Preaching it!

A Message of Love

   As you go through this transformation of becoming a Deacon you find yourself doing things you never imagined you could do--like preaching a sermon. 
   As much as I'd like to say "Boy, am I skilled at this!", the fact is the process you learn at the School for Deacons ( is equal parts of research and prayer. Each time I start working on a homily I suffer doubts of having anything to say, but somewhere along the process the message comes.
   I preached the following at the Episcopal Church of St. John the Baptist Church in Lodi, CA on Sunday, October 29th, 2017:

Leviticus 19: 1-2, 15-18
1 Thessalonians 2: 1-8
Matthew 22: 34-46

      In 3rd Grade my teacher, a nun in full black habit, started preparing us for our First Confession. Now what an 8 year old would have to confess is still beyond my comprehension! She handed out a list of sins, and explained that if you die with certain ones staining your soul you go straight to the bad place, but with others you stand in the hot waiting room until the spin cycle is done (OK, that last part is my interpretation!). It sounded like you were doing your laundry before you went on a long trip!
   Now, handing out this list of sins is like banning a book: If you want to increase your book sales, try having someone ban it! The 8-year old me was sitting there trying to figure out what fun there might be in the lesser offenses, when a thought occurred to me:
   “Sister! If I’m on my way to Confession and get hit by a bus, is it good enough that I was on my way there?” “No, you would still have sins staining your soul” she answered.
   I raised my hand again “Sister! If the bus hits me after going to Confession, then would I be OK?” “Oh yes,” she replied, “your soul would be all white!”
   I should have stopped there, but even back then I didn’t know better! “Sister! If God loves us, then why would he let the bus run me over while I was on my way to Confession?”
   That did it! Out of the class I went.

   Little did I know that another Roman Catholic, a priest and scholar no less, had a similar idea long before. Martin Luther had been studying this Jewish revolutionary named Paul of Tarsus, and drafted a list of 95 propositions to be the basis for an academic debate concerning the forgiveness of sins and the selling of indulgences. On October 31, 1517 (500 years ago this Tuesday) Luther mailed his 95 Theses to Albert of Brandenburg, the Archbishop of Mainz, and over the next several weeks posted copies on churches in Wittenberg  as an invitation to scholars for a debate.
   The operator of a new technology called the printing press copied Luther’s 95 Theses and they began circulating like a wild fire all over Europe, sparking what became known as the Protestant Reformation. Luther would go on to develop the idea that we are saved through God’s grace and faith alone, and not by our works or deeds—a radical idea for a Church that believed in centralizing authority!

   The people of 1st Century Judea lived under a Roman controlled theocracy. Local synagogues were dominated by the Pharisees, the Sadducees controlled Temple worship, and the Chief Priest was appointed by the Roman Prefect. In a land where most people couldn’t read, the scribes could read Scripture and record legal documents.
   Over time these religious leaders had replaced the idea of faithfulness to God with scrupulous adherence to the 613 commandments in the Torah. How could illiterate people know which law to follow, or which one they violated, or how to make amends? Of course the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes were happy to help them find right relationship (righteousness) with God.

   Then along comes this Rabbi from Galilee, Jesus, who stirs up the people with this talk of the coming Kingdom of God. Crowds start following him around the countryside, disturbing those in power.
   The scribes and Pharisees hope to trap Jesus in a debate when they ask “Which commandment is the greatest?” Jesus answers them in a way they can’t argue with, and goes on to stymie them by asking them to explain how the expected Messiah could be David’s son when David calls him “Lord”.
   The followers of Jesus who are listening to this exchange are suddenly filled with joy! “’Love God with your whole heart, and love your neighbor as yourself?’ That’s the whole law? Hey! I can live that way without having to memorize 613 commandments of the Torah, or asking the Pharisees!“
   The people burst out laughing in joy, and also at the “dear-in-the-headlight” expression on the faces of the scribes and Pharisees, who become angry and murderous for being embarrassed in public by this upstart Rabbi.

   For some reason I see Jesus trying to contain his smile throughout this whole event. Was he being intentionally funny, or did the scribes and Pharisees walk right into it? I’m not sure, but for me this idea of the fully human Jesus is what I most easily connect with in my faith.
   It is difficult to envision God our Creator who is both within us and without, and not part of this space-time continuum, but somehow involved in it.
   We have the Holy Spirit of God that reaches out into the world to inspire people to do crazy things—like becoming a deacon, or a priest!
   We have an image of Jesus sitting on a thrown waiting to return to Earth to put all things in order, like we have pictured in our beautiful window above us.
   While acknowledging the full divinity of Jesus, I also envision the fully human Jesus—the brother I can relate to—the friend I can cling to.

  This is the Jesus who was fearful in the Garden; who wept at the death of his friend Lazarus; who was angry at a fig tree for having no fruit (Mk 11:12-14); who in a fit of exasperation called one of his closest friends “Satan”! (Mt 16:23)
   This is also the Jesus, though, who enjoyed a good meal with friends and strangers (Mt 11:19); loved to tell good stories with meaning; changed water into wine at a wedding feast because his mother told him to (John 2: 1-12); and yes, he laughed and had a sense of humor, just like all of us. This is the Jesus I can relate to! This is the part of God I can have a conversation with!

   Before I started at the School for Deacons I spent a year in discerning this call. I was really reluctant to follow this path.
   I prayed, “You can’t really mean me, God! This clay pot you formed (Isaiah 64:8) was smashed into pieces early on against the hard, granite wall called reality and I’ve been trying to glue it all back together ever since.”
   God said to me, “I am the glue.”
   I prayed, “But I don’t even know if the pieces are put together right. I must look like a complete mess.”
   God said, “Have you ever heard of Picasso?”
   I said “Yes…”
   God said, “He is one of my favorite artists. You look great to me!”
   I said, “You think everyone is your favorite artist!”
   God said “Yes, that’s right!”
   I prayed again, “But Lord, this clay pot is full of holes and cracks, and if you pour anything into it it’s just going to make a mess all over the place.”
   God said to me, “That’s right, now you’re getting the idea. I’m going to pour my love into your heart. You’re not supposed to keep it contained—you’re supposed to spread it all over the place—let it leak out!”

   You see, once you realize that God loves every one of us, that each of us is the most important person to God, your heart can’t help but to erupt in a joyful shout of praise! I am important to God! Every single one of you—every single human, even the ones out there--are important to God! All of creation is important to God!
   How can we respond to God’s love for us? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
   We are called as followers of Jesus to love every single person we encounter in this life, and find ways to reach out to them. I am answering that call in this path I am walking—in this way I am living—in this commitment I am making.
    How will each of you respond to God’s call?

   Country artist Hillary Scott has a song called “Beautiful Messes” that makes me smile whenever I hear it. It goes:
We ain’t perfect, no
We ain’t even close
We got holes in our hearts
We got scars we don’t show
But all that baggage we keep on dragging around
Ain’t it time we start laying it down?
Lay it down at the foot of the cross
Give it to the one who can carry it all
Even at our worst, to him, we ain’t lost causes
Just beautiful messes.


Not my efforts, but yours, Lord!

   Working full time and going to the School for Deacons is challenging in its own right. Inevitably family and life issues are thrown into the mix and you have days when you wonder if you'll make it to the next Weekend, never mind the end of the semester.
   Depending on where I worked that day, I use the drive time home by listening to one of my favorite podcasts, Pray As You Go, a Jesuit Ministries program that uses a combination of music and scripture reading. Taking a bit of your day for prayer and meditation is essential to shifting gears to School and Church modes.
   It was during one of these challenging times that the Spirit helped me with the following homily for Evening Prayer at the School for Deacons on Saturday October 21, 2017:
2 Kings 25: 8-12, 22-26
Psalm 110: 1-5; 116; 117
Matthew 11: 7-15

   Expectations! I’ve come to wonder recently if expectations should be the 8th deadly sin—you know, after pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth. Or could it be it’s some kind of compound substance of the seven?
   People seem to have this expectation that if they’re late for a meeting or appointment, everyone else should get out of their way, and become angry when they don’t!
   You plan a party or dinner for a group of friends or family and expect that everyone will be happy to come, until you start getting the questions about “What’s being served?”, or “Are you inviting this one?” causing you pull your hair out in frustration.
   We elect politicians to represent us and actually expect them to act in our best interests, and—Well, we can all see what happens with that!
   In Jeremiah’s time the people of Judea expected that God would vanquish their opponents. After all, Jerusalem and the Temple had been standing for over 400 years since the time of Solomon! Their mighty God would come forth from the Temple and smite all those heathen out there, right?
   Most of them ignored the warnings of Jeremiah. They had consolidated land, wealth, and power into the hands of the privileged few, ignored the plight of the lower end the of the social and economic spectrum, and had turned the worship of Yahweh into a good luck charm, while forcing Jeremiah and Baruch into hiding for daring to speak God’s truth.
   After the formerly privileged few had been carried off to Babylon, the walls of Jerusalem torn down, and the temple and other buildings had been razed and burned, one of the people who had listened to Jeremiah, Gedaliah, expected that the Jews who remained could now see that Jeremiah had been right. Gedaliah agrees to meet with Ishmael to talk some sense into him. Ishmael promptly assassinates him, and then in terror runs off to Egypt, with the hapless Jeremiah in tow—Jeremiah, the prophet who spoke of the emptiness of expectations and instead preached the unwelcomed truth of God!
   By Jesus’ time the Jews had come to build their own expectation of what the Messiah will be. Even John the Baptist, the one who said “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near,” (Mt 3:2) has been caught up in this expectation of an earthly, militaristic Messiah who will free them from Roman oppression. John sends messengers from his prison cell asking “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”
   Rather than answer directly, Jesus sends them back with the admonition to tell John what they have seen and heard: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good new brought to them”. There is nothing earthly, or political, in this pronouncement!
   Jesus asks the crowd who is with him “What did you go out to the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?” At that time, King Herod’s emblem on coins was a Galilean reed waving in the wind. Can you imagine our President going out to live in the wilderness dressed in camel’s hair and a leather belt, eating a diet of locusts and wild honey? Yes, the reaction from Jesus’ crowd would have been the same.
   Jesus goes on to explain that John is the greatest of the prophets, but that even the least of those who believe in this new Kingdom of God are greater than John. The poor and outcasts are greater than all of Israel’s prophets?? What joy must have filled their hearts to hear this! What a complete re-write of expectations!!
   Rather than a Messiah that will conquer the Romans and restore power to the Jewish people, Jesus talks of the violence done against the Kingdom of God by people who demand that God should be subject to their wishes, and not that they be subject to God’s way of living. In the hearts of these people Jesus plants new hope, and new life, but also a new expectation of persecution and rejection.
   I ask myself “What are our misguided expectations of God today?” What quickly comes to mind is the end times pronouncements supposedly based on the Book of Revelation: that any day now the faithful will be Parousia’d up into the sky and God will smite all those disbelievers and abominations that are out there—all those people that have been declared cast-out, un-clean, not-Christian!
   We wander through a society that teaches greed is good, that the purpose of life is to collect more toys. That those who have money are blessed by God, and those who have nothing are cursed and meant to be that way—that there’s no reason to clean up the mess we’ve made on this Earth since God is going to take all of the ”saved” Christians up into the sky. Does any of this sound like the Kingdom of God preached by Jesus?

   In our course on Christian Ethics we read a reflection, out of The Green Bible, by Bishop N. T. Wright, a prominent Bible scholar. Contrary to end-time signs of “The End is near!” or “Heaven or Hell: It’s your choice!” Wright’s reflection is entitled “Jesus is coming—Plant a tree!”
   Wright points out that Paul writes in Romans Chapter 8 “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God,…” (8:19) and also writes “We know that the whole creation had been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption…” (8:23-24)
   Does this sound like a creation that is going to be utterly destroyed? Would creation be waiting “with eager longing” to be wiped out? This sounds more like creation is yearning to be restored to new life! Just as we hope to be saved through the gift of grace by God, creation, too, hopes to be restored by the coming of God’s Kingdom.
   God’s Kingdom is already leaking into the world through the hearts of her followers. The people of the Jesus movement are called to be the advocates for God’s justice and restorers of God’s creation.
   As future deacons we are called to expose the emptiness of expectations of greed and destruction, and call people to a vision of new hope in the restoration of God’s creation and a new age of humanity as the beloved caretakers of God’s Creation.
   In spite of our brokenness God calls us as heralds for his Kingdom, prophets of his Truth, and caretakers of all of his creation. Like all of God’s people before us we may face rejection and violence, and yet we give thanks for all that God has done for us.
   In this journey to become deacons the words of Psalm 116 speak directly to us:
“How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the Name of the Lord.
I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.”

Continuing the Way

Transformation through School--and prayer!

   Having just finished the 2nd Weekend of my 3rd year at the School for Deacons I have that strange feeling that I just started this process a few months ago, and at the same time forever and a day ago. The School for Deacons ( does more than educate the future deacon--it is a formative process that results in the building of a unique community of people.
   When I started the process of discernment I had so many self-doubts. How would I get the work done? How would I have the time? How could I ever be "good enough" to be a Deacon? I've come to realize that I have been transformed by this process at School and in my Diocese. 
   Preach a homily? Me??? Yet now I find myself doing just that, thanks to a combination of training, praying, and inspiration from the Spirit.
   Here is my latest homily given at the School for Deacons on September 10th, 2017:

Proper 18, Year A
Exodus 12: 1-14
Psalm 149
Romans 13: 8-14
Matthew 18: 15-20

   The Book of Exodus begins, “Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph” (Ex. 1: 8). This brief passage, almost a footnote, speaks volumes to us this morning. Even though it doesn’t appear in today’s reading, it is the event that leads to the confrontation between Pharaoh and Moses—between secular ruler and Heavenly Ruler.
   Joseph, his family, and the Israelites were welcomed into Egypt centuries earlier when Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream and predicted seven years of bounty and then seven years of famine. Joseph is appointed Pharaoh’s steward, and his project to store grain and food is such an overwhelming success that the people of Egypt continue to prosper under Pharaoh’s leadership while selling surplus grain to the kingdoms around them.
   From a strategic standpoint Joseph’s plan to survive seven years of famine didn’t just maintain the status quo in Egypt. Seven years of a famine would have drained the resources of every kingdom surrounding Egypt. To feed their people, kingdoms would have sent money and goods to Egypt in exchange for food for their people. One year of this would be hard enough—seven years would have cleaned out the treasury of any kingdom. By the end of the famine, kingdoms who hadn’t already pledged loyalty to Pharaoh would have quickly folded in the face of any Egyptian offensive.
   By welcoming these strange people of Joseph’s, and apportioning land in his kingdom for them, Joseph’s Pharaoh made a brilliant strategic move that magnified the strength of the Egyptian empire for generations to come.

   So what happened? How did these people who gave Egypt a competitive edge over its neighbors end up as slaves 430 years later (Ex. 12: 40)? In my Union career I noticed that you could negotiate the best contract for a group of people that included raises, job security, better medical benefits, and improved pensions, and a week or so later be asked by the members “So, what have you done for me today??!!” Gratitude seems to last as long as short term memory!
   These people of Joseph’s not only looked different than Egyptians—they acted differently, too. They worshiped a different God—“Heck, they don’t even know his name! They mutilate themselves as part of some agreement with their God! They smell bad—look at how many of them herd sheep! Just how many sheep does one need?” (I can see them complaining about this as they’re eating a leg of lamb for dinner. Think of who picks our crops in the Central Valley.)

   Eventually Egyptians become envious of these “Joseph people”. “Why should they have all that land? What are they doing for us? “Let’s give Egypt back to the Egyptians!!!” In the meantime successive Pharaohs start discounting the value these people have brought to Egypt as they convince themselves that really it was Pharaoh God-King who made Egypt an Empire. Over time the imposition of laws and edicts reduce the descendants of Israel to slave status.
   We aren’t told how many generations the Israelites lived as slaves for Egypt, but the only ones who knew freedom were Moses and Aaron. By the time of this morning’s reading, the specifications for the Passover remembrance, the Egyptians and Israelites had already witnessed nine miracles of these brothers from Midian.    

   While Moses claimed the mantle of speaking directly with God, Aaron was his spokesperson and performed many of the rubrics himself—almost a pseudo-Deacon! In this Passover event, however, it is God who performs the last act of freedom while Moses and Aaron are left waiting.
   For the Israelites the miracles continued on: God led them with a “pillar of cloud by day” and a “pillar of fire by night” (Ex. 13: 21). The waters of the sea were parted, Pharaoh’s army was destroyed, and manna rained down from heaven. Moses is not gone long up Mount Sinai, however, when the Israelites fall back to making idols. “What have you done for me lately?” comes to mind.

   Keep in mind, though, these people had lived a lifetime in fear while slaves in Egypt:
·        fear of the whip,
·        fear of the overseers,
·        fear for their next meal,
·        fear for their children,
·        fear of being singled out when the safest play was to blend into the herd.
   In other words, Herd Mentality—Mob Rule. When people live with a herd mentality, self-preservation takes precedence over care for others. Individuality becomes the victim of survival.
   “Blend in! Agree with the group! Find a scapegoat! I’m afraid—let’s find an idol!” Fear transforms relationships into an ugly evil of Mob Rule.

   Looking at it through this lens, the remembrance of Passover takes on new meaning. The lamb is divided proportionally based on who is at the table. There is order and equality to this meal of community, quite different from a herd mentality of “take what you can get”.
   The “Law of Moses” becomes a “Guideline for a Loving Community”. The 40 years of “Wandering in the desert” is really a “Journey of Faith” that transforms these slaves into a community of people who trust that God cares for each of them individually, as they also come to recognize the value of each individual: “These are my brothers and sisters because God cares for them, too!”

   Where are we on this Journey of Faith today? This country, that has as its motto “E pluribus unum” (out of many, one), finds its citizens marching around with torches dressed in uniforms of white shirts and brown khakis, or black masks in black clothes, demanding uniformity in belief or race.
   People who have contributed greatly to this country, thanks to their diversity and work ethic, are victimized by people who have been left behind in this age of globalization and free trade, by a culture that worships the gold-plated idol of greed. Love is replaced by fear, and debate is replaced by violence. Is this the way of Jesus?

   By the time of Jesus, the teachings of Moses, meant to bring people together in loving community, had been distorted by an aristocracy that used the “Law of Moses” to keep its people subjugated and oppressed.
·        Don’t rock the boat!
·        People who are different are excluded.
·        Fear is the motivator; uniformity is the requirement.
   Any prophet that comes along to say otherwise is eliminated—John the Baptist, Jesus, Paul—all are executed!
   Paul’s message in today’s reading is “’Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the Law.” This is a dangerous message, because when fear is replaced by Love, miracles happen, and miracles free the oppressed and depose the oppressors.
   Our Gospel reading this morning reflects the importance Jesus places on individuals. There is no demand that everyone must conform to the same standard. People who are different are not excluded or thrown out. In this reading Jesus stresses the importance of individuals in the community. We see here an encouragement to work out our differences—to talk to one another, both alone AND in community.
   We are not expected to be uniform in our beliefs! We are only expected to love each other and be open to each other’s differences.

   It is easy for people to give up on Love and fall back into fear and herd mentality—to forget the heights we have achieved thru “e pluribus unum”. Somehow it was easy for Aaron, our pseudo-Deacon, the man who witnessed the miracles that freed the Israelites, to give in to the herd mentality and fashion the golden idol while his brother conversed with God on Mount Sinai!
   As Servant/Leaders of the God of Love we are called to be prophets for the God of Love to dispel the darkness, expose the fear, and call God’s people to wrap themselves in the Love of God and Love of neighbor.
   I pray that God will give each of us the courage and wisdom to call our brothers and sisters into loving community. Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”


Candidate for Ordination

   After more than a year in discernment, and two years at the School for Deacons (, I reached the next stage of my journey a few weeks ago: Candidate.
   In the Diocese of San Joaquin a person who is Postulant can request consideration to become a Candidate for Ordination. Interviews are conducted by the Standing Committee of the Diocese and the Commission on Ministry. Your original application is reviewed, along with your progress in the course of studies you've been following.
   I have noticed over time that some of my fellow pilgrims in this process become tense and anxious when facing these interviews. For me, though, I felt very relaxed. I have come to trust that I am being led on this path for some reason only known to God, and that wherever I ended up must be where God intended.
   This idea of "Trust in God" allowed me to be free in the discussions I had with the different committees I met with. If they didn't like what I said, well my answer would be "Well, this is who I am, rough edges and all." 
   Was I still looking for the Exit Ramp? A selfish side of me still hoped to go back to an uncommitted faith, but the larger part of this "New" me would be disappointed. I've come to realize that for me there is no "going back"--I have been transformed too much to return to the once-a-week religious practice. My day-to-day life and my spiritual practice have become too intertwined to separate them by days any longer.
   Despite the work I have done at School, or the answers I gave to interview questions, I still believe that I am only continuing on this journey because the Spirit is leading me there. 
   For inspiration and reflection I've been reading "The Celtic Way of Prayer" by Esther De Waal (see Recommended Books). It's a marvelous book touching on the holistic way of prayer in Celtic tradition that recognizes the Spirit of God intertwined in the environment around us. De Waal recounts a prayer titled "The Dear's Cry", that tradition claims is from St. Patrick, and which inspires me since being approved as a Candidate:

Be Christ this day my strong protector:
against poison and burning
against drowning and wounding,
through reward wide and plenty...
Christ beside me, Christ before me,
Christ behind me, Christ within me;
Christ beneath me, Christ above me;
Christ to the right of me, Christ to the left of me;
Christ in my lying, my sitting, my rising;
Christ in heart of all who know me,
Christ on tongue of all who meet me,
Christ in eye of all who see me,
Christ in ear of all who hear me.
For to the Lord belongs salvation,
And to the Lord belongs salvation
And to Christ belongs salvation.
May your salvation, Lord, be with us always.

   Faith is a journey, not a destination. If you stop looking for the path, you will never find your way. Never stop asking yourself "What is God calling me to do?" The answer may surprise you!
   I start my third semester at the School for Deacons this coming Saturday. I still have no idea where I may be going, but I trust that God will lead me there.
   May God's Peace and Love rest on all of you this day!

Postulancy, Perseverence, & Prayer

Postulant and Student

   In your first year of discernment in my Diocese (of San Joaquin) much time was spent on working to achieve the goals of Aspirant and Applicant in hopes of reaching Postulant. Once you're reached the Postulant stage the emphasis shifts to education. 
   It's not that you're no longer "in the process". You continue to participate in your parish and Diocesan events, and you're invited to attend clergy meetings and retreats. This gives you ample opportunity to confirm this "clergy thing" is the path you want to walk, and it also builds your sense of belonging to a new clergy community of support.
   As you enter the education process, though, the process of Steps to Ordination is set on a back burner for the first two years. A new challenge presents itself: Going back to school. 
   It took me several School for Deacons' weekends to develop my routine. During School sessions my horizon focus is reduced to just three weeks at a time. What do I need to get done before the next School Weekend? Which subjects should I tackle first? What am I scheduled for at our next School Weekend worship services?
   Trying to balance this with a full-time job is hard enough, but then throw in all the "regular" problems that life brings you along the way, in addition to the difficult situations you may encounter at work. How long does anyone really go between family conflicts, emergencies, house and car repairs, and on and on... 
   You come to realize, too, that even when you finish School and you enter ministry, is life any less challenging? When you're in ministry, can you tell people "Not today, dear, I already have too many issues going on?" I came to realize that if I want to balance my outer life, I must be balanced in my inner life, too. 
   In the midst of all of this it's easy to fall into a pit of despair and lose your way. The tasks and problems can seem insurmountable, which is why the sense of community we have at School for Deacons is so important. A struggle is bearable when you share it with others. You are required to have a Spiritual Advisor and attend meetings with a Spiritual Formation Group, but you also have your fellow students faculty, and administrators to lean on. 
   Most importantly, though, you come to recognize that you are moving through all of this not only by your own efforts, but by trusting that the Spirit is moving you, too. No one can do this on their own, but only through the help of faith and community. Come to think of it, that's exactly what the early followers of Jesus found in their journey! May the peace that only God can give walk with you!


Postulant in the Ordination Process

   In math, to postulate something is to "suggest or assume the existence, fact, or truth of (something) as a basis for reasoning, discussion, or belief" according to the Google dictionary. To "postulate" doesn't mean something IS true, but it is a suggestion of truth in order to debate, discuss, and test an idea. This is essentially what it means to be a Postulant in the ordination process.
   Once you're approved as a Postulant in the Diocese of San Joaquin you propose a training regimen that must be approved by the Bishop. In our Diocese we have two options: the Diocesan school in Fresno, or the Episcopal School for Deacons in Berkeley, CA (
   I chose the School for Deacons in Berkeley and began courses in the Fall of 2015. All of the courses are designed to prepare the student to become a servant leader in the Episcopal Church, with a particular focus on social ministry. When I first started at the School I was very much a "Doubting Thomas", but after two years I have gained the confidence that I could really do this! (Although I admit it is still a crazy idea!!!)
   The students spend a Saturday and Sunday on campus attending the courses, and then have three weeks to work on assignments at home before the next School Weekend. Students are from the Dioceses of: California, Northern California, El Camino Real, and San Joaquin.
   In my first semester, one of my courses was "Listening and Caring Skills", which had an immediate effect on my personal relationships. Having come from a Union background where you engage in debate with others, your mind is focused on what your answer will be while the other person is speaking. It takes practice (and much role playing) to focus your mind on listening to what the other person is saying without trying to reply, debate, or fix.
   After my third weekend of classes my wife asked me "So, how's the Listening Course going?" I replied "Well, it's called Listening and Caring Skills", to which my oldest daughter piped in "You mean you're going to care, too!?" We all had a great laugh together, and now I truly DO listen!!
   To keep up with the homework for the courses, while working a full-time job with LOTS of travel, I've had to stay disciplined with scheduling. Typically, Monday after a School Weekend is reserved to unwind and set up my homework plan for the next 18 days. I spend 2 to 3 hours each night after supper reading and writing, and longer on Saturdays. Sundays I (try to) reserve for worship, family, and rest. 
   If I was doing all this by myself, I doubt I would ever make it. The School for Deacons, however, provides a community environment that pulls together the entire student body from all three years. The faculty are inspiring and includes many deacons who have already served in churches and communities. When you start with the idea that you must be a little cracked in the head, it certainly helps to be with like-minded individuals working towards the same goals!
   Do I have doubts? Sure! Do I become tired and fatigued? Yes, absolutely, but just as I seem to be running out of gas, another School Weekend starts and I am refreshed when I see my brother and sister students, and the smiles that come with camaraderie.   
   Patience, persistence, and prayer helps each one of us continue on this path, but it is community, and the Spirit, that refreshes the soul. 


Applicant to Ordination Process

One spends almost a year as an Aspirant testing the strength of your call, meeting with a Parish Discernment Committee while participating more in your Church's Sunday service. During this time you start working on an extensive Application for Ordination. This is not an application to BE ordained, but an application to your Diocese to begin the ordination process.
   The Application process for me was extremely challenging. Having to "air out" your life and beliefs to several groups of people you are not necessarily close with is difficult for anyone like myself who had lived my inner, personal life closed off to the world.
   How did I overcome the inclination to keep up barriers to protect myself from others? Quite honestly, it took a LOT of prayer and discussions with God. That idea of "being called" ground right up against the inclination to protect myself from hurt and criticism. I lost count of the number of times I thought about quitting the process out of fear of hurt, fear of humiliation, or fear of rejection.
   After months of reflection, meditation, and prayer I finally reached the decision that I would just "let it all hang out". I would just open up to "This is who I am", and let the various committees and professionals involved in the process determine if I would be suitable to follow this path. In some ways I had high hopes that I would be deemed unsuitable, and therefore released from this crazy idea, happy to return to my pew on Sunday and just soak up the weekly spirituality. So far, three years into this process I have not been shown the lane to the exit ramp.
   The Application to begin the Ordination process includes credit checks, criminal background checks, medical evaluations, psychological evaluations, education transcripts, work history, reading history, club memberships, and a recommendation from your parish and parish priest. From an individual's standpoint this can seem very prying, but the Church has an obligation to its parishioners, and the community, to fully examine anyone who wishes to take up ordained ministry. A Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, after all, is a direct representative of the Church.
     After numerous forms, interviews, and committee meetings a successful Applicant will be approved as a Postulant, formally received into the Ordination process. For most Dioceses in the Episcopal Church attaining Postulant status is required before being allowed to pursue an educational program to become a Deacon.
   For me, the time from Aspirant to Postulant took almost a year, but the time I spent early on in wrestling with this call and being open and listening to God built a foundation that has served me well in the years since.
   Trusting that God is leading you and walking with you through this process is critical to your formation as a future servant leader in the Church. I'm not sure of how this process will end for me, but I am sure that I have grown in my relationship with the Creator of all. At the core of my inner self, THIS is the greatest treasure to possess!

1st Step to Ordination: Aspirant


   Aspirant almost sounds like a medical cure, or a physical ailment, but this means nothing more than announcing your interest in aspiring to ordained ministry. 
   When I look back on this stage of my journey I can say that I was definitely afflicted. On one hand part of me was starting to recognize that I was being called. At least three people came up to me over several years asking me if I was "in ministry", and I would tell them "No, I'm just a lector." When I read "Listening Hearts" my recognition of a call suddenly started blasting me like a lighthouse at night.
   Being called to ministry just didn't make sense to my logical mind. Why would God want me? I'm not a scholar or a theologian--I spent many years working in a factory! I didn't consider myself to be particularly "holy", although I have deep beliefs in a God who wants to be as close as a parent, and not as an angry judge.
   I also was concerned with "What will my friends and family think?" This is a crazy idea, after all! Will I suddenly be shunned or isolated? Do I really want to take that chance? What if I start this process and fail to reach the end? I found many reasons NOT to do this.
   I only had one reason to follow this path: What if God was really calling me? Could I continue on with my faith practice knowing I was ignoring the summons?
   If you are wrestling with this as I was, I can offer you this advice: Take a chance! There are times in life when it is worthwhile standing up and sailing against the wind. For me, the suspicion that God needed my service reminded me of the poem by William F. O'Brien:

Some say risk nothing, try only for the sure thing,
Others say nothing gambled nothing gained,
Go all out for your dream.
Life can be lived either way, but for me,
I'd rather try and fail, than never try at all, you see.

Some say "Don't ever fall in love,
Play the game of life wide open,
Burn your candle at both ends."
But I say "No! It's better to have loved and lost,
Than never to have loved at all, my friend."

When many moons have gone by,
And you are alone with your dreams of yesteryear,
All your memories will bring you cheer.
You'll be satisfied, succeed or fail, win or lose,
Knowing the right path you did choose. 

   As an Aspirant you are asked to come up with an idea for a project and then implement it--nothing large, just something simple that gives you the experience of working with the parish members. It's a great idea to participate in the many lay ministries such as acolyte (altar server), lector, Eucharist Minister, choir, Altar Guild, and whatever else gets you involved in parish life.
   You are also asked to start work with a Spiritual Director: someone who can offer you advice and direction on deepening your spiritual practice and belief. I have gained new insights and deeply cherish the two Directors I've worked with over the last 3+ years.
   As you work on discerning your call in this Aspirant phase you begin to prepare an application to the Diocese to be formally entered into the process for ordination. Don't worry about changing your mind! There are numerous opportunities to turn away if you feel this isn't for you.
   If, in the end, you are left with a deeper meaning of your faith, then what loss have you suffered? Much of this process is learning to trust in God. Years later, I am still learning that!!

Do you have a call?

How does one discern a call?

   One of the toughest challenges for me in following this path has been the inner conflict and turmoil in first recognizing I was being called to ministry, and then being willing to answer that call. How does one separate a passing fancy from a real call? 
   In the Episcopal Church there is a process for ordination that a person must work their way through. It is not a gauntlet, although it can seem that way at times! The process is structured to ensure that each person carefully considers the depth of their call and their commitment to following that call through whatever situation they encounter. While each Diocese has it's own process, they generally follow similar steps since the requirements are determined by Church law (Canon Law).
   The start of this process in my diocese is a meeting called "Day of Discovery", open to any church member who may be interested in exploring the three ordained ministries of the Church: Bishop, Priest, and Deacon. Participants are led through an explanation of these ministries and study each order's ordination vows.
   The "Day of Discovery" is NOT in any way a sales campaign to get people to sign up. For me I liked the way it was structured as an informational meeting (with some prayer, of course!) that gives a general overview of how the three orders work together to serve needs of God's people. Some who attended were just interested in understanding the differences in ministries. There was no future commitment involved, so I felt like I could participate without worrying about what others might think or being pressured into something I didn't want. Of the dozen people who attended the meeting that day, only two of us eventually proceeded on!
   At the end of the meeting those who were interested in further pursuing this idea of a "call" were given a booklet of daily reflections and questions. This is not a test that you turn back in, but a guide for your own use to explore over the course of a month the type of ministry that might appeal to you.
   The length of your "Discovery" process is up to you. Personally, I was very reluctant to follow this path. It is easy to be overwhelmed with feelings of unworthiness, and the idea that a person in ordained ministry should somehow be a "saintly" person. How could God be calling a person like myself with a past train-wreck of a life? The idea seemed ludicrous. It took me a long time to realize that God calls the broken because these are the people who already recognize their human frailty and God's infinite love for each of us.
   Doubtful of my call, I found the book "Listening Hearts" by Suzanne G. Farnham and Jospeph P. Gill (see Recommended Books) to be extremely useful in the inner exploration of this call. We tend to see our personal history as a uniform procession from point A to point Z, but this book helps you take the building blocks of your life's story and re-arrange them into a view from God's perspective.
   God sees the world, and people, differently than we see each other. Living in the Kingdom means changing your perspective to see the world through God's eyes. Blessings on your journey!!


A Journey of Faith and Inspiration: 

   Sometimes starting is the most difficult thing, but I have found over time that persevering towards a goal is the most challenging part of life. Taking that next step, and the next one, and the next one--and on and on... Finding the strength and inspiration to keep moving can lead eventually to a new life with unexpected possibilities.
   In April of 2014 I began a journey towards becoming a Deacon in the Episcopal Church. I still admit it--It's a crazy idea!!! Why would anyone in their mid-50's, within sight of retirement and relaxation, take up a journey requiring an extensive commitment of time and money that results in an unpaid position committing their service to others??
   The only answer I have is that I feel I'm being called by God to serve the world around me. It sounds quaint, doesn't it? Yes, it sounds crazy to me, too!
   As I start this blog I am at least a year away from ordination, and about to begin my final year of studies. So FULL DISCLOSURE: I AM NOT YET A DEACON! I can see a future, however, where I may be able to reach out to others through the medium of the web. Hence the early start on this page.
   I also realized that some may be interested in my process of becoming a deacon (or NOT becoming a deacon--whichever the case may be...)--Time, and perseverance, will tell.
   At best, perhaps a few people may be amused or inspired. At the least, perhaps I'll learn something about myself.
   In the end, there are only three things: Faith, Hope, and Love, and the greatest of these is Love.--Paul/Saul of Tarsus.

  Through Many Struggles, Faith By Deacon Greg Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7; Romans 5:12-19 Matthew 4:1-11; Psalm 32      In listening to ...