A comprehended god is no god.

A comprehended god is no god.

A wise saying by saintly John Chrysostom

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Homeboy Industries

Today I had the pleasure of listening to a lecture by Fr. Boyle entitled, Tattoos On The Heart.  It was given all the way up in Walnut Creek.
The audience was asked to imagine the world as it should be, for that is our job, our work.  Fr. G., as his homies call him, asked us to imagine a place where there is no us and them, but just US.  He said, "God too busy loving us to be disappointed."

What circles do you see yourselves within or without?  How do we imagine a circle of compassion?  How do we gather those who are outide this circle?  He suggested that we try "stand at the fringes".  It is here that we can embrace and welcome in all of God's children into the dignity and acceptance and honor that is rightfully theirs.  Father Boyle suggested that we need to return people to themselves and said that all of us are exactly what God had in mind when he made us.  "You are God's dream" and our ministry, everyone's ministry is to recognize one another as the shape of God's heart.

Consider helping Homeboy Industries by making a tax deductable donation, eating at the Homegirl Cafe, or purchasing merchandice online at http://www.homeboy-industries.org/.  You'll be glad you did!

The Midnight Mission in Los Angeles, CA

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

One week to go

There is one week to go and the semester, my first semester in seminary, will be over. It is hard to believe that just a few months ago I packed my car and drove up to Berkeley with so many hopes, dreams, fears, and a lovely icon of the BVM in my front seat.

I'm thinking of Mary as the days begin to point to the Nativity of our Lord and wonder what Mary must have been thinking. She said, yes! Yes to the unknown. Yes to potential ridicule and danger. Yes to hope.

All of us, not only seminarians, have an opportunity to say yes to God. We can say YES to the unknown, undefined, uncharted future that is before us. We can say yes to the hope that is within us. Yes to paradox. We can say yes to kindness, yes to that space that allows those who are different from us and ourselves to be... to just be. Being. Pausing. Allowing someone that is in a hurry to pass, savoring the space that allows the expelled breath, that sigh of satisfaction, that nod to the Christ reflected and born again in the mind and heart.

I say yes to late night readings, yes to the moments of laughter, yes to preping for finals, yes to new ways of thinking, yes to new friends, yes to doing it differently, yes to preserving what is best, yes to making new traditions, and, YES to Advent's great pause. Everything seems the same, but everthing has changed.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Sermon for 11 July 2010 - St. Thomas the Apostle

Good traveling requires equal parts of planning and inspiration. Planning, because we need to know where we're headed, what is our journey's destination. How are we going to get there? Personally, I like to study a bit and find out all I can, and what I'll want to see and do. Inspiration is important, because the best parts of a trip are the things that surprise us, the wrong turn that leads to a breathtaking vista. It also helps to know someone who is familiar with the destination, who has been there before, and can help us avoid some of the pitfalls and dangers inherent in travel.

As children we go to Grandmother's house, on family vacations, to our best friend's house, to church, and have even traveled to far off worlds in our imagination. "Remember what Bilbo used to say (in Tolkiens's Lord of the Ring): "It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.""

Once, my parents planned a trip across much of the nation, up into Canada, back down the St. Lawrence Seaway, through Maine, eventually Virginia, and, what I was really excited about, to Washington, D.C. Leaving our hotel early in the morning, my sister and I half asleep, we made our way towards D.C., but after half an hour, we found ourselves circling back to where we started, we repeated this a number of times and couldn't figure out how to get to the Francis Scott Key Bridge and across the Potomic River. Now fully awake, my dreams of seeing the stately dome of the Nation's Capitol, teh mall and it's grand monuments were dashed. We were going to be stuck in the Commonwealth of Virginia forever. We could see the bridge, but we couldn't figure out how to get to it.

My Dad, with a look that said, "Brace yourselves", drove onto the railroad tracks circling the hotel, terrified, boom, ba-boom, we road the short distance to the bridge road, got back on the road and finally crossed over into the promised land. Why didn't we go back to the hotel and ask for directions? I don't know. We could have used the help of someone familiar with the area.

There are, of course, other journeys: the journey from child to adult, from young to old, from the comfort of home to finding our place in the world. There are paths of self-discovery and Christian rites of passage. At our baptismal adoption we are made heirs of a heavenly city and we are marked as God's own forever. We are given a passport that entitles us to begin anew, to enter the King's Highway - El Camino Real.

There is an ebb and flow to the Christian journey. We go up to the Temple Mount and back into the world. It is a daily pilgimage of prayer. It is a journey into the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In Prayers For A Planetary Pilgrim, we pray with the poet, "I bow before you, Divine Father, Holy Mother, Eternal Source of my existance. Your heart is my home, from you I have come and to you I journey this day."

This journey is exciting, for by turns and rises we can glimpse the domes of the Celestial City, the City of Shalom, that new Jerusalem of peace and joy in God's presence. But like the mountain that seems so close, it is further away than we first thought. We descend into valleys of dryness in prayer and only by grace can we make the steep ascent to that Golden Gate. We enter this gate with thanksgiving and God's courts with praise.

But soon enough, obligations require us to go back into the world, back to work. Refreshed, we begin our steep descent to Jericho, and, here, we meet up with today's Gospel lesson. It says that robbers surprise us. They strip us of our dignity, the honor due to every child of God regardless of color, education or national origin; we are attacked by unkindness, petty jealousy and spite, lack of hospitality, shelter, and sufficient food.

We are mentally and emotionally beaten down by economic insecurity, under-employment, injustices, sickness and unbearable loss. Next is the hardest blow, people we trust the most, the priest - church leader, a particular family member, our dearest friend, sometimes even our helpmate that promised to be there for life, leave us. We have even been our own enemy and have hurt our soul by sin. We are left for dead, feeling alone and vulnerable.

Now comes the Samaritan we call "Good". This Samaritan, an outcast, who in a sermon preached by Martin Luther, is of course our Lord Jesus Christ who shows love to both God and his neighbor: "Toward God, in that he was obedient to him, came down from heaven and became man, and thus fulfilled the will of the Father; toward his neighbor, in that he immediately after his baptism began to preach, to do wonders, to heal the sick. And in short, he did no work that centered in himself alone, but all his acts centered in his neighbor."

Jesus, loving with all his heart, soul, strength and mind, is moved to pity for our condition. Not stopping to question the cost, he binds our wounds, annoints us and heals us body and soul. He stands vigil and arranges for our basic necessities - shelter, food, clothing.

The incarnate Jesus gives us the "posada" or shelter he and his family were once refused, the one who fasted, feeds us with his own body and redeeming blood and clothes us with his own righteousness. Knowing the immensity of God's love for us, knowing healing of body and soul, knowing that nothing can separate us from the love of God, we can begin again. In Communion our strength renews. Find warmth by telling the story of our rescue and redemption, like those on the Emmaus road, hear Jesus speak through Moses and the prophets, and in the breaking of bread eyes will be opened.

We must see Christ in all his creation - reflections of a loving God in every person we meet. Out of an over-abundance of love, we, without even thinking, reach out in love. Like a certain Belgian Priest volunteering to serve the Leprosarium on Molokai, our hand goes out without us knowing, in an impulse reverberating the love of Christ from the cross.

Last year in early November, a vast number of Pilgrims ventured to Rome for Damien's Canonization, including a small contingent from St. Thomas the Apostle - Hollywood. The day after Blessed Damian was named Saint, there was a special Mass at St. Paul's Outside the Walls. At the peace I turned to the person closest to me and naturally reached out to give peace. I looked down and was horrified. The man in the wheelchair, about to clasp my hand, was a patient from the colony at Molokai, a leper. Honestly, there was an impulse to pull away, but looking into his eyes, I saw him. I saw Jesus bracing for rejection, the pulling away of hands would signal that he is still an outcast, somehow unclean, and unworthy of love.

Still looking into his eyes, I clasped his rough hand and hugged him. We felt peace. We both experienced healing and were made whole. Strangely, roles reversed. I became the embraced. Let's make our homes in the heart of Jesus, fully warmed in His love, so that they never grow cold and callous to the needs of our neighbor.

What must I do to inherit eternal life? The answer lies in following the path our Lord walked. St. Augustine expounds in a happy paradox that "not by journeying but by loving we draw nigh unto God. To Him who is everywhere present and everywhere entire we approach not by our feet but by our hearts". The first Psalm puts it like this, "Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers." Therefore avoid the uninformed or mean-spirited advice of those that argue over exactly who is our neighbor. If we can find the face of Jesus in the Leper, we can find it in ourselves and others. Do not take those paths that lead you and, by your example, others further from active loving, instead, delight in the law of the Lord and on his law of love meditate day and night.

You will know you are on the right path when you are thinking of others first before thinking of yourself. Then you will be like trees firmly planted by streams of life giving water, and you will yield the fruit of righteousness. Your leaves will not wither. All that is done in Love's holy name will prosper and you will be given the laurel crown of everlasting life adorned with every good deed.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


I've been up in Berkeley for four weeks and have begun to develop a routine. Many of us are up early for Morning Prayer, classes, weekday Eucharist, lunch, more classes, Evening Prayer, perhaps more classes and lots and lots of studying. Some students form study groups and I'm participating in one for a Hebrew language class and a discussion group for Early Christian History.

The community has a distinct personality. Each class has shaped the life of CDSP as an institution as much as it has shaped the individuals that make up the student body. Not everything is learned in the classroom. The professors are amazing. The faculty really cares about the seminarians and each in their own way has already made an impresion upon us. In addition to prodding our preconceived notions of how things "should" or "ought" to be in the Episcopal church, we are, in a sense, forced to look long and hard at our own beliefs, at our preferences, and at our selves.

Living in close proximity to budding church leaders and folks from all around the United States and the globe, we rub off on each other. Some times we can rub each other the wrong way. All of this comes together under what is called "formation". Mirriam -Webster defines formation as an act of giving form or shape to something taking form. We, the seminarians, are that something taking form. So everything becomes part of the learning process.

Everything we choose to do, and there is a superabundance of things to do, shapes us into something different than what we once were. Last week my head was so full of early martyrs, Hebrew vocabulary, history, legends, myths, traditions, local and national issues facing the Episcopal Church and the wider church, that even my dreams were effected.

Saturday, September 25th, some of us ventured out to the Angel Island Immigration Station for what was called the Pilgrimage To Angel Island 2010: Wispers of the Past to the Cries of Justice Today. The program was intended to help citizens remember the religious communities that served, and advocated for, the detainees of Angel Island, and how that speaks to the world today.

The simple ceremony highlighted why it is important to remember what happed on Angel Island and the profound impact issues of immigration have on people. I was moved by an elderly man that was helped to the microphone and told his story to us. Dale Ching, a former detainee, began by saying, "Welcome to my first home in America". Here is his story.

After weeks on a crowded boat, the hopeful immigrants were greeted at the docks by armed guards. Men, women, and children were immediately separated into barracks. The doors locked from the outside and opened only for meals and in the afternoon for a period of recreation. They were locked in day and night. He was held for three and a half months, but many were held for three or more years. Dale was only 16.

Laborers were sought out to help with America's push West, the Gold Rush, building railroads, and at times the very workers that were brought here to help were blamed for taking away jobs, especially when the economy went sour. Though only 10% of those who came to the Island were sent home, they lived in fear.

In July of 1937 Dale was granted permission to enter the United States. Taken on a boat to one of the many San Francisco piers, he saw his father waiting on the dock. This was the first time that he had seen his father in seven years. He never wanted to return to Angel Island. This was part of his past, but not something he talked about.

Years later his children talked him into returning to the Island. They had so many questions. In 1991 he started to volunteer at the Detention Center as a docent. He wanted to tell new generations his story. Dale wanted the public to know what happened here so they could interpret for themselves the history of the immigrants. He hopes that by telling his story it might help ensure fair treatment for all people.

We also heard the story of Deaconess Katharine Maurer who minstered to the women and children here. In her smart suit and cape she brought hope and comfort to those locked inside the cramped barracks. There were many Chinese, Mexican, Korean immigrants waiting for permission to start a new life. In the 1930's and early 1940's Jews fled from Germany, Poland, Austria and other European countries as a result persecution. In the anti-immigration atmosphere of her day, Deaconess Katherine worked hard to mitigate the hard realities faced behind the barbed wire fences of the detention center. She preached a message of love, respect and tollerance. She once said, "We look pretty much the same to God. We are all his foolish children".

Many others spoke out against the current climate of fear and hate surrounding the immigration debate. Once American daughter who's father was recently deported said that "there is no nice way of discrimination". Another person noted that hate and discrimination is not over - it has been modernized.

I don't claim to have an answer. The issues surrounding immigration are complex. It is, though, upsetting to see politicians scapegoat immigrants to get votes. Fear and hate have been used for personal gain. These people carelessly ignite fires of discrimination. I pray for the dignity of all immigrants, of all people struggling to find a better life for themselves and their family.

I'm put in mind of a quote by Woodrow T. Wilson, who said, "America lives in the heart of every man everywhere who wishes to find a region where he will be free to work out his destiny as he chooses".

One of the recent Community Eucharists on Thursday night featured a prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr that guides my thinking on this and many other issues of importance.

God, grant us the serentity
to accept the things we cannot change,
the courage to change the things we can,
and the wisdome to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
enjoying one moment at a time,
accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
taking as Jesus did,
this sinful world as it is, not as we would have it,
trusting that you will make all things right if we surrender to your will,
that we may be reasonable happy in this life,
and supremely happy with you forever in the next. AMEN.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The lights are on

Heading home late this evening from studying I noticed more than half the lights were on in Parsons Hall (the CDSP dorm). Now, there's no way to verify that all those lights represent grad/doctoral students hard at work, but knowing the homework that needed to get done this weekend, it is entirely probable.

Most of my time has been spent digesting the writings of the early church, early christian history and learning the Hebrew vowels. It is strange to think that in just a couple of weeks our class has gone from learning the "alef bet" to reading Proverbs 1: 1-4. It is overwhelming and awesome.

This morning, on part of my trek to Episcopal Churches in the Berkeley and Bay area, a GTU friend and I went to St. Clements in Berkeley to hear a seminarian from CDSP preach. Kay did a great job with the Gospel text and made us proud. She had confidence and poise, but most importantly she had a passionate message to proclaim. Brava!

The church is over 100 years old and the stained glass windows tell more than the stories of the scriptures but of many, many people over the last 100 years that have loved, served and wanted to be remembered. Sometimes I fear our memory is too short, but at St. Clements they lovingly keep both the 1928 prayer book, east facing altar, reverence and modernity in thoughtful tension. If you're ever in the Berkeley area it is a wonderful oasis to consider even if your not a fan of Rite I or the 1928 prayer book service.

The rest of the day was spent reading and in a Hebrew language study group thanks to Elizabeth and Hannah. Once more over the flash cards and then to bed. The day begins early with Morning Prayer at 7:30 in the Chapel. Good night!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Getting settled

Since arriving in Berkeley on Saturday afternoon, the weekend and following week have been a bit of a blur. I was told to call one of the Prefects for Parsons Hall upon arriving. How very "Harry Potter". Both Irene and Kay have been a huge help to me and all the incoming students. I'm sure they have a billion things to do but they have answered questions, made mass runs to CVS, Target, and helped locate odds and ends of left over bookcases and chairs to help transform the dorm rooms into our new homes.

After getting settled I made plans to visit Church of the Advent of Christ the King on Sunday with my new friend Irene. Founded in 1858, Church of the Advent of Christ the King is one of the oldest churches in the Diocese of California. Here the beautiful Anglo-Catholic service is both ancient and modern in the context of this lively South of Market (SOM) neighborhood. We arrived early so Irene could share with me this amazing breakfast place called La Boulange. That morning it seemed everyone was out with their dogs to enjoy the perfect weather.

The service at Church of the Advent, though different from my beloved St. Thomas the Apostle - Hollywood, was familiar and made me feel a little less homesick. Though the service is "high" in most respects, it is inclusive in language and very welcoming to the local community. Homeless and "high church" folks together pray and worship the God who loves and welcomes everyone.

The first year it is expected that I'll visit and experience a wide variety of worshipping communities. Berkeley and the San Francisco Bay area have something for everyone (literally) and I can't wait to experience as many as possible. One of the benefits of attending Church Divinity School of the Pacific is experiencing the wider religious offerings of the Graduate Theological Union. We all share meals in a common dining room and can take some courses outside our own seminary setting. This rich eccumenical tradition is the strength and one of the main attractions for many on "holy hill". CDSP is located between Le Conte and Ridge on a slight hill on the edge of Cal Berkeley and its location along with many of the other seminaries surrounding it gives rise to the nickname of being the "holy hill".

Orientation Week has been packed with important information, academic and community tips, a few boring administrative details that are made more palatable by the helpful support staff and faculty, signing up for classes and ordering all books on-line. Thank God Amazon has many of the titles available new and used. After doing a little research checking for the best prices I was able to save over one hundred dollars. Now that I'm on a seminarian's budget every penny counts and I feel a great obligation to be a better steward of the bounty with which God has blessed me.

If you would like to help defray the cost of books or help in any way it would be appreciated. Checks can be made out to Church Divinity School of the Pacific with the memo portion stating that you are making a donation "For Steve De Muth". The Church Divinity School of the Pacific's address is 2451 Ridge Road, Berkeley, California 94709-1217.

Tonight there was the Graduate Theological Union BBQ. It was great to get to know the CDSP family better and make a few friends from the other seminaries. Somehow a bunch of us ended up on the porch of the Dominican student's house for spirited conversations and beverages. We may not have solved all the problems of the world but we have made some new friends.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The longest goodbye

The past two weeks have gone quicker than I imagined. I've been able to spend time with Mom on her birthday and many friends inside and outside the church. In between there has been preparing, organizing, reading required and suggested books, and whole bunches of "goodbye for now".

My mom asked me if there was anything that I needed for my dorm room. Knowing that she has a limited income on Social Security, but wanting to give her an opportunity to show her love and support, I asked if she would paint something. She is quite a good abstract painter.

She decided on a Madonna and Child. When the work was finished she asked me to come down to OC and see if I liked the painting. It is amazing. There are blues, reds, purple, and orange and golds around the Christ Child's head. It is one dimentional and somewhat abstract and, the best part, it is from my mother.

She doesn't remember where she found the photo that inspired her to "write the icon" but the bottome reads "SEDES SAPIENTIAE-ORA PRO NOBIS". Translated, this means THRONE OF WISDOM-PRAY FOR US and refers to Mary as the seat of wisdom and bearer of Christ. This particular image has been associated for centuries with Christian learning and is found in places of higher learning throughout the world. Nothing is by accident.

Francisco helped choose fitting matting and a gold frame that was 50% off. The clerk at Aaron Brothers was so helpful and even helped us cut the matting to size. The end result would not look out of place in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

One of the first things to be done upon arriving at Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) was to set up a small pres dieux and place the beautiful icon on the wall above. Now I can go to bed and deal with the rest of unpacking and setting up the printer tomorrow.

Sleep with the angels

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Finishing and beginning

In about a week and a half I'll be saying goodbye to my work family at Essex Property Trust. It has been over six years of learning and growing, self discovery and, thanks to my boss, a maturing professionalism.

There are many people I hope to remain in contact with and will miss not seeing frequently. The commute to work and, even worse, the commute back home will not be missed. What will be missed most of all is the feeling of accomplishment after a successful training class, webinar or one on one experience, and the interaction between facilitator and our team members. "Rewarding" is too simple a word to express how much this experience has meant to me.

Now, as my last day, Friday the 13th, approaches I'm also excited about beginning a new chapter in Berkeley, CA. I'll be attending the Church Divinity School of the Pacific and work towards a Masters of Divinity. There has been some talk of investigating a potential second Masters degree in Litugy. I don't have to decide now but it is on my radar.

So I'm both happy and sad. I'm happy to have had six very full years doing what I love to do with a great company, the amazing MarCom team, and the wonderful RPM's and RPM Assistants; happy to be able to attend the Espiscopal's Seminary of the West Coast and pursue my childhood dream of becoming a Priest. It is sad to leave friends and family. It is hard to imagine not worshiping at with my Parish family at St. Thomas the Apostle each and every Sunday. It is difficult to imagine that I'll ever find so caring and warm a group of people.

With mixed emotions and hope in God's good plans for my life I set out on the King's Highway and look forward to being exactly where I am supposed to be and fulfilling my purpose.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The big debate

I'm not big on passing on chain mail of any kind. You know, the sort of stuff that is full of syrup but low on quality content. Sometimes friends send you things that you really cherish, sometimes you just delete it. Once in a while I feel compelled to respond. This is one of those instances. An old friend from Wisconsin sent me a chain mail "critique" on the current Health Care legislation before congress. Read on...

Dear _______,

Remembering the recent mistakes of Fox personality, Mr. Glenn Beck, who confuses Political Philosophy with good theology, we must always hold up our actions to our Lord and ask "Thy will be done" and not our will. I don't claim to know what His answer to you will be, but I believe we do have a responsibility to our neighbor. Actually we are to love them. Using the older King James version, our Christian obligation is to show "Charity". That means our love must be more than words as we are Christ's wounded hands reaching out in love to a needy world.

I believe that good health care is a fundamental right. I don't trust Government to do it perfectly, but I trust Big Business interests and Large Insurance Companies even less. Does this mean that we should stand by and walk past the person in need or follow the radical example of the Good Samaritan? I'm not entirely sure where Jesus sits on the whole health care debate, but if I had to guess, after prayer and self examination, I would have to put my fears aside and vote my conscience. It is concieveable that two or more people can both do this and arrive at vastly different decisions.

Think of the old argument of feeding the poor or building a beautiful church. I think we need to expand our vision and see that there is room for both or at least accept that one may be the calling of some and the other more dear to another. Either way, in good conscience, people of faith respond to God and do something. It is not enough to say, "That this or that is fiscally irresponsible." What are you, what am I going to do with Jesus' challenge: "Do you love me? Feed My Sheep." I think the high horse of Republicans and Democrats divides the energy of a people that are in desparate need of help... our help.

With respect and love,