Big Stories and Little Lies

A large holiday cookie tin sat on the hearth in the den of my father’s house. My wife Joy and I pried the top off while no one was looking. A jumbled heap of old photographs filled three quarters of the container.

torn photoMy father figured prominently in each picture. Some were in color. Some in black and white. Holding up a shot of him posing on a beach, Joy said, “Jake, I think all these pictures have been cut in half.” Continue reading

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