Archive for the Homilies Category

And It’s Visceral

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 19, 2018 by timtrue

FatherTim

John 6:51-58

1.

How does one describe an altogether new concept, something that has never been described before? Words are limiting.

So, as a starting point, let’s turn to Greek mythology. There are many monsters in Greek mythology that look like nothing else, monsters that the authors of the myths had to describe to their readers who had never seen them before.

Scylla comes to mind: a hideous beast presumably that lived on the side of a cliff in a narrow strait and fed on sailors as they passed beneath. How would the myth’s author describe Scylla?

I strained my eyes upwards, and she came.

She was gray as the air, as the cliff itself. I had always imagined she would look like something: a snake or an octopus, a shark. But the truth of her was overwhelming, an immensity that my mind fought to take in. Her necks were longer than ship masts. Her six heads gaped, hideously lumpen, like melted lava stone. Black tongues licked her sword-length teeth. . . .

She crept closer, slipping over the rocks. A reptilian stench struck me, foul as squirming nests underground. Her necks wove a little in the air, and from one of her mouths I saw a gleaming strand of saliva stretch and fall. Her body was not visible. It was hidden back in the mist with her legs, those hideous, boneless things that Selene had spoken of so long ago. Hermes had told me how they clung inside her cave like the curled ends of hermit crabs when she lowered herself to feed. . . .

She screamed. The sound was a piercing chaos, like a thousand dogs howling at once.[I]

That comes from Madeline Miller’s recent book Circe.

But do you see? To describe a monster her readers have never seen, the author builds on what they already know: gray as a cliff, necks as long as ship masts, heads like lava stone, sword-length teeth, the cacophony of a thousand dogs howling at once, and so on.

To describe a new concept, metaphor is essential—metaphor based on what is already known.

So then, Madeline Miller described a creature—something concrete. What about when the new concept is abstract? How does one describe a new idea?

2.

For the people in Jesus’ day, the incarnation, God with us, was just that: a new idea.

Whether with the pantheon of Hellenism or the High God of Judaism, the common understanding was that God ruled and reigned from on high, far away, aloof and distant.

To communicate this up-close, new idea, then, Jesus used metaphor, building from what his hearers already knew: food and wine, eating and drinking.

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

Now, to clarify, the concept of the incarnation was not totally new. Israel’s God was seen traditionally as a warrior. A God who gets right in the midst of our army and fights our battles with us—that’s incarnation.

Also, glimpses of the incarnation appear throughout the OT.

God spoke to Abraham. Isaac listened and watched as God provided a ram in his place. Jacob wrestled all night long with God. And God appeared to Moses as a burning bush.

God was a pillar of cloud by day and a column of smoke by night as the nation of Israel wandered the wilderness. God’s spirit possessed the artisans who built and furnished the Tabernacle and Temple. And God fought with Israel’s army as the chosen nation took possession of the Promised Land.

The concept of the incarnation was already there, at least in seed form. But Jesus chose not to build on this traditional knowledge. Why?

Well, a suggestion: What about the victims?

God may very well have been with the army of Israel, fighting their battles as they overtook the Promised Land. But, at the same time, is that to say God wasn’t there with the victims too, as they were overcome, stricken down, and, as the Bible reports, slaughtered?

As he builds the concept of the incarnation from bread and wine, Jesus is teaching the common people of his day, people who likely would have identified more with the victim than the victor. Was God with them? At the same time, was God—could God be—with their Roman oppressors? If so, surely God was with each group of people in a different way!

So, today, Jesus talks about the incarnation in a new way.

And it’s visceral.

To eat his flesh and drink his blood is to ingest God. We bite, break apart, chew, swallow, digest, and expel God. The nutrients of Christ become part of our very flesh and blood. God is so incarnational that the Christ becomes part of who we are just as we become more of him and less ourselves.

3.

This was an altogether new concept, a unique way to view God.

So incarnational that we eat, digest, and expel him? Why, that’s just too earthy, too profane!

But is it?

I remember a scene from a high school Bible study I attended regularly—I’m not trying to be crass here; just to illustrate a point. The topic was prayer; and one of the girls made the mistake of telling the group that she prayed whenever she used the restroom.

Now, to be fair, in her own spiritual life she was trying to practice St. Paul’s exhortation to pray without ceasing. But, of course, the rest us, and especially the male percentage of the rest of us, giggled and laughed and jabbed each other in the ribs.

“You’re not supposed to do that,” one person said; “or at least you’re not supposed to tell us you do it!”

“Well, why not?” she asked.

“Because you’re not supposed to pray there!”

And yet the Apostle Paul does exhort us to pray without ceasing. Which began a weeks-long debate; and the phrase “praying on the potty” became a part of our Bible Study verbiage for the rest of the year: “How’s your prayer life doing?” someone would ask; “Still praying on the potty,” another would reply.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make here is that the kind of language Jesus uses today to describe the incarnation is earthy, maybe even profane-feeling.

This language made a lot of people squirm in Jesus’ day; and it makes a lot of us squirm still today.

4.

We have no problem with the belief that God is transcendent; it’s our belief in immanence that we have trouble with. Understandably, we want to be reverent; we don’t want to be sacrilegious.

There is weighty precedence for what we do here each Sunday, namely approaching Christ together and communing at his Table. But God is also in every moment of our day and in every molecule of our being.

It’s okay to pray on the potty!

God is in here, in every moment and molecule of our being; and God is outside these walls too, in every moment and molecule of creation—

in the holy and reverent acts that are taking place in this and other houses of worship;

and also in the homeless hovels down in the riverbed, in the dregs of skid row, in rehab centers where people are recovering from addictions, in hospital ICUs where the sanctity of human life by necessity must take priority over matters of decency and modesty, and in anywhere else that might seem somehow too earthy or profane for our comfort levels.

And here’s where it all goes, as the rest of the Gospel of John proclaims: where the incarnation is, there too is God’s love.

Incarnation and love: you can’t have one without the other.

[i] Madeline Miller, Circe, Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2018, p. 114.

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Everyday, Commonplace, Mundane Bread

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , on August 12, 2018 by timtrue

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John 6:35, 41-51

1.

What does it mean for Jesus to identify himself as the true bread of heaven?

Bread is something we can relate to: “Give us this day, our daily bread,” we pray.

But is bread all we eat?

I don’t know about you, but when I go to the grocery store, I’m not spending the bulk of my time in the bread aisle. I may buy a little bread, sure; but the majority of my time is spent on other items—eggs, chorizo, green onions, cheese, hot sauce, an avocado or two, tortillas, juice, dark chocolate, ice cream, coffee, beer, wine—

Good thing I’m not the only one in my household doing the grocery shopping!

Point is, in the phrase “our daily bread,” the word bread is a synecdoche. “Our daily bread” is more than just literal bread; it’s the food we eat: both what we need to survive and what fills us.

Jesus both nourishes us and satisfies us.

By the way, have you ever tried to live solely on bread? Or, to clarify—just a little bit ago Jesus also called himself “living water”—so to clarify, have you ever tried to live on just bread and water?

So, imagine this dialogue with me:

“Hey, Mom, what’s for breakfast?”
“Bread and water.”
“Okay, what’s for lunch?”
“Bread and water.”
“Well, then, what’s for dinner?”
“Bread and water.”
“Um, okay, any chance I could have some peanut butter to go with it?”
“No.”
“Oh, okay, well, um, then what about tomorrow?”

A diet of nothing but bread and water would get tiresome in a hurry. It’s so everyday, commonplace, mundane; something, without variety, we grow tired of in a hurry.

“Oh,” Mom says, “but wait till you taste it! This isn’t just any old bread from the local bakery. This is bread from the bakery in heaven.”

And you’re thinking, “Didn’t Moses already try that?”

2.

Moses. Wandering in the wilderness. For forty years. With a bunch of people. Complaining about bread from heaven!

By the hand of God, Moses liberated the slave-nation of Israel from its oppressors. Together Moses and the Israelites fled; together they feared; and together they crossed the Red Sea on dry land and watched as Pharaoh and his army were consumed.

But now, some time later, they were hungry. And so, rightfully, they cried out to God, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

And God heard their prayer and provided another miracle: manna; bread from heaven.

And God gave them some instructions:

“Hear and listen, O Best Beloved,” God said. “Take a look at all the delicious manna lying all around you on the desert floor when you wake up tomorrow morning. But gather only what you need for the day: don’t be lazy and gather too little, for each of you should work according to your ability; neither be greedy and gather up too much, for it will rot and stink and your neighbors will not be happy for all the flies. For I will rain down manna the next day and the next, everyday, and will thus provide for you. No worries.”

Imagine: bread from the very bakery in heaven!

But what happens?

Some of the people did in fact gather too little and thus had to deal with hunger pangs until the next day; and others gathered too much and they and their neighbors had to deal with an excess of flies—not to mention odor.

But most of all, after the novelty had worn off, wrongfully, the people complained!

“Why did you lead us out of Egypt?” they asked. And before Moses could even open his mouth to remind them that, duh, they had been slaves, they continued: “There we had delicious food, leeks and garlic; not this everyday, commonplace, mundane bread. Oh, the monotony!”

They were no longer happy about the bread from the heavenly bakery. They took the bread from heaven for granted.

3.

And yet Jesus’ flesh is the true bread of heaven.

This is an image worth pursuing: Jesus’ flesh; and the image of eating his flesh; and, contextually, we might add, drinking his blood.

For what do we have to do to wheat in order to transform it into bread for our benefit? What do we have to do to grapes to transform them into wine?

Of course, these processes are easy for us to gloss over: we just go to the bread and wine aisles at the grocery store or online and buy them already in their transformed states—not yet consecrated, sure; but already transformed.

However, I recently had a chance to participate some in the bread-making process while at Camp Stevens—not wheat but rye.

Early in the morning—the campers had to arise early due to the excessive heat that week—we harvested the rye by hand. We used scythes—not tractors; no automated equipment. Our goal was relatively simple: make several small loaves of communion bread for about 120 people.

So, after the rye was cut and bundled, we hauled it to the kitchen, where we did the more finely tuned work of picking out the grains from the stalks: separating the wheat from the chaff, if you will.

At this point—the grains placed in bowls and the stalks in compost bins—we went through the grains again, searching for small pebbles mostly, for the soil in Julian is loamy; but also for anything other than the grains—pieces of stalk, weeds, dirt, bugs.

Now we washed the grains and spread them out on towels in the sun to dry.

And only after they dried thoroughly were we able to grind them into flour—using mortar and pestle—until, finally, we had something that could be baked into bread.

Harvested, carried away, separated, picked through, cleaned, dried, and broken! All so we could bake a few loaves for our end-of-week Camp Eucharist! All for our benefit! And I haven’t even mentioned planting and germination!

So, do you think this bread-making process has anything to do with Jesus saying, “And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh”?

Harvested, carried away, separated, picked through, cleaned, dried, and broken—all for our benefit!

4.

So, what does it mean for Jesus to identify himself as the true bread of heaven?

Those who eat of him will never hunger; those who drink of him will never thirst.

Jesus has left us a mission; we are called to share this true bread of heaven with the hungry world all around us.

His mission is not about adventure or fun or reward or accolades or otherwise feeling good about ourselves. Rather, it’s quite the other way: everyday, commonplace, mundane; even monotonous; transforming the world one needy person at a time, with all the intent and labor it takes to separate grain from stalk. It’s easy to take his mission for granted.

Indeed, there’s a lot to distract our attention. Leeks and garlic are tasty! Or, we remove ourselves so much from the bread-making process that we forget just how earthy the Incarnation is.

But the Son of God, the true bread from heaven, born of Mary and Joseph; both divine and human, is in our midst.

Even though he is everyday, commonplace, mundane; even though some of us neglect him and take too little; even though others horde and take too much; even though we all take him for granted—those who eat of him will never hunger; those who drink of him will never thirst.

We are called to share the true bread of heaven with the hungry world all around us!

Following his Lead

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on August 5, 2018 by timtrue

Part 2 of last week, really.

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John 6:24-35

1.

Last week we explored together the feeding of the five thousand.

Jesus saw a large crowd and realized they were hungry; and he quickly formulated a vision to feed them.

But remember Philip? He heard Jesus and was immediately overwhelmed by the vastness of his vision. “How we gonna do that, Jesus?” he asked. “Six months’ wages wouldn’t buy enough food to feed everyone even a little!”

Jesus’ vision was big. The funding seemed impossible. Philip was paralyzed.

But then there was Andrew. A little hope, it seemed, shone through his cloud of doubt. “Here’s a boy,” he told Jesus, “with five barley loaves and two small fish. Oh,” (and the silver lining fades) “but what are these among so many?”

Maybe in Andrew, maybe in the boy, maybe in both, there was a little bit of faith. And Jesus took that little bit and, through love, turned it into so much that twelve basketfuls were left over!

A miracle!

Now, a question I did not ask last week is this: Do you think the crowd knew a miracle was happening in their midst?

The five thousand people were sitting there, probably engaged in conversations and small talk, just as you and I would have been today, when all at once baskets of bread and fish came to them; and they did just what you and I would have done: they took some food for themselves and passed it along to the next group of people.

Of course they didn’t recognize a miracle was happening in their midst! I would wager money on it! It was just routine, normal behavior: grab a basket; take some food; pass it along to the next person; thank you very much.

Well, so why ask this question? Because of what happens next, in today’s Gospel.

2.

Today we find people from this same crowd—people who do not know that a miracle just happened in their midst—seeking Jesus for all the wrong reasons.

Some seek him for utility.

These folks are hungry. Jesus fed them quite satisfactorily yesterday; and so, they reason, maybe he will feed us again today. They’re asking, “What can Jesus do for me?” Not the right question!

Others seek him for expediency.

Jesus was the organizer of the event, after all; and he showed no small amount of competence. He gathered and fed us all; and he had some really good things to say. So, “I know!” some of them declare; “let’s make him our king!”

Overnight, Jesus has become not only their religious but also their political champion. They seek Jesus because he is a potential mover and shaker in society, because he will promote their political agenda (or so they imagine).

But again, to seek Jesus for expediency is self-focused rather than God-focused; asking, “What can Jesus do for me?” rather than, “What can I do for Jesus?”

Others still seek him for the miraculous.

“What sign are you going to give us then,” some of them ask, “so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?”

Really! “What sign are you going to give us?” Didn’t Jesus just feed about 5,000 people yesterday; and today you want a sign? A miracle took place right in front of your noses. How did you miss it?

The irony thickens even more when they say that Moses gave them a sign: manna from heaven. They know about manna, that famous narrative from their nation’s history; yet they fail to see the true bread of heaven right in their midst!

Anyway, do you see where this is going? Those who seek Jesus for the wonderful, the spectacular, the miraculous are more than likely going to miss it when it happens—and it does happen, right in their midst.

And others still seek him as a kind of intellectual pursuit.

“When they found him on the other side of the sea,” the text reads, “they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’”

They got to know Jesus some yesterday—they sat at his very feet in Bible study—and figured they could know him fully. Trouble is, how can we finite humans ever comprehend the infinite?

Anyway, whether for utility, expediency, the miraculous, or intellectual satisfaction, the crowds in today’s Gospel seek Jesus for all the wrong reasons.

Nevertheless, once they re-prioritize their focus, they find him easily.

Right in their midst, the miracle occurred; right in their midst, he is the true bread from heaven.

3.

Last week, also, as a kind of modern-day parallel to the feeding of the five thousand, I posited to you an idea I’ve been chewing on for some time: creating an Episcopal residential school for foster youth in Riverside County.

Full disclosure here: positing this idea wasn’t just an exercise in conjecture; I wasn’t merely throwing out some impression off the top of my head to consider hypothetically. Rather, I’ve been thinking through this outreach vision for a while now.

For a few years now, I’ve been working with Vida Joven.

Over the past year, I’ve been on the phone and in email conversations with people from the NAES, San Pasqual Academy, and Imago Dei Middle School.

In the spring I presented this idea to our diocese’s Executive Council.

In June, while in Sewanee, I brainstormed with a headmaster there about whether he might be able to bring a similar program to his school.

Just since last week, several of you have approached me about the next step. You’ve said things like, “This idea sounds awesome, Father Tim; how can we do more?”

And in two weeks I will host an initial gathering, to form the New Life Academy Exploratory Committee—a team that will be formally recognized by the NAES.

This vision is getting real!

But, to be honest, like Philip, the whole thing feels overwhelming to me; even paralyzing. It feels risky and vulnerable even to speak about it to you all today.

I mean, what if it fails?

So first, before telling you how I envision going forward with this idea, I want to admonish us all—myself included—really to hear this week’s Gospel.

Do we really want to do this? Do we really want to apply Jesus’ mission in this way, the creation of an Episcopal residential school for foster youth in Riverside County?

If so, then let us not do it for the wrong reasons.

Let us not do it for utility—seeking things that feed our egos but do not fulfill our souls.

Let us not do it for expediency—hoping to promote a political agenda.

Let us not anticipate the spectacular or miraculous—missing Christ in the world all around us because we are looking for him only in the grandiose.

And let us not engage in Christ’s mission only as some kind of intellectual exercise—failing to see God’s image in those we serve because we are preoccupied with doing it right.

If any one of these is our chief motivation for realizing this vision, then we are headed for failure right from the starting gate.

Advancing Christ’s mission in the world around us is not about any of these things. It’s not about us! Rather, it’s about Jesus—seeking, finding, and leading others to him; and when we re-prioritize our focus we realize that he’s already here, right in our midst, waiting to be seen.

4.

So then, my sermon’s over, really; but for those who are interested, here are the important logistical details: “how I envision going forward with this idea.”

I mentioned an initial gathering. It will take place here at St. Thomas on Saturday, August 18, from 10am to noon. The plan is to meet in the St. Benedict Conference Room; but if the crowd is too large we can move into Julian Hall—or even the nave (although, so you know, I am not planning to feed you).

The agenda is simple: introductions, introductory comments, a video, and maybe a Powerpoint presentation; followed by group discussion and strategy. My hope is to put together an exploratory committee to carry this vision forward.

Please call the office and let me know if you plan to attend.

Jesus is in our midst. Let’s follow his lead and see what happens.

Love’s Superhighway

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 29, 2018 by timtrue

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John 6:1-21

1.

The information superhighway (i. s.) was supposed to be this awesome thing: awesome because now, at our fingertips, we have access to more information than ever before in only a matter of a few seconds!

You want to find a good restaurant? Why, just read the Yelp reviews. You need a new pair of shoes? They’re just a few clicks away. You can’t remember the names of the ships that went with Columbus to discover the New World? Just Google it.

But, if you’re like me, at times you might find the i. s. to be overwhelming, even paralyzing. There’s just too much information out there!

One search leads to another, which leads to another, and before I know it I’ve blown through two hours of my Saturday morning and three cups of coffee and I still don’t know the answer to what I set out looking for—or, worse, I’ve forgotten why I got on the i. s. in the first place.

Has that ever happened to you?

Now, as a church, left with the task of advancing Christ’s mission in the world around us, it goes something like this. We want to do some outreach. So how do we approach it?

Well, we grab a cup of coffee, sit down, and blow through a couple hours on the i. s.; where we find blog posts, web sites, book deals—all offering narratives of how some person or vestry or church succeeded and we can succeed too. But at the end of our drive we find ourselves still at a loss about where even to begin.

We end up, from my experience anyway, a lot like Philip in today’s Gospel.

Instead of beginning a new program of outreach, which is what we set out to do in the first place, we say things like, “Lord, how in the world are we going to do that? We’re in a lot of debt; yet six months of our operating budget wouldn’t even be enough for what we’d like to do!”

And instead of empowering us, today’s i. s. has overwhelmed us. Our outreach vision is paralyzed.

2.

But here’s the thing about the i. s.: it’s a highway of human knowledge; and human knowledge is not the same thing as love’s knowledge.

Human knowledge, however super it is, is nonetheless finite; but love’s knowledge is infinite. The i. s. comes to an end; but the highway of love’s knowledge has only just begun.

Don’t we see this in today’s Gospel?

Some five thousand people have gathered around Jesus; and they are hungry.

Jesus formulates a vision to feed them.

So Philip and Andrew, and we presume others around Jesus, gather information; but they come up short.

“This is a lot of people, Jesus,” they say. “Six months’ wages wouldn’t be enough to feed them. And we’ve looked around; but all we’ve come up with is this boy who has five barley biscuits and couple of sardines. What good will that do?”

It’s an overwhelming, paralyzing problem. It would take a miracle!

In other words, they tried but failed.

Maybe it’s time to take another tack.

Or, better yet, maybe it’s time to let the idea die and move on.

But where their finite highway of information comes to an end, Jesus’ infinite highway of love has only just begun.

And somehow—I don’t claim to know, for love’s information is beyond human information—that miracle does take place. Somehow the 5,000 end up fed and satisfied, with leftovers!

3.

So, now I want to turn a corner and offer a “for instance” exercise.

For instance: What would it take to begin an outreach program for foster youth in our own backyard; in, say, Riverside County?

Most of you know I’ve done some work with Vida Joven, an orphanage in Tijuana. Well, we call it an orphanage; but it’s really a home for abandoned kids, wards of the state. It’s really the same thing, more or less, as what we in the states call a group home for foster children.

This got me thinking about foster children in our own backyard. Surely Mexico’s foster system is nowhere nearly as developed as ours, I thought; the need has got to be greater there, right?

So I sat down with a cup of coffee and took a drive on the i. s.

And I learned some facts:

  • There are about 4,000 children in the foster system (ages 0-18) in Riverside County.
  • If a child is not adopted by the time he or she reaches Middle School, chances of being adopted at all drop to near 0%.
  • Children are almost always booted out of group homes on their 18th birthday—whether they’ve completed high school or not. Happy birthday, right?
  • Nationwide, 83% of foster kids are held back by the third grade; about half graduate high school; <3% go on to earn a college degree; and 66% will be homeless, go to jail, or die within one year of leaving foster care (posted June, 2012).[I]

The needs of “orphans” in Mexico are profound; and we should not slacken our efforts with organizations like Vida Joven. However, I was surprised to learn, in the U. S. we have “orphans” too; whose needs run just as deep.

About 4,000 foster children live right in our backyard, in need of food, clothing, shelter, and, maybe even more importantly, stability and education. These statistics show: we can’t delude ourselves into thinking that our present foster system is adequate.

On another drive along the i. s., I learned about something good that is happening in San Diego County, called San Pasqual Academy.

This public charter school was the brainchild of two county supervisors who in the late 1990s decided it was time to do something about the plight of adolescent foster kids in S. D. County. The vision was to establish a residential home-and-school for foster high school students. And I’m happy to say that in 2001 SPA opened its doors, successfully defying the statistics I shared a moment ago ever since.[ii]

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to take this idea a step further?

Episcopal Schools have a longstanding relationship with the Christian liberal arts tradition. This approach to education is designed to teach the whole person. It includes a spiritual element that public schools cannot. Its purpose is to develop leaders for tomorrow’s generation.

What if we brought this kind of education to foster youth in Riverside County?

Yet another drive on the i. s. took me to Imago Dei School, an Episcopal Middle School in Tucson that educates, specifically, at-risk students with the goal of making them high-school ready. It has proven to be a tremendously successful program; one that, despite being 100% private, has always been tuition-free!

Seemingly impossible funds—“six months’ wages”—can be raised! Modern-day miracles do happen. An Episcopal foster home-and-school in Riverside County, overwhelming as it feels, is possible.

4.

Jesus once had a vision to feed 5,000 people. So he asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for all these people to eat?”

It was an overwhelming vision. So, “I don’t know,” Philip replied, paralyzed; “six months’ wages wouldn’t even be enough to pay for all the food we need.”

It would take a miracle!

Philip found himself at the end of his human knowledge—at the end of his information highway.

But there, at only just the beginning of love’s knowledge, he watched as Andrew approached Jesus with a boy who was willing to offer something: five loaves and two small fish.

And Andrew said, “It’s not enough food for five thousand people, Jesus; probably not even enough for five.”

But it was a start.

And Jesus knew it!

And I like to think the boy knew it too. Even if no one else believed in Jesus’ vision for outreach—neither Philip nor Andrew was there yet—even if it was just Jesus and a boy, it was a start.

And, as far as Jesus cared, that was enough. “Make the people sit down,” he said.

And we know what happened next. Love’s knowledge produced so much that the 5,000 were fed and satisfied; and twelve basketfuls of leftovers were gathered up.

Twelve basketfuls! Seemingly impossible funds! A miracle!

 

Does a vision for an Episcopal foster home-and-school in Riverside County feel overwhelming, maybe even paralyzing? Is your response to this vision, “It would take a miracle!”?

Yet already we have seen much more than five barley loaves and two fish in front of us—Vida Joven, San Pasqual Academy, NAES, Imago Dei School.

I pray that Jesus will take these and multiply them; and that we will see a modern-day miracle in our midst.

 

[i] Cf. https://vittana.org/43-gut-wrenching-foster-care-statistics ; https://www.nfyi.org/issues/education/ ; http://www.amarillo.com/article/20120624/NEWS/306249799

[ii] See www.sanpasqualacademy.org/background.htm

Agenda Interrupted

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , on July 22, 2018 by timtrue

FatherTim

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

1.

Today we find Jesus and his disciples on their way to a well-deserved retreat.

They’ve been traveling together around the region of Galilee, teaching, preaching, healing, and casting out demons.

Jesus recently returned to his home town, where his reception was less than favorable.

Soon after that he sent the disciples out—apostles, he called them: “sent out ones”—to expand his mission. The apostles carried with them the power to heal people and cast out demons.

We infer from some of Jesus’ statements, however, that they did not meet with one-hundred-percent success. In fact, it may have been rather more difficult than not. They may have gone without a meal for a day or more. They may have met with hostile responses. They may even have had to shake the dust off their feet a time or two.

And while they were off expanding Jesus’ mission, we learn that John the Baptist was murdered for his ministry and mission!

The implication, now that they’ve come back together, is that Gospel work isn’t easy! Jesus and his disciples are tired. They’ve been selflessly giving of their time, talents, and treasure for the betterment of others. Their schedule has been so busy that they haven’t even had time to sit down for a leisurely meal!

Can you relate?

So, it’s time to get away, Jesus decides. He says to them, “The boat’s packed. Grab your pillows, toothbrushes, water bottles, and a snack. I’ve made reservations for us at a retreat center, so we can rest a while and center ourselves.”

Doesn’t that sound nice?

Perhaps you’ve experienced a break in your life’s frenetic routine at just the right time. If so, you know just how refreshing—and timely—a retreat like this can be: how restorative; how much of a spiritual boost; how centering it can be for the soul.

But, as they arrive at the other side of the lake it is not the deserted place Jesus imagined. He and the disciples are most definitely not by themselves!

Now, at this point, Jesus has a few options. He can try to escape with his disciples—though it’s very likely the crowd will see where they are headed and beat them there. He can tell the crowd to go away—which it may or may not do. Or, he can minister to the needy crowd now and postpone his agenda.

What does he decide? The Gospel says it this way: “As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

Jesus decides compassion!

2.

Pathos is the Greek word here. Jesus had pathos for the crowd, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

From pathos we get our English words pathetic, sympathetic, sympathy, empathy, pathological—to name but a few.

There’s something of pity and compassion in each word. Either of these is an acceptable translation into English: pity or compassion.

But their meanings are quite different, aren’t they? “Jesus had pity on the crowd” means something quite distinct from “Jesus had compassion on the crowd.”

The translators of our version of the Bible, the NRSV, went with compassion. And I’m glad they did, for I think compassion captures the reality of Jesus here much better than pity.

The chief difference in my thinking is this: pity is removed; whereas compassion is involved.

Pity suggests a sort of distance. I feel a type of sorrow for my neighbor because my neighbor’s plight is so pitiable. So, out of the goodness of my heart I decide to do something about it—I buy her a pair of shoes; I offer him a ride; I throw some money her way. And I go on with my life.

Pity has left me feeling sorry for my neighbor, maybe even sorry enough to do something about it. But at the end of the day I’m still over here dealing with my life and she’s still over there dealing with hers: a distance still remains between us.

But compassion is up close and personal, involved.

The word itself means, literally, suffering with, or suffering alongside. There’s no “us vs. them” here. Compassion comes alongside the neighbor and, like the Samaritan who helped the man in the ditch, gets wrapped up in the dirty details.

And today compassion, not pity, wins out.

Jesus cancels the retreat forthwith. He sets aside his agenda and instead comes alongside the desperate, noisy, dirty, smelly, needy crowd; and suffers with them.

It’s exactly what he did on a much larger scale: In the Incarnation, the Christ emptied himself of the Godhead; and took on humanity. He came alongside the whole world—the cosmos—and took on its suffering.

And it’s exactly what he calls us to do: to be moved by the hurting, desperate, needy people of our day; and not merely to have pity on them, but compassion—to come alongside and suffer with them.

We are called to live out the Incarnation. We are called to compassion.

3.

The key word here is we.

Compassion is not something only for Jesus; or only for the priest.

I don’t know why—maybe the terminology has something to do with it—but whenever someone in the congregation gets sick or is experiencing grief or desires wise counsel, why, the thinking often goes, it’s the pastor’s job. After all, we call it pastoral care.

But this is not the model Jesus left for us.

Jesus has compassion on the crowds. And the first thing he does is cancel his planned retreat with the disciples!

He doesn’t pull Peter aside and say, “Okay, look. This crowd of people needs pastoral care. So why don’t you take the disciples and go on to the retreat center without me? Here’s the address. When you get there, look up the program director and tell her I won’t be coming and that you’re the main point of contact. Be well; and enjoy this time of renewal with the others! I’ll meet you at the Starbucks in Capernaum in three days.”

No! He cancels the retreat—forthwith!—and the disciples stay with him, helping him minister to all who are sick.

Pastoral care is not a solo act, but a team effort.

So, now, for kicks, let’s just think through logically this concept of pastoral care. And, for the record, I’m not whining here—just trying to give you a window into what priests do.

There are about 375 names on our rolls here at St. Thomas; and one priest.

This priest, me, has more than 50 emails and a handful of phone calls to deal with every day; and two sermons to write each week, which must include several hours of study and preparation in order to make them worthwhile; and preparations to make for the adult forum or confirmation class or whatever other program might be going on.

Then there’s the monthly finance meeting, the Bishop’s Committee meeting (to plan and lead), and any number of diocesan meetings and reports to navigate.

And we mustn’t leave out the occasional weddings, funerals, and baptisms to plan and officiate; and participation in diocesan ministries, like serving as Chaplain at Camp Stevens.

Then there are the myriad other meetings and community gatherings to attend, happening seemingly all the time; and staff to oversee, preschool appearances to make, and newsletter articles to write.

And somehow in the midst of it all—I am supposedly a spiritual leader, after all—I’ve got to maintain some semblance of a prayer life, keep up with church leadership trends, stay current in my studies, and find time to be a dad and husband.

Sound frenetic enough? And I haven’t even mentioned pastoral care yet!

Even Jesus could heal only one person at a time!

Here’s the thing: it wasn’t just Jesus doing the work, but Jesus and the disciples. It’s not just the pastor who is called to do pastoral care, but all of us: the priest and the parishioners.

Look around for just a moment. You are a part of a community. Some of you know each other very well; some of you have known each other for years and years.

You are in a unique and privileged place, able to show compassion to each other, able to be Jesus to each other!

And, frankly, some of you are way better at pastoral care than I am; and much more available to offer it than I am.

Jesus calls us to compassion.

4.

That said, I want to end today’s message with a plug. Two ministries in particular here at St. Thomas are all about compassion: LEVs and Stephen Ministries.

LEVs stands for Lay Eucharistic Visitors. These are, as the name indicates, laypersons who take the Eucharist out to those who for whatever reason are unable to attend church.

It’s a very important and vital ministry, allowing those who are shut in the opportunity to commune with Christ and his church—the opportunity to be included in the community.

And right now we have only two active LEVs!

Would you like to show compassion as Jesus showed compassion? Here is a ready-made way. Join the LEV team. If interested, please let me know!

And, second, Stephen Ministries provides the opportunity to cultivate ongoing relationships with those in need, showing compassion through prayer and fellowship.

The training for Stephen Ministers is quite extensive, requiring some fifty hours before being sent out. But, for those who’ve done it, the opportunities to show compassion and the sense of reward are immense.

By the way, several people in our church will complete this required training in the next month. Soon after, we will have our very own commissioning ceremony for the St. Thomas Stephen Ministries team. Stay tuned!

And, again, if you’d like to learn more, please let me know.

 

Anyway, I hope you can see, opportunities to show the compassion Jesus calls us to are all around us. Today I focused really only on congregational needs; we didn’t even touch on outreach. But don’t worry: outreach opportunities will be the focus of future sermons, I promise.

In the meantime, as you witness these pastoral care efforts in our midst, consider ways in which you might show more compassion to those in your life, ways in which your agenda might need to be interrupted, just as Jesus showed compassion to the crowd, just as Jesus shows compassion to us.

In All the Murk

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on July 15, 2018 by timtrue

Operation Iraqi Freedom 04-06

Mark 16:14-29

1.

I think most of you know I wasn’t raised in the church.

I came to the Christian faith through a series of tough life events during my adolescence. My parents’ divorce was the catalyst: it sent me on a spiritual quest—a quest I’m still on to this day!

Early on in my faith journey, during high school, I attended some off-campus Bible studies taught by adult leaders of local youth organizations.

These leaders weren’t ordained; nor did they claim to be Bible scholars. They simply loved Jesus and wanted to do something with their lives that made a difference. And they definitely made a difference in my life, for which I am grateful!

However, some of the lessons I learned in those early days were not the best.

Jesus, I was taught, has all the answers I’ll ever need. God will make his will known to me—his exceedingly abundant will for my life—if I’m just patient in my personal prayers and Bible reading—in my “quiet times.”

All would be made clear in time, I was taught; and if all didn’t become clear, why then it was my fault: I didn’t have enough faith; or I was being stubborn, stiff-necked, hard-hearted.

My Christian faith, I was taught, should make things black-and-white, easy-schmeasy.

In other words, I was presented with a kind of Clarity Spectrum; a way to gauge my faith.

If the road ahead seemed clear to me, then I could be sure I was walking with Jesus as I should be.

On the other hand, if the road ahead was murky, well then something was wrong. I needed to spend more time in prayer, reading and studying the Bible, going to church, confessing my sins, volunteering at the local rescue mission; or maybe I just needed to give more money.

Have you ever heard this kind of Christian teaching?

Well, it shaped me profoundly in my early spiritual quest, affecting even the many decisions I’d make each day—from the insignificant ones, like which pair of shoes I should wear; to the huge ones, like where I should go to college.

When it came to reading the Bible, I’d approach passages like today’s as if they were Shakespearian tragedies.

2.

Herod has heard about a man named Jesus walking the countryside with a group of disciples, teaching, preaching, and healing. He then worries that this man might be John the Baptist risen from the dead. And if that’s the case, he knows, his days are numbered; for it’s only a matter of time before the risen baptizer comes for revenge.

For Herod, we learn in a grisly commentary provided by the omniscient narrator, has only recently beheaded John. Herod is riddled with guilt and fear for doing something clearly, obviously, indisputably, black-and-whitely wrong.

Today’s Gospel is a lot like Hamlet!

Do you remember him? He saw a ghost—or thought he did—the ghost of his father. And this ghost tells him he was murdered by his living brother and usurper to the throne; and that Hamlet should thus take vengeance.

Which he agrees to do.

Despite its being clearly, obviously, indisputably, black-and-whitely wrong!

Now, Hamlet doesn’t follow up on his promise straight away, but waits, waffling between fear and guilt, wondering in time whether the ghost is to be trusted or is instead some demonic spirit.

And the audience is left only to wonder: Is Hamlet’s apparition imagined? Is he going insane?

What we are not left to wonder about is good and evil. These are easy for us to see. We want to shout out at the players, especially Hamlet, “Hey! Can’t you see what’s about to happen? Don’t do it! Duh!”

Likewise, in today’s Gospel, Herod has made some really dumb decisions, clear, black-and-white, good-versus-evil decisions! And each time he has chosen the wrong way!

And now—serve him right!—he’s haunted by the fear that John the Baptist’s ghost will hunt him down and find him and take vengeance on him.

Is he imagining things? Maybe he’s going insane.

Whatever the case, reading this passage through my adolescent lens, I concluded, clearly, Herod has no faith. It’s the most logical explanation. Why else would anyone make such a foolish choice to oppose such a clearly shining example of a man of God as John the Baptist?

It was the lens I knew. Namely, truth was black-and-white, right there in front of my face, if only I took the time to notice it.

3.

So, I know my early Bible study leaders meant well and all, but this easy and clear faith doesn’t seem to jibe with the larger picture of the scriptures.

Over in Luke, for instance, we’re exhorted to count the cost; and in one of his letters to the Corinthian church, Paul bemuses, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly.”

And, besides, what about before Mark wrote it all down? Was it really all that clear to Herod? Or, for that matter, John the Baptist? Was it black-and-white, as we, the audience, see so clearly today?

What was John the Baptist really like?

He ate locusts and wild honey and wore a cloak of camel’s hair and lived in the desert—so we know he was eccentric. But what else?

Remember his messages? “Repent!” Or, “You cannot have your brother’s wife!” They were full of imperatives.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never done all that well with all imperatives, all the time.

And then there was that time Jesus told John, “Blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.” What was that all about? Had Jesus offended John? Was John an easily offended person? Was he thin-skinned? Was he, maybe a little, hotheaded?

He was a man of God, yes. But men of God are imperfect people too.

And what was Herod like in real time?

Herod Antipas, son of Herod the Great, was a puppet of Caesar, to be sure, put in charge of an obscure province in a far corner of the empire, eventually exiled for his excessive misuse of power.

He was also half Jewish, held in suspect—perhaps a little unfairly—by both Rome and the Jews.

Even so, in this context of potentially low, low approval ratings, Herod Antipas offered many liberties to the people groups within his domain.

During his forty-two years as Tetrarch he completed numerous beneficial building campaigns, including the establishment of the city Tiberias on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, which became in time a Mediterranean center of Rabbinic learning.

He also showed political sensitivity, minting image-less coins, for instance, for the Jews’ use.

Overall, he continued the program of hope begun by Augustus Caesar, who had appointed him to his position.

Now, I’m not trying to defend him; history is telling the truth: he was a tyrant. I’m merely trying to make the point that Herod had to make his way through life without clarity, without an omniscient narrator shouting directions to him as he navigated his way through each day.

Same with John the Baptist.

Same with us.

4.

Tragedies—whether in the Bible or Shakespeare—appear otherwise to us spectators.

We as the audience watch; and we see clearly where the protagonists are headed long before they see it themselves. Whether to the actors on the stage or on the silver screen, we find ourselves wanting to shout out, “Hey, can’t you see what’s right in front of your face? Don’t do it! Duh!”

That’s because we, looking at their stories, which are narrated from hindsight, see much more clearly than the players do.

Everyday life is not like this!

We wake up and, before we’re even dressed, must make choices, decisions: “Which shoes am I going to wear today?” or, “Khakis or shorts?”

Or more significant ones, like: “Is today the day we move Mom into the assisted living facility?” or, “How much longer till I can afford to see the doctor again?”

When we’re living it, we’re not so easily aware of the bigger picture going on around us, of the story each of us is in the midst of.

And we sometimes end up making choices that put us in the wrong place at the right time, or the right place at the wrong time.

There is no omniscient narrator telling us, “Hey, can’t you see what’s happening? Don’t do it! Duh!”

Like John the Baptist and Herod, we are trying to navigate our way through daily life in accordance with our callings.

It’s not that the road ahead should be clear. Our faith journeys are not black-and-white. We’re not living in reality TV tragedies with omniscient narrators to guide our way.

Rather, the Christian faith is three steps forward, two steps back; or even, sometimes, two steps forward, three steps back.

Easter’s great and all; but you can’t experience resurrection without first experiencing death.

This is the real Christian story: not black-and-white, easy-schmeasy; but the two sides of death and resurrection.

Today’s Gospel focuses more on the death side.

 

And maybe this is how you feel. Maybe Christianity isn’t all Easter lilies and milk and honey and clarity for you. Maybe it’s murky, arduous, and even, at times, frightening.

If so, you’re in good company: John the Baptist, the Apostle Paul, Jesus of Nazareth. . . .

If so, you’re doing nothing wrong: you do have enough faith.

God’s grace is there, in all the murk, transforming you, bringing you through death into new life.

Avoiding Spin’s Web

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 10, 2018 by timtrue

spider-web-with-water-beads-network-dewdrop[1]

Mark 6:1-13

1.

Spin.

That’s what we do to the truth, isn’t it? We spin it.

Not so long ago I walked my dog to a park, where we sat for a while and people-watched. Two little boys were playing on a slide.

It was a parallel slide: two slides ran side by side. Here was the perfect opportunity for a race. But, no, instead, one of the boys was attempting to go down the slide correctly, to slide down from the top to the bottom feet first; whereas the other boy was standing on the slide, attempting to block the first boy’s way.

A sort of cruel game ensued: the boy attempting to go down the slide the right way would pretend to begin a descent; and the second boy would predictably jump over to that slide and block his way. The first boy would then quickly scurry to the other slide, the parallel one, trying to beat the second boy’s attempts at blocking him.

This pretend-jump-switch-jump dance carried on for a bit until, at last, probably frustrated, the first boy let go for a bona fide descent. But on the way down, as fate would have it, he collided with the second boy, who promptly fell flat on his face, connecting his lower lip squarely with the slide’s surface.

Well, my dog and I continued watching, maybe passing each other a sideways glance, certainly feeling a kind of tacit vindication, as the second boy, the one who’d been blocking the slide, rose to his feet, rubbed his lip, saw a spot of his own blood on the back of his hand, began hollering, and ran straight for his mother—who was on her phone and had witnessed nothing!

Finally, grabbing his mother’s arm and pointing, he cried out, “That boy pushed me!”

Spin.

Some people put their spin on things really well—so well that we pay them for it! We’ve even given these professionals a name: spin doctors.

So, it often works like this. Someone, or a group of someones, wishes to communicate an opinion. But this spin doctor doesn’t start there—with his obvious opinion. Rather, he starts with a premise that has a ring of truth in it; and he builds upon this premise towards his conclusion, his opinion, not through logic but through spin: the manipulation of the truth.

“That boy pushed me!” And we often end up believing him.

It’s an age-old tactic; the devil does it over in Matthew.

“If you are the Son of God,” he spins, “throw yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’”

Do you hear the ring of truth?

2.

Anyway, thisspin—is the backdrop to what’s going on in today’s Gospel.

Jesus has set out from his home town and begun his ministry. He’s called his disciples; he’s been teaching, preaching, healing, and casting out demons. And reports have reached his home town’s ears.

Imagine the excitement some of his friends and family must have felt.

Yes! One of our own has made a success of himself! Jesus has put Nazareth on the map!

Nevertheless, the neighbors soon began to whisper.

How could Jesus, the carpenter, the son of Mary, become a success? Why, he once made a few chairs and a table for me, sure; and they’re good enough quality in their own right. But he’s a carpenter, for crying out loud!—not a synagogue leader, a teacher, or a miracle worker. What gives him the right? How could anything good come out of Nazareth?

And the whispers grew; and the disdain spread; until today, when Jesus stops by for a home town visit: whatever excitement was once felt has now dissipated.

Spin has spun its web:

“And he could do no deed of power there . . . And he was amazed at their unbelief.”

3.

It seems Aesop was right: familiarity breeds contempt.[i] Or maybe Mark Twain, who expanded Aesop’s moral, was even more right: familiarity breeds contempt—and children.

But I want to push back a bit here, on this idea that familiarity breeds contempt. In a relationship—for instance, since Mark Twain brought it up, in a marriage—is it really familiarity that breeds contempt?

I rather think it’s something else. I rather think familiarity is the goal.

At least it is early on.

Most of you have been in some kind of romantic relationship—whether marriage or dating. And if you haven’t, you probably will be someday.

So, think back to the early part of the relationship, when you were first starting to feel interested in the other person—butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, sudden surges in your heart rate, whatever.

And then she actually gives you the time of day; or he unexpectedly asks you on a date!

Well, what comes after that? Isn’t it that you clear every free moment of your schedule to spend time with this other person? Dates become top priority. You call in sick—for that is what you are, you tell yourself, love sick—just to get another few hours with your soul-mate. And when you can’t spend time together in person, it’s a phone call or face time. . . .

Relationships, especially in the early days, are all about becoming familiar with one another—increasingly familiar.

Familiarity may indeed breed children, but it does not breed contempt! It’s rather the other way around. Familiarity breeds intimacy. Familiarity breeds love.

4.

What is it, then, that breeds contempt?

Psychotherapist and author Mel Schwartz answers:

When we honor one another we’re not likely to experience contempt. The disdain comes from not getting our needs met. It originates from a turning away from your partner and a relationship philosophy that more likely resembles a “me first” attitude . . . When we devalue our partners, contempt becomes very prevalent.[ii]

We devalue the other person, Schwartz says. Ultimately, we are the ones to blame.

Now, I’ll come back to this idea—of devaluing the other person. But, first, even though we are the ones to blame, I think spin can take a good deal of blame here too.

For what is it that tells us our partner no longer meets our needs? Why do we consistently put ourselves first, ahead our loved ones? Why do we devalue the very human beings with whom we once desired to be so familiar? Isn’t it the spin we hear?

Culture tells me I’m more important than anyone else. I tell myself I’m more important than anyone else—than my spouse, than my kids, than God!

Spin has spun its web.

And when we listen to it—when we are caught in its web—we no longer believe in the relationship; it becomes powerless.

“[Jesus] could do no deed of power there . . . And he was amazed at their unbelief.”

Whether with your spouse, your partner, your children, or your church, don’t allow spin to render your relationships powerless.

5.

So, let’s return now to the picture provided in today’s Gospel—and to this idea of devaluing the other.

Just like with the neighbors in his home town, Jesus once entered each of our lives.

Do you remember when you first met him? All was new. You maybe even cleared your schedule to get to know him better, to increase your familiarity with him, to love him.

But, again like with the home town neighbors, many of us have now lived with Jesus for a while. We’ve become familiar with him. The newness of our relationship has worn off.

Reports about his miracles and teachings have reached our ears.

Whispers have reached our ears too.

He’s not so great, we’ve heard; a wise man, maybe, but no more.

He supports family values, we’ve heard; he’s pro-life.

He supports liberal politics, we’ve heard; or conservative politics (take your pick).

He’s a feminist, we’ve heard; or he’s patriarchal.

His mission was a good idea, we’ve heard, but that ship has sailed; think of all the violence and other evils the church has practiced over the last two thousand years!

Can anything good come out of Nazareth, we’ve heard?

Spin has spun its web.

How do we respond?

There’s really no easy answer, is there? For the mind and heart work against each other: in your head, you know you should reject the spin and just believe in Jesus already; yet your heart tells you otherwise.

To make matters worse, today’s Gospel suggests that the more we struggle with unbelief—the more we listen to the spin—the less effective we render Jesus. In other words, the more we struggle with our unbelief, the more reason we find not to believe!

None of us wants that—in our heads! Yet that’s the heartfelt reality seen throughout the church today.

So, one suggestion: practice value.

Jesus has a lot to offer you—in the Eucharist, in preaching and teaching, in your own formation as a human being.

You once valued all this highly; you once spent a lot of time increasing your own familiarity with Jesus.

But now you’ve lost the sense of value in your relationship with Jesus.

So, like any other relationship, to retain or even increase its value you’ve got to work at it.

Pray, then, even when you don’t feel like praying. Attend church, fellowship with the community, study the Bible, volunteer in one of the many areas of need, and, yes, give money—even when you don’t feel like it.

Value your relationship with Jesus once again!

For, when you value your relationship with Jesus, familiarity leaves no room for contempt but increases intimacy and love; when you value your relationship with Jesus, you avoid getting caught in spin’s web.

 

[i] This moral comes from The Fox and the Lion. Mark Twain expanded on this moral in his notebook. Cf. www.twainquotes.com/Familiarity.html

[ii] Cf. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/shift-mind/201010/does-familiarity-breed-contempt