Mar 8, 2023

In Good Faith: Sticking it Out

In my latest In Good Faith column, I write about stick shifts, and getting stranded on the side of the road. 

Sticking it Out

I still drive a stick shift. They’re increasingly hard to come by these days, but in addition to making me feel like a NASCAR driver while racing up and down the streets of Palm Beach in my Volkswagen Jetta, there’s another built-in advantage: it’s an anti-theft device. Who’s going to steal a car no one knows how to drive anymore? I mean, not even my young adult children can steal it. They never learned how to drive a stick. Despite my pleading (“What if there’s an emergency and the only car available has a manual transmission? You could be the hero!”), they just rolled their eyes and borrowed mom’s car. 

I hadn’t thought much about this — it’s just something I’ve always done — until the clutch went out a couple weeks ago while I was picking up a friend at the airport. But I had lots of time to contemplate life and clutch pedals as I sat on the side of the road just outside the entrance to the arrivals terminal. For five (!) hours.

If I’m honest, it was less contemplation and more endlessly scrolling on Twitter. But there was some contemplation. At one point, I got out of my stranded car and stared up at the stars in the sky. I thought about life and faith and God. Until the sprinklers on the median started going off and I got drenched. 

For Christians, the arrival of the season of Lent is, among other things, a time specifically set aside for self-reflection and contemplation. Sometimes we’re intentional about this and sometimes circumstances force us into contemplation. I usually rue these moments — the Wi-Fi goes out, I temporarily lose my phone — but later end up giving thanks for the opportunity to unplug and spend some time with my own thoughts.

Here’s the thing though. Contemplation and technology aren’t mutually exclusive. There are a whole host of meditation apps and ways to use technology to settle the mind. I use a prayer app from Forward Movement to pray the Daily Office every morning. And during my time trapped in my car with the sprinklers making me feel like I was in a particularly intense carwash, I used the app to pray Evening Prayer, giving thanks for all the blessings of life, especially for the fact that I wasn’t stuck in a snow storm.

This Lent, I encourage you to be intentional about spending time in prayer or contemplation. Whether by unplugging or plugging in, the point is that we need such time to stay grounded and connected to the life that exists beyond the visible world. 

Here at Bethesda-by-the-Sea, the church is open during the week and we encourage people to take some time to sit and contemplate life in our sacred space. If you seek an oasis to get out of the fray for awhile, whether inside the church or by walking through our beautiful grounds (yes, we have a koi pond), please know that you are always welcome. I promise I won’t even try to baptize you!

AAA did eventually come to rescue me. And $1,000 later my clutch is back to its old self. I guess you could say, I’m financially poorer, but spiritually richer for the experience. 

Jan 22, 2023

In Good Faith: No Room for Hate

In my latest In Good Faith column, I write about the need for Christians to take a stand against anti-semitism, in light of a recent local incident.

No Room for Hate

There’s a famous photograph taken in Kiel, Germany, in 1932, from the inside of a rabbi’s home

that stood directly across the street from the Nazi party headquarters. It shows a menorah in the window facing a large Nazi flag. On the back of the original photograph, which was taken on the eighth night of Hanukkah, is a handwritten note that declares, “Our light will outlast their flag.”

I’ve always been mesmerized by both the image and the accompanying words. They serve as reminders that God is larger than the sinful machinations of humanity and that hope shines even amidst the deepest darkness and despair.

In the Christian tradition, we look to the poetic prologue to John’s gospel to discover that sense of hope. In words teeming with the language of incarnation, we hear that “A light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” For Christians, this is the Light of Christ; of God entering the world in human form. 

But beyond the specificity of this light is a universal yearning for hope, equality, and justice that transcends the lines of belief. Which is why the menorah in the window offers us all hope in the face of despair. A reminder that light does indeed shine even on the darkest of nights. 

Last Saturday night, antisemitic images and messages were projected onto an AT&T building in West Palm Beach. This isn’t something that only impacts the Jewish community. It is an affront to all that is good and holy and sacred to people of every faith tradition. As Rabbi Moshe Scheiner of Palm Beach Synagogue put it, “We cannot remain silent.” 

And so I write in solidarity with our Jewish friends to publicly condemn antisemitism in general and the recent messages of hate in particular. There is no place for anti-Semitism in Christian faith and practice, and no place for such hatred in our society. When some among us are threatened, we are all threatened; when some among us are hurting, we are all hurting; when some among us are attacked, we are all attacked. The rise in antisemitic rhetoric from celebrities or politicians cannot be tolerated or left unchecked. Nor can situations where violence is perpetrated upon Jews. 

The fact is, according to the Anti-Defamation League, the past two years have seen the highest incident rate ever for documented reports of harassment, vandalism, and violence directed against Jews. Christians cannot remain silent.

I hope you will join me in praying for the restoration of tolerance, for an end to bigotry in our midst, and for greater understanding and harmony in our community. 

This past December the original menorah from the photograph was lit in Berlin, 90 years after the rabbi and his family fled Germany. The light did indeed outlast their flag. And it is incumbent upon all of us, to be bearers of this light in the world.

Jan 12, 2023

In Good Faith: Swinging for the Fences

In my January In Good Faith column, I write about my lack of golfing skills and why it's okay to give something up as a New Year's resolution.

Swinging for the Fences

Before I accepted the call to serve as the next rector of Bethesda-by-the-Sea, I felt I needed to

fully disclose an important item about my life to the search committee. It’s always better to come clean before the fact rather than after it, and if I ended up in Palm Beach, I wanted to be certain that this new relationship was built upon honesty not deception. 

So, when the interviews and tour were over, I took a deep breath and told the committee chair that I do not, in fact play golf. I told him this while standing outside the church on Via Bethesda, as I heard golf balls being whacked at the Breakers course right next door. 

Of course I was joking. Mostly. Not about not being a golfer — I’m not one — but about the perceived requirement for clergy on Palm Beach to have a four handicap. I was knowingly feeding into every stereotype about island life. That clergy work for a couple hours on Sunday morning and spend the rest of the week golfing and schmoozing. But perhaps a small part of me just wanted to make sure. Because the real work of ministry, and why I accepted the call to Bethesda, is to create a place of love and welcome for all people, to encourage each one of us to live out our faith in tangible ways, to cultivate generous hearts, and to make God known both in Palm Beach and the wider world.

A couple weeks ago my 23-year-old son who was visiting from Boston, convinced me to join him at a local driving range. You’ve seen it — it’s the one near the airport with the giant netting. Ben likes to hit balls and play a round every once in a while, something he was decidedly not doing back home where it was 5 degrees out.

Now in fairness to my golfing ability, I am a veteran of mini-golf. When our boys were younger there were plenty of outings to courses where I would always be stymied by the towering windmill. This doesn’t actually transfer to a driving range, where the point is to drive the ball, not putt it. So my lack of skills were on display for all the world to see. Or at least that section of the world that was at a driving range in West Palm Beach at 11:30 am on a Monday morning. The real issue, as Ben accurately pointed out, is that I swing a golf club like a baseball bat. Suffice it to say, that it was a long two hours. Blasted two-hour minimum!

In ministry I’m always pushing people to get out of their comfort zones and try something new. Whether that’s a prayer practice, a way of looking at the world, or a committee they never before considered joining, we grow when we challenge ourselves. But just because something challenges us doesn’t mean it’s worthy of our pursuit. I’m not a golfer and will never become one — I tried it and I’m just not interested. In the same way, it’s important to recognize the things that are life-giving and joy-inducing in our lives and the things that aren’t. 

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but giving something up is as worthy a resolution as anything. Think about what truly feeds your soul and consider letting go of something that does not. Even if it’s something you feel you should be doing because everyone else seems to be. Like golf.

Dec 26, 2022

In Good Faith: Dreaming of a White Christmas?

In my first column after a bit of a hiatus (moving, switching jobs, etc), I write about spending my first Christmas in Florida and how what never changes is the timelessness of the Incarnation.

Dreaming of a White Christmas?

This being my very first Christmas in Florida, after serving a church in New England for the past

14 years, I have a few initial impressions. The first being that I can’t fully wrap my head around the fact that it’s Christmastime. Taking the dogs for a leisurely morning walk on the beach in the days leading up to the 25th has dashed all my dreaming of a white Christmas. I couldn’t see my breath, my fingers and toes weren’t numb, I didn’t race home to build a fire in the fireplace, and there was certainly no backbreaking snow to shovel.

And then there were the beautiful evergreen wreaths we bought for the front door of the rectory. They lasted a day or two before they were blasted by the sun and turned brown. But we’re quick learners, and they have since been replaced by artificial ones. 

Finally, certain Christmas carols and hymns land a bit differently down here. In the Bleak Midwinter? Not so much. Frosty the Snowman? Puddle of water. 

By the way, I’m not complaining. In fact, I am all in. I’ll probably be stringing up lights on palm trees next year.

But whether you’re trudging through slush or walking barefoot in the sand, what doesn’t change at Christmas is the timelessness of God’s love for humanity. God entering the world in human form transcends time and space, geography and weather.

And despite the nostalgia for a white Christmas with sleigh bells ringing and walking in a winter wonderland, it didn’t actually snow on that first Christmas Day. How do I know? I’m no meteorologist, but Jesus was born in the Middle East. So the odds of a blast of nordic air smacking the shepherds and angels gathered around the manger the night of Jesus’ birth were about zero.

Of course that doesn’t matter — it doesn’t change anything. Christmas isn’t about some bygone five-day forecast. It’s not dependent upon ideal weather conditions or snow-making machines. It’s about the hope of the world being born in less-than-ideal circumstances. It’s about joy entering our lives amid the mud and muck of a stable rather than a palace birthing room. It’s about a light shining in the darkness, and the darkness being unable to overcome it. It’s about remembering and reaching out to the least, the lost, and the lonely this season.

Wherever you are, whatever your faith tradition, whatever the weather, I hope you’ll open your heart to the Christmas story this year. When we receive it in a way that cuts through the sentimentality of the season, it can’t help but be a vehicle of hope and transformation. And let’s be honest — we could all use a dose of that these days.

If you are seeking a church home or simply want to celebrate the miracle of our Savior’s birth this Christmas, please know that there is always a place for you at the Church of Bethesda-by-the-Sea. But wherever you choose to worship, may God bless you in the year ahead and may you have a very merry, if not particularly snow-filled, Christmas. 

Apr 13, 2022

Spy Wednesday Reflection

On this Spy Wednesday, so-called because we hear the story of Judas' betrayal of Jesus on theWednesday of Holy Week, I thought I'd share a brief reflection. It's based on the gospel reading appointed for the day (John 13:21-32).

The Wheels are in Motion

The wheels are in motion. That’s the phrase I always come back to on the Wednesday of Holy Week. For Christians marking this week with intention, the wheels are in motion and there will be no stopping the inevitable moments in this story, in our story. 

Jesus will be betrayed and given into the hands of sinners. The sham trial will follow its course. Pilate will wash his hands. An innocent man will be strung up on a cross to endure a painful death. Peter will deny Jesus three times. The disciples will flee in fear. The wheels are in motion and nothing can stop what’s barreling down the track to an ignominious end. It will soon be finished. 

Jesus dips the bread into the cup and gives it to the one who would betray him — a sort of anti-communion. And Judas leaves to do what he was going to do. To sell Jesus out. To be rewarded for his betrayal. As John writes in his starkly poetic way, “After receiving the piece of bread, Judas immediately went out. And it was night.”


But here’s the hope on this painful day during this painful week. We hear that “when he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.”

It’s not enough of a marvel to learn that Jesus will be glorified, but that he will be glorified “at once.” Not in a few days, not when the resurrection has been realized, not when Mary Magdalene shares the incredible news of Jesus’ rising with the other disciples. Jesus is glorified “at once.”

How is this even possible? Because God’s plan is at work. Not the plan of the Roman authorities or the plan of the brow-beaten and terrified disciples; not the world’s plan or Satan’s plan. God’s plan is at work. And while the unfolding plan of salvation is a mystery to mere mortals, certainly a mystery to us, God’s unfolding plan of salvation is what’s set in motion. The wheels of life rather than the wheels of death are in motion.  

And for this reason, even in the midst of impending death, hope is offered on this day. Remember when Jesus told his mother at the wedding of Cana, at the very beginning of John’s Gospel, that his hour had not come? Jesus’ hour has come. And while Judas plays a particular role in the unfolding drama, the working out of God’s plan of salvation for the whole world is so much greater than 30 pieces of silver. In the end, Judas is a bit player. For the very wheels of salvation are in motion.

Image: The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio (1602)