f you’re new with us today, welcome to St. Barnabas, and welcome to communion with us as well. This is an Episcopal church with Episcopalians plus in the pews. We are a progressive, liturgical, American church. This is my first Mass as an Episcopal priest–if you count in my c. 20 years as a Roman Catholic priest, it’s about my 6001st Mass. Excuse any mistakes I make, please, like breaking into Latin or Gaelic along the way. It may take awhile for my muscle memory to again kick in as a presider. And thanks to all of you that contributed to these vestments–love these glad rags!

Since you are reading this, you know that this is not exactly the sermon I gave Sunday. Preaching is an oral form, not a written one. I usually work from a long outline, but leave spaces for spontaneous, interactive responses to what response I’m getting. The outline is also all in CAPITALS, so I can see the dang thing. So this is a written reconstruction of something a bit more lively and funnier.

I want to open the scriptures for us, then add some personal thoughts, as I descend from the ranks of an honorable lay person to return to a less reputable occupation. First, we have Isaiah 66, the last chapter of the prophet Jesus quoted often. Isaiah was in a clean lineage from Amos, Jeremiah, to Isaiah, down to Jesus. It’s one of the most lovely, touching, feminine passages in the Jewish scriptures. Isaiah wants us to rejoice, be comforted, the exile is over, we’re BACK! It’s a place and time of plenty, everyone will have enough, the land is flowing, families growing like grass. Distributive justice (all have what they need) trumps retributive justice, which only punishes. The world will turn to Jerusalem again. It’s good news, and sets up what we will hear in the gospel.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians, the second reading, is one of his original 7 letters that scholars date from the 50’s. Chronologically they precede all the gospels, though they come after them in the New Testament. Galatians contains the Great Triple Negation: “In Christ, there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free.” In that one sentence Paul captures the beef Jesus had with the Roman empire and its Jewish collaborators, It is a radical message denouncing exclusivity, patriarchy, and slavery, foundation stones of the Roman occupation of 1st century Israel. None of those are possible, Paul says, because a whole new creation began with Jesus. Christians will not grow weary doing right, let us work for the good of all, send peace and encouragement.

What I take practically from that is we need to encourage our circles, our partners, our children more. One thing I encourage you especially to do is to bless your children. A parent’s blessing, a father’s, a mother’s blessing, is a sacred moment that they’ll remember always, and which they may want to pass down to their children. Tell them you want to bless them, make it a small event, but it’s just between you two. Put one hand on their shoulder, your other hand on their head, and slowly, softly tell them what you want to say. BLESS them with how you see them, have regard for them, love them.

The gospel is from Luke 10, coming after last week’s notice that “Jesus had set his face to Jerusalem.” Now he sends out 70 disciples, like sheep among wolves, armed only with words, attitude and spirit. There is apparently no open carry in the Reign of God that Jesus preached. Take no luggage, he say, travel light, pack zip–it’s like flying Frontier. 70’s a strange number. Jesus starts with calling 4, two sets of brothers on the shore of Galilee, Peter and Andrew, James and John. That evolved into The Twelve, these 70, soon the 500. So does he also call me, you? The 70 return rejoicing, because they found they could do what Jesus did–teach, heal, bond together, dine. And they could do this before Jesus died and what followed–they were capable of imitating Jesus and enacting the Reign of God. Not just admiring Jesus, or studying him, but doing the behaviors, acting as Jesus did–and it worked! Me, I’d prefer to skip the part being able to handle snakes and scorpions, this is not a clerical privilege to which I aspire. But our names are written in heaven, you and me. you are invited to be a bolt from the blue to humankind. The 70 found they could do it, the 12 before them and the 500 after. They could do what Jesus did, the Reign of God came very near through them.

OK, that’s the readings. Now I’d like to sum up what I’ve learned in 20 years as a priest, and for the last 20 years worshipping with you. Sad to be able to do it in a few minutes, but I hope you think it’s worth it. Since Jesus unfortunately had no Go-Pro on his halo, we have no recordings of who Jesus was, what he said and did. But we can reconstruct a lot from modern biblical scholarship, early church documents and archeology.

Jesus was born in 4 B.C., just before the death of the first Herod. He grew up in Nazareth, a peasant town in Galilee, in an observant Jewish home in an observant Jewish homeland. In his 20’s, he was mentored by John the Baptist, baptized by him, and after John’s grizzly execution became the chief messenger of J.B.’s theme, “the Reign of God is at hand.” He taught mostly in peasant villages, avoiding big cities, except for a couple times going to Jerusalem for the holidays. He taught with arresting slogans, aphorisms and inviting parables. He drew a following. He invited listeners and followers to imagine a different reality, a different lives for themselves, a different life together. He was a healer and exorcist in the Jewish tradition. Leper encounters were crucial; the condition was not the disease we know of today, it was more a social casting out like the heartbreak of psoriasis. This doesn’t minimize the shame and brokenness that ensued, and that Jesus healed. It was more a social healing of breached community than a medical miracle. But to touch a leper was to BECOME a leper, and Jesus breached that barrier.

He also broke social boundaries in dining, which were strictly coded and enforced. He dined with outcasts, untouchables, women, all scandalous; precursor experiences of what we will do today with bread and wine as much as the Last Supper was. People found him anointed with God’s spirit. He went up to Jerusalem for Passover, to which he had set his face, probably in 30 A.D. His last week was full of conflict and confrontation. Seen as a threat to religious and secular power, he was arrested, publicly executed by the imperial power in cahoots with religious authorities that ruled his world. His life-long contexts were Judaism, the early Jesus movement and the Roman Empire. This Empire was an ancient domination system that Jesus saw as politically oppressive, ruled by elites, economically exploitative, chronically violent and legitimized by religious claims. My life-long context is American Christianity, as is many of yours.

The Reign of God that Jesus preached countered this domination system with 5 key beliefs/behaviors: 1. everyone should have enough to live, which we know as distributive justice (not just retributive, punishing justice); 2. No one should need to live in fear; 3. free healing, esp. from social ostracization, 4. the common table welcoming all, and 5. live as if the Reign of God is real and doable. Not pie in the sky, not focused only after death, but we need to imitate Jesus now, here, in our family, neighborhood, community and country.

After he was killed, some startled followers experienced Jesus alive: near the tomb, in the garden cemetery, in the upper room, by the seashore, on the Ascension mount, and on the road to Emmaus. He had been cruelly executed, but the tomb was empty. News spread. His followers, timid, scared, closeted, were overcome with a brave Spirit, and spoke openly of the man, his deeds and teachings, his end and lack of end. Paul, a former persecutor of Christians, spread his story (with other women and men) to the corners of the Empire. House churches sprang up, inclusive of and led by women and men, Jews/Greeks/strangers/immigrants, slaves and free. Christianity is a growing threat to the domination system; Paul and Peter probably die in Nero’s persecution at Rome about 66 A.D. The Jewish rebellion against Rome leads to the fall of the Temple in Jerusalem, a watershed event, but the Jewish Zealots continued the war until 163, when Rome destroys Jerusalem and expels all the Jews. The Christian Jews and non-Jewish Christians distanced themselves from this war, and eventually the Emperor Constantine in 321 not only legalized Christianity but made it mandatory, as a way to consolidate power in the new Holy Roman Empire. We’re now flying through centuries. The Empire and the Roman Catholic Church rose together in prominence, survived the Dark Ages, the first millennium’s passing, and eventually was splintered by the Orthodox break and Protestant Reformation, and these churches bear the name Christian to this day. And to this place.

Sometimes I might seem to idolize the early Christian church–not so. It was the seed pod, the time of Jesus and his 12, 70, 500, but those seeds continue to burst into our own time. It may’ve been a Golden Age, but not the only one, and not the one we need now. The Reign of God needs these 70 here, us 500.

I thank you for welcoming and forming me these last 20 years. It’s said that your two most important days in life are, first, the day you are born, and second, the day you figure out WHY. I believe, I hope I, a truly unworthy vessel, am called to preach gospel, live in the Reign of God, and preside over the breaking of the bread. I don’t know if it will “work,” save the world, bring peace and justice to empire. I do believe it is a good, right, just, inclusive and loving way to live, and that living it will make me happy. I want this for myself, my family, our community and yes my country. God has sent us Jesus, who comes to us like a bolt of grace in a summer storm, so we can try to imitate him and live like him. We need to work his ways into our muscle memory. This I pray. Amen.

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Much has been made, and even more written, about the Historical Jesus. What would be good to know is whether the Historical Jesus is the Real Jesus. If you’re irreverently religious like I am, you probably know lots of Jesus-and-church jokes, comprising the oeuvre of the Hysterical Jesus. Jesus did lots of stand up, but the gospel writers didn’t dwell heavily on his humor. Just what does it mean to claim we know something about the Historical Jesus?

The Modern Phase of the Search of the Historical Jesus began with a book by that name written by Albert Schweitzer–yes, THE Albert Schweitzer–in 1906. He wrote it as biblical-historical criticism, the year before he studied for his medical degree. Later he would become a great humanitarian for his healing work in Africa. Caution–studying the historical Jesus may turn you into a Christian who does heroic work. Or not. It depends on whether you decide to imitate Jesus, or just learn about him.

Schweitzer’s book examined the various versions of Jesus at the end of the 19th century. Jesus seemed to change character and charisms according to the personal inclinations of his “biographers.” Schweitzer proposed that we need to attend more to the personal convictions of Jesus–in other words, get back before the layers of interpretation and theology from eons of writer/preachers, and discover again what Jesus actually said and did. So that, he hoped, we would imitate Jesus. Follow him!

In the 20th century a scholarly, skillful parade of thinkers and writers tried to peel back the veil of history and uncover the historical Jesus. For many, that meant trying to discover what the life of a typical Jewish man in first century Palestine was like. That included a social, economic, political, cultural and religious worldview. Once they figured that out, what did Jesus accept of that, and what did he challenge?

Many of these scholars banded together into The Jesus Seminar, a group that tried to find scientific ways to determine what Jesus said and did. They did this by voting on how sure they felt a bible passage was close to the Jesus way of preaching and living. Many folks have challenged, indeed, denied that this process worked. Nonetheless, the Seminar participants came up with their consensus. And then most of them went out and wrote their own books, with their own biases and beliefs, about the historical Jesus. I bet a thousand books were published in the last 40 years on the this topic.

One thing these neo-historians also consciously taught is that our understanding of “history” is nowhere near the same as a self-understanding of time in the 1st century. That’s where the hopefully humorous title of this piece comes from. Our bro Jesus had no Go-Pro attached to his halo. He did not brag about the 10,000 steps from Bethany to Jerusalem on his Fitbutt, uh Fitbit. Today we’re not really sure something has REALLY happened unless it’s captured by SOMEbody on film. What we see is what is real; philosophically, we are an age of phenomenologists. We’ll take some things on authority like, say, the existence of Australia, if we’ve never been there. But most of what might make up our interior, spiritual life, we have to experience for ourselves.

Besides the scriptures themselves, the detectives into the 1st century also used “secular” texts that mentioned Jesus or his early followers. They plumbed Roman historians, sponsored and visited archeological digs that might reveal the social culture of that time, studied the anthropology, empires and wars that shaped the place, and found parallels to what the scriptures claimed. They also found disparities. Not pretending to have read even most of these works, but as an avid, appreciative reader of many, I’ll try to summarize what they say about the aspiring, perspiring, totally Jewish rabbi and apocalyptic prophet named Jesus.

There are two writers I quote and enjoy the most. First, John Dominic Crossan, a brilliant scholar, cogent author and a leader of The Jesus Seminar. He’s written so many books, but the one most relevant is Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. He says there are two significant recurring themes, practices really, in understanding Jesus: free healing, and open eating. No brokers or intermediaries are needed to be healed, and that includes the apostles. And anyone can dine with Jesus, all are welcome at the table of the Reign of God. His is a Kingdom of Nobodies: beggars, women, tax collectors (who collect for the Romans, not Israel), sinners, formerly possessed and blind, the outcast and lepers. If you touch a leper, you ARE a leper. Crossan distinguishes between the historical Jesus and the confessional Christ, “of peasant Jesus gasped now by imperial faith. One ponders that progress from open commensality (dining) with Jesus to episcopal banquet with Constantine, is it unfair to regret a progress that happened so fast and moved so swiftly, that was accepted so readily and criticized so lightly? Is it time now to conduct…some cost accounting with Constantine?”

There are writers that try to embrace both the nuggets of knowledge and piles of scholarly conjecture of the historical Jesus crowd while trying to honor and hold on to what 2000 years of reflection and yes, dogma have produced. James Carroll is my favorite who tries to distinguish but hold close both the historical Jesus and the Real Jesus Christ of faith. He also sees most of the New Testament as war literature, much influenced by an 150 year Jewish-Roman war in which the Jews lost both Jerusalem and the Temple itself. He details a six-fold progression of the consciousness of Jesus (I am rabbi, prophet, and Son of Man) into the coming of Christ experienced by the early church, or Jesus movement (He is Son of God, the Anointed Christ, and God).

Here is Carroll’s summary of what Jesus taught. “Respect for everyone he met. The preference of service over power. The rejection of violence. Israel–its law & worship–as the primal source of meaning. The Holy One’s nearness, the readiness to name the Holy One as God, and the recognition of God as Father. Forgiveness as the response to the inevitability of failure. Suffering understood as part of life. Trust as the other side of anguish. A permanent thankfulness. Communion over loneliness. Death not as an end, but a beginning. At home in the absolute–and absolutely unknown–future. These are the authentic notes of the character of Jesus.” James Carroll, Christ Actually.

The point that stuck with me most from Carroll and Crossan is that it’s not enough just to know a lot about the Historical/Real Jesus; Jesus expects to to follow him, that is, imitate him. Do the stuff he did; thus he continues alive in us. His Spirit lives in and through us. God acts within our own lives, through our offering an open table and an open, healing heart. I’ll close with an imaginary conversation Dominic Crossan has with the historical Jesus. Jesus says, “I’ve read your book, Dominic, and it’s quite good. So now you’re ready to live by my vision and join me in my programs?” “I don’t think I have the courage, Jesus, but I did describe it quite well, didn’t I, and the method was especially good, wasn’t it?” “ “Thank you, Dominic, for not falsifying the message to suit your own incapacity. That at least is something.” “Is it enough, Jesus?” “No, Dominic, it is not.”

It’s funny what a lone typo can do. If Smokey the Bear was fronting this post, you’d know what, or who, not to feed. But I think we’re much more likely these days to feed fears than bears. And that’s a spiritual problem.

It stretches back to 9/11. We rarely add the year to that number–it was 2001. The very start not only of a new decade, a new century, but an entire millennium. A 1000 year stretch, the long view, and we never got to dream. The last millennium humans, after a rough start of dread and plague, dreamed up cathedrals, and built them. The 20th century had its share of carnage and glory, and at the turn of the millennium, after we got past whether the computers would all die and the banks empty, we could start to focus on the possibilities. Travel to Mars and stars, end child hunger, clean the earth and seas, we might even have dreamed of peace. I sense 9/11 put the kabosh on those visions–at least in the mean time.

I had a teacher who drove me crazy. He was from South America, and always referred to us as “you North Americans.” But what he said hit home. He suggests that “you North Americans never give yourselves a chance to be brave. You keep your real fears far off over the horizon, and are tyrannized by petty anxieties.” Then came the challenge: “You must walk up to the boundary of your real fears–and Act!”

So where are we today? I think we’re mired in anxiety and fear, quite out of proportion to what our real dangers are. Mass shootings, terrorist attacks, zombie apocalypse! They all get our lizard brain kicking in, riling us up, forcing us to react and run rather than observe, think and plan. Calm down everybody. God is with us in this. We need to find some antidotes to this soup of anxiety and the rule of fear. May I recommend to us three balms, over bombs? Apply trust, mercy and joy.

“Trust is a quaint idea,” we’re told in James Bond’s “GoldenEye.” It does feel pollyannish, old fashioned, I mean, who do you really trust? You need a password for your password file. We’re conditioned now to be suspicious–of unlighted space, of neighborhoods, even neighbors, unless their pay grade is higher than ours. Even then. Trust is to belief, as hope is to faith. Faith these days always implies content, some credal presumption to check off or dispute. So I look more to hope these days, it’s less judgmental. Hope and trust are less concerned with information. Faith invites a leap, hope is more a progression. Hope wishes on a relationship, and offers hugs. When you trust, you decide to forego suspicion. It’s like being on a flying trapeze. You let go of what you have, for what you don’t yet have, on the word of someone who loves you.

Trust feels peaceful, evolved. It drives back fear. Mercy is another Star Trek shield against anxiety and fear’s dominance. Our brother Pope Francis is making mercy the theme and goal of 2016; he must not know we’re having an election campaign! Mercy has a liquid feel, it flows toward me, divine, compassionate. In the Merchant of Venice: “The quality of mercy is not strained (forced); it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,” and is “twice blest; it blesseth one that gives and one that takes.”

Sometimes I think mercy is a one way street, but it’s not. It defies hierarchy and status, it frees us from having to judge every homeless person on the corner, each possible dumpster trickster, every victim of abuse or neglect. Be merciful, it tamps down fear. I get there are real fears that procede from real dangers. But here’s fear inflation: in 2015, 44 U.S. residents were shot by Muslim terrorists. 52 of us were shot by toddlers. Do we need to brick up those playpens? Wall in the cradle? I’m inviting us, as I think the Reign of God does, to relax back from the frown and grimace, exit survival mode as soon as we can. It confuses and narrows our humanness.

Which brings us to the real positive nuclear option: Joy. Times of joy need to be part of our core memories. That library of tapes you play in your brain, the insults, slights, rejections, condescending crap? Pluck them out, and plug in the joy memes. When were you truly happy? What makes you exult? My new granddaughter, thank you God, what joy she brings. Am I scared for her sometimes? Yes, but I need to hold to the joy while knowing I will do everything to protect her. Joy is a pure gift. It’s ecstatic, serene and divine. My face and heart are warm, and I feel fully human, alive. And it wasn’t the pot or booze, it was being present to the good and love in my life. No knock on the first two, but the good and love led me to the fully human experience of joy. I let it come, I didn’t turn back or question it.

So when the anxiety and fear start to screw with us, practice trust, mercy and joy. Beware feeding the fears. Walk to the boundary of your real fears, then they can’t paralyze you, and we can act bravely. Go to your best places in your mind, that beach, bar, forest, mountain, lake, garden where joy and peace await you. Relax, write, breathe, meet, walk, dance, rest, bathe. Be aware, attuned to nature, drink, dine. Stand arms up, exultant in joy. Then dream our next thousand years. It’s time to get going.

Sometimes New Year resolutions revolutionize our lives–sometimes they are just revolting. Look on this list as a post-holiday shopping bonanza from which to pick and choose–not swallow whole hog. Most of these strike me as short, slow or holy; like the Rockies pitching staff.

  1. Adapt or adopt as you like. Resolved: to pray short. The 45 seconds you’re microwaving your coffee, don’t do anything else, just hold God until the ding. My dad told me he used to pray sitting on the john. Why not? Getting food together for your cat or dog–invite God along.
  2. Pay for a future by investing in a child. Start a savings account for the kid’s education for a trade, to do art, music, college, however they want to use it.
  3. Go to more live stuff: jazz clubs, ball games, small concerts, 100 seat plays, art gallery walks, neighborhood weekend festivals. Put them in your calendar early.
  4. Where’s the best night sky near you? Away from the city lights, turn off all electronic devices, just gaze at the heavens. When’s the next spectacular meteor shower or astronomical event?
  5. Read a poem. Aloud. Reading poetry aloud is allowed. Startle people with a powerful, beautiful 90 second poem that the world needs to hear, then move on. If you’ve written it, all the better, good for you. Practice well ahead of time. Then move on.
  6. Get elemental. Experience fire in the dark, drift through snowfall, face into the wind, let the rain fall on your upturned face. Hang out with a gardener for a couple hours on your knees.
  7. Kiss whenever possible, on the lips if they’ll let you. Relax into a great hug.
  8. Prepare food for your family consciously, holding their faces before you. Forgive.
  9. Throw a great party, just once, the party of a lifetime. Guests arrive to a string quartet of young musicians in the front room. Staged later in timed sequences: mariachi, a lone piper, and a New Orleans jazz band parade through. Enough food and drink, old and new friends. People will remember this one. Your one extravagance this year.
  10. Spend time on gender. What part of you would you identify as feminine, masculine? How did you learn that, and who from? Are you holding back developing or enjoying who you are and what you like because you’re afraid someone will judge you somehow? Who cares, it’s your life, your soul, your joy.
  11. Visit a state you particularly enjoy, or always wanted to visit. For me, I’m off to the light of New Mexico. How about a beach? Ever been to San Antonio, Savannah, New Orleans, Boston? Nederland, Paonia? One place at least in 2016.
  12. Resolved: I will love the poor better, find a way to be with them without pity or condescension. I’ll figure this out if I claim to follow Jesus.
  13. Be a free Uber driver. Give somebody a ride. Maybe they are at a rainy or dark bustop, hitching to town, carrying a heavy load, after services. Just a quick offer, no big deal if they say yes or no, you tried.
  14. Write one letter a month, handwritten, readable, thoughtful, intentional. Buy envelopes and stamps. It goes to a struggling or sick relative, an old friend or teacher, or someone you want to befriend or impress. One side of one page is sufficient.
  15. Take a ride: on a ferris wheel or roller coaster, up to Mt. Evans or Estes Park, to a desert, lake or ocean, a destination, even if its Disneyland, a place of worship, indoor or out, be a pilgrim. Ever been to the San Luis Valley?
  16. Lastly and most important: Amid this American empire, create neighborhood with concrete acts and intentional relationships. Put up tiny front yard libraries, share community gardens, join faith communites or civic groups that do meal deliveries, shelter homeless people and families, remember birthdays and start phone trees for elders. Plant REAL trees. Support good schools, parks, playgrounds and responsive politics.                                                                          To me, this is building the Reign of God on earth in the Year of Mercy 2016. Let us so resolve.

TOP TEN ZEN PLEASURES OF ADVENT

Some Christian communities spend the four weeks before Christmas in the Advent Zone, others do not. I rise to speak in favor of its splendors and pleasures.  The feel of Advent is spiritual, ecumenical, interreligious, even meta-religious. It is the ultimate Holiday Frenzy Disruptor. It’s time to put the Zen back in AdZent. Here’s a Top Ten of what Advent soul practice has to offer.

10. Contrariness. Advent is full-bore counter-cultural, as you’ll see below. It’s not brought to you by the 3 Draft Kings, or anybody; it’s a full on gift of conscious time.

9. Quiet. You are owed a certain amount of quiet, and Advent is full of opportunities. Sit with a book, or just a sentence, even a word or sound. BREATHE, listen to the rhythm of your heartbeat. Take time to read anything by Thich Nhat Hanh, a great peacemaking Buddhist monk, who strums the Advent themes in his many books and columns. Walk alone, paying attention to what you’ve missed on your journey so far. Be grateful for what you see.

8. Enoughness. Advent is time to decide how much is enough for you. Do you have enough money, friends, security?  Do you have too much, too many? Things, pain, fears, gears, shoes, personality tests and types, bothersome burdens? Facebook/Twitter time? Guns? Is it time to start letting go of some of it? Much, most of it?

7. Light and Dark. The Winter Solstice is part of Advent for a reason. Turn off the lights, invite the dark as a friend for a time. Let your eyes adjust. Find a time and place to gaze up at the stars, savor the moon. Take a friend. It’s the night sky!

6. John and Mary. Not the soap opera or reality show characters–the Baptist and the Single Mom. Mary bore him, innocent as any child, then sang for justice for her child and all children. John drew Jesus across the Jordan with his crazy Six Flags Over Jerusalem behavior, washed him in the water, then sent him as a fixer cell back to Galilee to energize and heal their Judaism, threatened by empire Rome. Are we making the American empire a place full of neighbors, as they both wished?

5. Seek and embrace Nature. Be in conscious touch with the world around you, within you. Straw, wood, cold, fire, snow, food, animals, our loves. Find time in your schedule, or even dump your schedule for them.

4. Anticipation. Allow yourself to feel like a kid forced to sleep Christmas Eve. What do you await? Enjoy the coming of that. Your soul life is pregnant with something only you know, only you are invited to. Let it come, help it come. Well-come it.

3. Colors. Really see them, enjoy them. Not just the pounding red and greens, but the blue hues, the subtle rose and soft maroon-like purple. Pay with your attention.

2. Waiting. It’s not passive really, it’s being warmly attentive. Rather than seizing your life, catch it, even if it’s on the run, with soft hands. Embrace it like a granddaughter.

1. Joy! Deserving of an exclamation point. The best gift of Advent. For some of us, the coming of Jesus is the greatest pleasure, the only gift desired. But we all welcome joy. It’s not just a movie. The winter holidays can come as a joy, not burdened with overblown expectation. It’s about expectancy. Joseph Campbell, the myth explorer, says “Find a place inside where there’s joy, and the joy will burn out the pain.” The God seeker Karl Barth: “Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.” And Buddha teaches “We are shaped by our thoughts; we becom what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”

Many of the best things about Advent are so Zen. God doesn’t need Advent. We do. It’s a beautiful season, it’s a lovely time, a bit sentimental–and oh, so human.

I don’t really want to write about this. I’m tired of writing about this, and you’re probably tired of reading about this.

I get so angry, and it really ticks me off. But I said I would preview this new Oscar-buzzworthy movie called “Spotlight”, about The Boston Globe breaking wide open the Catholic priest/pedophile story in 2002. Is it that long ago already? The film really affected me. Unfortunately, it didn’t feel at all dated.

The story focuses on four investigative reporters at The Globe who are part of the “Spotlight” team. They are given more leeway by their publisher and editors than most reporters have today; the financial pressure of the newspaper business has put the industry in survival mode, so letting reporters follow their head for months, even years on a story, is much rarer than it used to be. But the film takes you inside the paper, the story, the leads that are blocked or that lead nowhere. It feels like “All the Cardinal’s Men,” and it occasionally has a dark parking-garage spooky vibe, making some reporters feel, “Do I really want to keep at this?”

But they are appropriately Boston dogged. The film is couched as and names a battle between two enormous, traditional and resource-laden cultural titans: the flagship Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, and the prestigious and feisty big-town Globe. The church counter-punches well, insinuates, misleads, threatens with a velvet glove. Reporters are Catholics themselves, and they get subtle family and ‘hood messages to take it easy, back off. Aren’t there bigger Friday fish to fry, especially after Sept. 11, which happened in the middle of this investigation? Should we undermine such significant institutions in a time of crisis?

Plug away they do, patiently building the story, filling in the gaps. Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton and Rachel McAdams are especially compelling, alternately aggressive and hesitant, bruised from running into stone walls and occasionally stumbling into stained glass light. They find victims, witnesses, expert help, and more victims, but the perps are shadowy and elusive, purposefully moved, hidden, “treated,” unremorseful.

The journalists find, to their surprise, that they have actually been told this story before, but missed its significance. The leader of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a clumsy acronym for some righteously angry and wounded adults) shows the reporters his trove of evidence and admonishes them for how often he’s shown this to reporters before. As the story matures, as two abusers grows to near 90 total, as it grows beyond Boston suburbs into a national and international story, the media, oft-maligned these days, shows restraint, patience, perseverance, even as competitors seem poised to scoop their thunder and pressure mounts inside and out to “put the story in perspective,” meaning, “Back off, Jack, remember who you’re dealing with.”

When the big break comes, it’s a hard-bitten, been-around-the-block lawyer who gets them the documents that seal the deal. But hard work won them the luck to get the story, and it let the director shoot his “roll-the-presses” scene. We last see the lawyer entering a meeting with more parents and children. The whole story isn’t put to bed.

Like many of the Bostonians in this film, I was born, baptized and raised Irish Catholic. I was a Catholic priest for almost 20 years. I was shocked and repelled by the crimes the church covered up. I know they thought the priests could be healed of their “sins.” But the higher-ups in the hierarchy didn’t understand the depth of the hurt, the lasting effect of the deeds, the suspicion, the distrust, the betrayal these kids and families felt. The kids saw these priests as God; how could they say no? Maybe it’s because bishops are not allowed to be biological fathers of children, like some of the outraged dads in the film. They allowed the thin black line of protection to surround the pedophiles, wanting to be “pastoral” to their brothers. They did not understand the consequences of these crimes on children, they did not sufficiently feel it like the person in the pew. If they want to be pastoral, an appropriate response would be to celebrate Mass with these criminals in their prison cells on Christmas Eve.

In the end, go see the movie. You’ll enjoy it and be moved. Moved to action, I hope.

But remember what the story is.

Ultimately it’s not just about two major cultural institutions clashing, or about the great difference journalists can make, or about cover ups, or about conniving Cardinals or even sick, abusive priests. It’s about evil visited on children. It’s about kids, what happens to them sometimes, and will happen again if we don’t act to stop it. Think about the places and situations these kids were put in: Feel the trapped, claustrophobic space on the chair, the rug, the ground, the bed. Feel what it’s like to be there when you’re five, or eight, or 11. We need to be absolutely sure these kids get the years of help they need and deserve. And we need to do what it takes to make sure this doesn’t happen to any child again. Employ appropriate boundaries for perpetrators. Pass laws, fund research, prevention, intervention, treatment and aftercare for victims and families, which means public and private bucks.

It’s more than about hierarchies and reporters. It’s about the children.

Yes, I’ve been called naive and pollyannish. I happen to think those are occasionally positive characteristics in the Reign of God. Yes, I believe in science, reason and can live with ambivalence and amibiguity. After all, I’m Episcopalian, and I think that’s all good.

I even see a silver lining in the fact many more folks are identifying themselves as unbelievers in any particular denomination. I think it’s better we have folks skeptical of answers to questions that can’t BE answered. Take the Trinity, for example. Please, as Dr. Henny Youngman would say. Three Persons, one God, one Person of which has two natures, human and divine. Do we have tacos yet? People, especially the young, throw up their hands at mathematical answers describing an awesome God beyond our power of comprehension.

I’ve made up a prayer that expresses my take on Trinity. “Praise to the God beyond me,” I say, lifting my hands above my head, “Praise to the God within me,” I say, crossing my hands over my heart, and “Praise to the God through me,” extending my hands wide to our earthen world. The gesture tries to get past the descriptor words that divide us of gender, role and dogma, letting me honor and remember the God beyond (Father, Creator, Mother), the God within (fully human, giftedly divine, Child, Savior) and through us (the God who acts, loves, breathes, Spirit).

Maybe more would be attracted to living with faith if the Trinity was seen more as a dynamic relationship than an equation. Mystics teach us that we have theosis, that we are part of divine nature through the incarnation of Jesus among us. We are part of divine and human life flow. They care less about heaven, hell, earning or losing post-life status, but choose to see the whole of life as infinite abundance, free flowing. John the Evangelist seems to say only lovers know what’s really going on with God. Otherwise God is distant, impenetrable, uninteresting. Richard St. Victor in 1173 thought “For God to be True, God has to be one. For God to be Love, God has to be two. And for God to be Joy, God has to be Three.” That’s the Spirit!

Believers can reach non-believers, and invite them into a life excitingly communal, if we would acknowledge the uncertainty, pain and unfulfilled expectations of the world we share. The Judge has not brought justice, the Prince of Peace has yet to bring peace. We need to practice bringing Good News in the real world, demonstrating how to live as neighbors amid an American empire with no visible emperor to subvert or overthrow.

An appealing Jesus, then as now, preaches the coming of the Reign of God Now. It is a genuine alternative to the way we live; the Reign of God is where and when God’s way holds sway. If modern physics talks about alternate universes, why can’t the Reign of God be one? One we are creating on this planet, in this time, in this universe Now. We believers reject atheistic materialism, magical thinking, and unbridled, brutish market capital in which there are no neighbors or neighborhoods, no sisters or brothers.

People, including the young, who don’t believe in what they think of as a fantasy world beyond this one may be willing to join the Reign of God making a difference on this fragile planet, in this confusing, divisive and fearful time. The message: forgiveness is possible, hope is warranted, the courage to act justly is expected, begin with the struggling poor. We don’t go to church to flee the world’s problems, nor will we accept the world’s selfish answers. Accept your divine nature, become part of the divine flow here and now, join the Reign of God, be who you are, the Body of Christ, saving flesh for the life of the world. Praise to the God beyond, within, through us.