shoulders. Instead of embracing the mentally ill, we have treated them like the lepers of our day. We have treated them as if they are weak at best and evil at worst. We in the faith community have much to confess in how we have maligned and treated those who suffer from mental illness.

The mental health professionals and the faith communities have existed too long in separate silos. Both sides of this divorce have limited their resources by insisting that the mentally ill need only one disciple to find health and wellness. We have crippled ourselves in our arrogance.  The shame is on us. All of us.  Has not God given us the mental health profession to help us understand the human mind?  And has not God given us faith communities as sources of support and strength?  We make a grave error when we think that any one of us can do this alone.
Strangely, this divorce between the psychological and the spiritual did not seem to happen as deeply in the field of medicine.  Other than Christian Scientists, most Americans have sought out medical care for over one hundred years. We believe in prayer, but Jews, Christians, Muslims and Hindus will all show up in the ER if they are bleeding.  And many will articulate the belief that God works through the hands of surgeons and doctors and nurses.  In almost every hospital parking lot, there is a space reserved for clergy.  So why is the physical body fixable by doctors and clergy together while the mind must choose between a therapist and priest? Why is it that, in the mental health field, we somehow feel that we are competing for the same territory?

In order to begin the process of reconciliation between faith communities and mental health professionals, we have to begin with the concept of SHAME.  We must destroy the shame that has been associated with mental illness.  In the recent JCCI report entitled Unlocking the Pieces: Community Mental Health in Northeast Florida, JCCI reports that one of the greatest reasons individuals don’t seek treatment is because of the stigma that is still associated with mental health issues. “The stigma of mental illness is both pervasive and firmly entrenched in our society,” they write.  This stigma leads to a lack of hope, despair and alienation. This stigma is very real and present here in Jacksonville.

How do we combat shame? We combat shame with by inviting Adam and Eve to come out of hiding.  We combat shame by showing our own failings, our vulnerability. We combat shame with honesty.  We combat shame with integrity.  We combat shame with courage.  Clergy, we must be willing to talk freely and openly about our own battles with mental health issues and the battles of our loved ones.  We must, without shame or fear, show the world that even those who pray can suffer from mental health issues.  Mental illness is a disease and just like a cancer patient, those who suffer from mental illness deserve our full support.

So let me begin with my own story.
This is a picture of my dad on his 70th birthday. My dad suffered from debilitating clinical depression when I was growing up.  The mental health care of our day was not sufficient.  He would go to bed for months, months. When I started therapy at the end of college, I thought that he had been in bed for three years, but he clarified that it was three months.  That was the longest stretch.  He would lie in bed with tears streaming down his face.  And he would tell much, when I was far too young to hear this, that the only reason he didn’t kill himself was because he believed in God.  And he believed that it was a sin to take his own life.
So I began to pray.  As a very little girl, the first memory that I have of prayer is of trying to write a letter to God in my head.  It was a simple letter.  It read, “Dear God, Thank you for life, love Kate.” I thought that you had to write to God in your head to pray so I would lie in my bed at night, look at the birch tree outside my window and say that prayer.
And I became a priest. Freud would have a field day.  It was God who kept my father alive, even if it was purely through the fear of damnation. So I dedicate my life to God.  And even as a child, when I entered the church, it felt safe.  I felt my worry and anxiety melt away.  There was a kind of solidity, of trust-worthiness there.  There were grown-ups who seemed solid and stable and who seemed to love me even when I didn’t show up for months.  I found my home.
My father has tried everything: medical, therapeutic, spiritual. In his effort to find relief, I was exposed to all kinds of methods as a child.  My dad took medications, all kinds of them. He had electroshock therapy, back when it was a bit rougher and caused memory loss. And we prayed.  I still pray for him daily. 

Why would I ever consider that my dad should only pray and not receive treatment for his depression?  Does not God work in all things? Are we not called to be Christ’s hands and feet in the world?  God works through the love and support of a community. God works through the gifts of mental health professionals.  We are all on the same team.

Take a moment.  There is a piece of paper at your table.  Write down someone in your life who has suffered from mental illness.  Let’s take a moment for you each to ponder who in your life has been touched by suffering in this way…
Now, turn to your table.  Share a story.  Model honesty.  This is the only way that we can combat shame.  Have courage.  Talk to one another.

Give me your feedback…You impression of what it is like to talk openly to one another…
Here is JK Rowling on depression…
It is time for a change. This conference marks one step in a movement to rectify our mistakes. It is time for us to learn from one another and to seek strength in the insights of each other.  Our disciplines are not at odds with one another.  We are all on the same team!
We must agree with the fact that mental health is a continuum.  The mind is like a garden.  It must be tilled and cultivated.  There is no such thing as a simply healthy mind.
Jesus often used images from nature when trying to explain our relationship to God and to each other.  One image that he used over and over again was the image of the wheat and the weeds. 
Just yesterday, I was pulling weeds in my overgrown Florida yard. They grow up so fast, especially when conditions are right.  Our minds are full of wheat and weeds.  All you need to do is sit down in silence for ten minutes and you can hear them.  We have thoughts that are life-giving and thoughts that are destructive.  Our job is to identify the wheat from the weeds. And notice that Jesus tells us that only God can rid us of our weeds.  We can’t pull the weeds from our own minds, we cannot strip ourselves of destructive thinking or feelings of despair. But we can identify them and learn to live with them. I don’t have to listen when I tell myself that I am fat or stupid or a bad mother.  I can realize that that though is a weed, planted there sometime when someone said something hurtful to me, and I can just let it be there. Worry, obsession, even addiction…weeds of the mind.  Weeds can choke and even destroy a mind if left unchecked.
Doesn’t the world of therapy agree with this notion that we are to identify the weeds and get to know them?  That we cannot get rid of them? And do we really think that there is a human mind out there that has no weeds?  And would not we call this process of self-realization a holy process?  Is not the Holy Spirit present when one human being truly listens to another?
One thing that I know about weeds is that they tend to look alike.  The same weeds come up again and again and again.  I pull one and another grows in its place.  It is a constant battle.  A healthy mind takes upkeep and analysis.  We can’t just let it go.  Just like the physical body needs exercise, so the mind needs observance, listening and careful cultivation.
The Bible talks clearly about the fact that we all have unclean thoughts and feelings.  Even Jesus himself was tempted.  It is part of what it means to be human, to be tempted.  And we notice that it was Jesus who mastered his temptation before he set out to help anyone else.  For we all know that you cannot truly help others if you don’t know how temptation works in your own mind.
If we could only understand that to be human is to suffer, and to be human is to grapple with mental health issues.  To follow God is a process of continual discernment, constant self-reflection.  Just like we care for the body, so we must care for the mind.
For the person of Jesus’ day, soul, spirit, breath were all one. There was just one word for them. In our effort to understand and dissect the human mind, we have tried to pry apart those things that coexist in a dance of mutuality.  We have tried to dissect and segregate those things which are in fact one. 
It is time for us to understand that we all are approaching a great mystery together and that mystery is the human mind and spirit.  We come at this mystery like blind men feeling an elephant. Faith communities can help in one way.  Mental health professionals in another way. We treat the same mystery from a variety of perspectives, none of us fully understanding that which only God can fully comprehend.
So I dedicate this conference to Kathy.  Let her not have died in vain.  Let us come together in this battle for the human spirit to be free, as God intended for us to be. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Soul Food

My friend Christopher is a priest in San Francisco and a budding poet. He recently sent me a series of poems that he wrote about the Eucharist. They intimidated the heck out of me. It takes me a long time to read poetry and I always feel like I have missed three quarters of its meaning. When I read poetry, it takes me a lot of time. There seem to be so many layers of meaning. Poetry is rich, complex and can be incredibly profound. 

It is important to remember that the Gospel of John is really poetry. It is set up like a magnificent poem. Jesus performs seven miracles or signs and each sign is accompanied by a speech. Scholars call them the signs and the sayings. Jesus is constantly saying I AM and then he uses some incredible imagery. I AM bread, light, the gate, the good shepherd, resurrection and the life, the way the truth and the life and I AM the vine. I AM is the name of God. Yahweh. Which is the same as your very breath...AH, AM...every time you breathe, you say God's name.

Today Jesus says that he is bread. Food. God is food. And today this means very little to us.

Who cares about food? I don't know about you but I spend most of my time trying NOT to eat food. While on vacation, I gained five pounds because who can resist a French chocolate pastry in the morning, especially when it's hot and accompanied by the best coffee ever? We not only have too much food, we need to protect ourselves from the onslaught of dinner parties, fast food and the candy in the line at he grocery store. Food is a battle for me.

But it wasn't a battle in Jesus' time. You must remember that they had no fast food. Everything had to be cooked, dough for bread kneaded, fish caught and cooked. Food was scarce and it was a constant source of worry, when you were going to eat again. Hunger was real, so to say that God was food was to say that God fed you. And this kind of soul food that Jesus came to offer, it feeds the soul.

I am convinced that even though most Americnas are overweight and need to diet, our souls are starving today. Starving.

What is soul food? Today a little body will be baptized and the journey of his soul will begin. He will have this inner life, like a plant, that needs to be nurtured and fed. He will enter into a special kind of relationship with God and his soul will need food. Normal food just goes in and out of the body. Soul food feeds the soul. Things like...art, music, beauty, intimacy, truth...this is the stuff that really keeps us going.

It is often easy to see the state of a human soul when a person is dying. I can see clearly if the soul has been nurtured and fed or if the soul has been ignored and neglected. People who have a soul life have this joy and a willingness to let go and trust, a belief that there is something more than what they can see  or even understand. Soul people are mystical and they can let go.

The movie and book Unbroken are based on the true story of Louis Zamperini, the son of Italian immigrants, who was captured and held for years in a Japanese concentration camp. Zamperini had this inner strength that kept him alive, even while they starved and tortured his body. When he was fighting for survival, there was an image that would flash into his mind when he needed strength. It was the memory of watching his Italian mother bake. As a little boy, he would sit on the stairs and look down into the kitchen. She would fold the eggs into the dough. She would knead it. The smell, the sights, the sounds of her baking, it would stay with him because that bread was not just food for the body, it was her love incarnate. It was soul food. And when his physical body was dying, he was kept alive by the memory of soul food.

Many of you have heard me tell the story of the Russian priest that I met when I was in college and researching the Russian Orthodox Liturgy. At the end of my studies, I gave this priest money to fix up his church. It needed so much work! Icons were aging, the floor was sagging, the roof needed repair. But when I gave him the gift of some money, he told me to come back the next day. 

Father Boris took me to the grounds of an orphanage where he handed out 100 Swiss chocolate bars to the children. That was what he did with my money! It was not practical at all. He didn't fix anything. He bought chocolate! But I realized that he was buying soul food for children who had no concept of joy and of a free gift. He was handing them God's love wrapped in a chocolate bar.

Micah's mom came to this cathedral a few years ago. She took  Basic A and out of that class she and some other women formed what is called the Basic A gals. They meet together and pray. It is the kind of group that I want for each and every one of you, because it feeds the soul. The Basic A gals cooked breakfast for the church this morning to celebrate Micah's baptism. They wanted to feed all of you.

If we really understood what this Eucharist is, if we really understood the meaning of this bread and wine really were, there would be lines out the door every Sunday. But the only way you can taste soul food is by beginning to be fed. If you eat this bread and drink this wine regularly, you will begin to realize that a part of you that has long been neglected is being fed. Something deep down inside. 

Strange, how we can be busy and overstuffed with food but all the while we are lonely and our souls are starving for connection, for meaning. 

What feeds the soul? The beauty of a painting that takes your breath away. A song that moves you to tears. A smile from a child. And this...this bread, this wine.

How can explain it to you? It is poetry itself. That God could be food. 

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Loaves and Fishes

Jesus was accosted by the crowds. Once they realized that he could cure diseases and heal the sick, that was it. They would not leave him alone. He was forever trying to find time alone or time with his disciples. In today's gospel, he climbs a mountain with his disciples but just as they sit down, they see a mob of people struggling up the mountain to be near Jesus. 

Five thousand. Who knew if anyone counted. The point is that there were more than you could count. Too many. Women, children, uncles and aunts- babies and older folks, climbing in the heat of Israel. Hot, sweaty, tired and hungry. You can almost see them coming. All those people. All those needs and desires and wants. So much for time alone.

Jesus sees them coming and he says the words that all of the disciples must have been thinking. Jesus names their fear. He identifies the elephant in the room. 

Where can we buy enough food for these people to eat? How can we provide for them? Do we have enough? What have we got? Is what we have enough?

Philip gives the first response, the honest response. He says that we don't have enough. Six months wages wouldn't buy enough food for all these people, he says.

A lot of us consciously or unconsciously answer Gods question with...there is nothing I can do about it...I can't help the world find peace. I can't do anything about all the children who have suffered, all the people who are hungry, all the teens who have become lost to drugs...what can I do? I don't have enough.

But a few of us answer differently. When faced with life's challenges, we are more like good old Andrew, Peter's brother. Andrew tells Jesus not what they do not have but what they do have. Andrew looks around and assesses the situation. Then he tells the truth. The truth is that the people did not come empty-handed. 

"I saw a small boy who had a little food..."

There is a little boy who has five barley loaves and two fish.  

If you want to see God at work in your life, you must point out what you do have. For God multiplies our gifts. God takes our meager offerings and makes more of them.  God uses what we have to offer, however little it may be. That is how God works. Jesus did not make food out of nothing. He used what little they had and made it enough.

A new Presiding Bishop has been elected in Episcopal Church. His name is Michael Curry. When he was a young boy, his mother fell into a coma because of an aneurysm caused by a childhood head injury. For nearly a year, she remained in that coma. Eventually she was moved from the hospital to a nursing home. But her family did not despair. No, Michael, his brothers and sisters and his father went to her room every day where they just acted like family together. They did their homework and watched TV, they talked and every night before they left, they prayed together with her. Even if there was not enough of her there, they gave thanks and shared her life. When she did die, Michael realized that the time they spent with her had taught him many lessons. God had made their time rich, their love was enough.

It is very easy to feel sorry for yourself in this life. We all have tragedies. We all have ways in which our lives have not gone as we had planned. There are times when we look at our lives and compare them to the lives of others and we feel as if we haven't been given enough. How many times have people come to my office asking me if God is punishing them? Why not longer health? Why can't they have children? Why are they lonely? Often whatever we have been given doesn't seem like enough.

We all have to chose between Philips answer and Andrews answer. When Jesus asks us, "What have you got?" We can either say that we don't have nearly enough and give up, or we can give to God whatever we have and pray that God can make it enough.

What will it be? Have you been given enough in this life? Can you take whatever you have been given and multiply it to feed the world? Michael's family had only a short time with his mother but they used it to love her and each other. And it shaped his life. It made him into the man he would become.

Michael would later write that this time with his mother taught him that life can be hard, but "A life with God can be a life triumphant." 

A life with God can be a life triumphant.

The Church of England sent a missionary priest to Africa many years ago.  The priest served in a rural township, in a church where he soon came to love a little boy who was his most faithful acolyte. The little boy fell ill and because of poverty and politics, the nearest hospital was a long distance away. But the priest went many times to visit this little boy and he told him stories from the Bible, stories about Jesus and Moses and God's love for us.

When the boy got better, the priest was sent to another area, but the two stayed on touch. Many years later the little boy would grow up and become a priest himself. He would never forget the missionary who told him simple stories in a small hospital room. The missionaries name was Trevor Huddleston. The boys name was Desmond Tutu.

A few stories told to a little boy in a poor hospital in Africa. And God multiplied the offering. And it was more than enough.

So maybe you haven't had the most miraculous life. Maybe you have been dealt only half the cards that some others have to play. Maybe you don't have much to offer. But no matter what you have, how will you answer when Jesus says, "What have you got?"

Will you tell God that you just don't have enough to make any difference at all?

Or will you hand over your paltry offering, your five loaves and two fish, knowing that it is not enough but that God can make it more than enough.

God does that you know, multiplies your gifts and feeds the world with them.

And every Sunday, we give God some wafers, a little wine and what does God do? God feeds us with a food so unfathomable that if we ever could catch a glimpse of its value, we would never miss a Sunday again.

What have you got? What ever it is, God will make it more than enough.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Don't Kill John the Baptist

Jessie was four years old when a little bird flew into the glass picture window while she was eating breakfast in her kitchen. The little bird was killed instantly. Jessie was very sad and cried a lot. It was the first time that she had seen anything die. She decided to enlist her dad's help in burying the bird. So together they found a small cardboard box and covered the box with a paper napkin shroud. They processed the bird in its small coffin to the backyard where they dug a hole. When the hole was ready, Jessie carefully placed the box in the ground. Then Jessie's dad suggested that she say a prayer. So this is what she said, 

"Dear God, we have buried this little bird. Now you be good to her or I will kill you. Amen."

When they were walking back, Jessie's dad asked her why she had to threaten God. Jessie said, "Well, I just wanted to be sure that God heard me."

King Herod Agrippa had married his brothers Phillip's wife. I cannot imagine how that must have played out. Talk about a soap opera! Taking your own brother's wife while he was still alive was the worst form of rivalry. It was cruel and selfish. But Herod was King and, like David before him, he wanted what he wanted. And Herodias probably was flattered and happy to be elevated to the status of queen. But deep down, they both knew that they were wrong. And no one dared say a thing, no one.

The King and his wife had a daughter who Herod named after her mother, Herodias. Herodias grew into a beautiful young woman and her dad loved to show off her dancing. Most of the public had either simply forgotten that Herod had taken his brothers wife or they were too scared to say anything, but then John the Baptist came along. John spoke out to say that it was wrong. It was unlawful for a woman to marry one man, then divorce him and marry his brother. And it was unlawful for Herod to take his brothers wife as his own, even if she did so willingly. So John told Herod what he thought. No matter how much time had passed, it was wrong. Herod could not hide. 

Herod threw John in prison but he did not execute John for he realized that John was a man of God, a man worth listening to. Herod knew that he could still learn from John, even if he disagreed with him. Herod would call John to him and listen, with fascination, as John told the truth. I don't think that Herod had ever met anyone like John before. John fascinated and perplexed him. But Herod's wife hated John because he made her look bad and she wanted to think of herself as the perfect queen. 

Herodias was insulted, personally insulted and affronted. She had been openly criticized by John and she did not just disagree, she wanted him dead. Dead. The most deeply insecure people do not just hate those who point out their flaws, they want to kill them. Like Hitler and Stalin after her, this woman wanted John dead for his opinion. And so, when her daughter pleased her husband by dancing at a party, and Herod offered her whatever her little heart desired, Herodias told her daughter to ask for the head of John the Baptist. I cannot imagine the psychological impact that this one event had on this girl. She did what her mother wanted and became a murderer. And we never hear more about her again.

I can only imagine the look on King Herod's face when his own daughter came to him asking for the beheading of a holy man. Herod had a choice between his pride and the life of an innocent man. All his friends were looking at him. He had made a promise. And they were watching as he weighed his options. His reputation or the life of a man of God. Herod chose his reputation. Just like Pontius Pilate, Herod was willing to murder an innocent man rather than look bad. He was willing to kill rather than being shamed or proven wrong. He would rather murder than have admitted to making a mistake. 

When we disagree with one another today, we don't murder one another, at least not in this country, not most of the time, but we do try to get rid of each other. We don't want to be around people who don't think like us. 

All over this country, when you walk into church, it only takes a short while before you can tell if it is a liberal or conservative church. It is not hard to tell. People are worshipping only with those who think like them. After all, how could they find God if they disagreed? It might make them feel uncomfortable. 

But my vision for this church is to be more than a place where people agree. It is a harder vision, a tougher vision. This church is one of very few churches in this nation where people who disagree are still worshipping together. Church has become one of the most segregated places in our country. People tend to worship only with others who think like them and look like them. In essence, if someone disagrees with us, we get rid of them either by leaving ourselves or by forcing them to feel so uncomfortable that they leave. I have watched over the past decade as thousands have left our denomination. And we have let them go, thinking, great, now we can do what we want to do. But whenever we kill off those who disagree, we kill off the very people who can really help us grow.

You see, God works best when we are not sure of ourselves. God works best when we realize that we do NOT have all the answers and that everything we do, we do with the utmost humility and respect for those who disagree with us. God works best when we truly listen.

But the only way that we all will move forward is for us to continue to communicate. Disagreement should not mean that the body of Christ splinters. Disagreement is an opportunity to move more deeply into community. Read the book of Acts. The church is always disagreeing and has always done so. We do that. It is part of our life together.

Imagine if John the Baptist had not died. Imagine what he could have said and done. Imagine what he could have contributed to the people who knew and loved Jesus. Let us not be like the religious extremists who want to simply get rid of all who act differently than they do. 

When I was at General convention, people wore name tags. The name tags would tell not only your name but what diocese you were from. And people then took to putting buttons on their name tags to identify the causes that they believed in. Rainbow buttons, Anglican Covenant buttons, on and on they went on everything from liturgy to the environment. You could see a persons politics just by looking at the array of buttons. But I began to realize that we were no longer looking at each other in the eyes. All we were seeing is the cause, not the person.

I remember getting on an elevator and immediately reading the person across from me by his buttons. And I did not even look into his eyes. He had become nothing more to me than a series of political opinions. It was then that I vowed to take off my buttons and look into people's eyes.

When that young man walked into that prayer group in Charleston, he actually stayed and listened for over an hour before he killed those innocent people just because of the color of their skin. And in that hour, he realized that they were nice to him. He started to see them, to listen to them, as people. But he could not stop the hate in his heart and he ended up killing them to prove a point.

Look at each other. Do you see each other? Each of us is a human being. Each one of us is so much more than just one issue, more than our political persuasion, or ethnicity or race or gender or sexual orientation. Look at each other. Stop seeing a cause or a perspective. See the person! Do not stop being in relationship when you disagree. In fact, when we disagree is the moment that we should move closer not further apart. Don't try to get rid of each other and don't flee. This is just when we can become a real community, this is the time when things get rich and deep and we all realize that we know nothing when it comes to understanding God. This is the moment when we can become a great leading community in the Christian world and beyond. We still have disagreement here! That's when we can truly start to listen and be changed by one

 another. That's when Christ's work of reconciliation can truly be done.