Being Normal Almost Killed Me

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“I used to be normal.”

John (not his real name) pushed his words out two or three at a time, as if someone were turning an .mp3 file on and off at haphazard intervals. You could see the strain in his jaw and throat during each unintended break in his speech.travelswithjosie-com

We were sharing a bench in a Greyhound bus station in Greenville, South Carolina. I had observed John’s palsied gait as he had approached where I was sitting. He had struck up a conversation as soon as he had sat down.

“What are you doing here dressed like that?”

I was eighteen. A Senior at St. Pius X Catholic High School in Atlanta. We had just run in the Furman Relays, and my track team had left me behind. I was wearing my track uniform. And, yes, it was more than a little awkward. Continue reading

Learning Peace the Hard Way

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A friend of mine and I are exchanging emails about spiritual growth. She recently shared with me a paraphrase of something Bishop Desmond Tutu once said.

We are like light bulbs. God is like electricity. Light bulbs illuminate their surroundings. That is to say, they shed light when they are connected to a source of electricity. Unscrew a bulb from a fixture, and out goes the light. The bulb is what it truly is only when it is connected to a power source.

In keeping with this light bulb analogy, God created humans to be connected with us. We are what we were always meant to be when we stay connected.

The apostle Paul has something like this analogy in mind when he talks about the fruit of the Spirit and contrasts it with the works of the flesh. The fruit of the Spirt is what we become as a result of our connection with God in Christ. The works of the flesh are what we make of ourselves.

In an intellectual landscape shaped by thinkers like Plato and Descartes, we may mistakenly think of Spirt and flesh as two different kinds of stuff. We might think that Paul is contrasting our immaterial soul with our physical bodies, counting the one as good and the other as evil. Continue reading

Exorcising Violence

Looking back on it now, the 1973 movie “The Exorcist” is laughably cheesy.

Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you probably know the story. A demon possesses a twelve-year-old girl named Regan. Under demonic control Regan spews pea green projectile vomit on a priest, turns her head 180 degrees, levitates, and does unseemly things with a crucifix.

Silly and over the top as it seems now, that movie freaked my sixteen-year-old self out. Newly in possession of a driver’s license, I had driven my friend Rick and me to the theater. At my insistence, Rick joined me in repeating the Hail Mary all the way home.

As a priest, I got a few calls to do an exorcism. You might not know this, but there is a rubric in the Book of Occasional Services instructing priests what to do with such requests. Call the bishop!

I used to be grateful for that rubric. Now that I’m a bishop, not so much. In our tradition, there are no official manuals for restoring order to spiritual chaos or for bringing wholeness to disintegrating souls. Continue reading

Violence, Love, and Peace

A homily preached at the Requiem Mass for the victims of Orlando.

Pulse is a nightclub. People go to nightclubs to dance, to have some laughs, to meet people. Pulse also served as a haven of acceptance for the LGBT community.

LGBT rights have come a long way since Stonewall: the riots in Greenwich Village generally credited with the beginning of the gay rights movement. Nevertheless, the LGBT community is a minority. Some in our culture view gay, lesbian, and transgender people with contempt. They still face discrimination and the threat of violence for being who they are.

That’s why Pulse served as a place of refuge. In this one place, members of the LGBT community needn’t keep looking over their shoulder and checking their peripheral vision for either physical or emotional danger.

Last Saturday night the club extended the offer of sanctuary to another minority as well. It was Latino night.

This was designed to be a carefree evening. Free from the tensions and silent judgments that minorities routinely face in the context of the non-gay, non-Latino majority in much of American society.

Pulse was not supposed to be the site of a massacre. And yet, in the early hours of Sunday a single gunman killed nearly fifty people and wounded more than fifty others with an assault rifle.

This was an attack on the LGBT and the Latino communities. It was an attack on America. It was an attack on humanity itself. Continue reading