Preach it, Bono

Thank you.

Mr. President, First Lady, King Abdullah, Other heads of State, Members of Congress, distinguished guests…

Please join me in praying that I don’t say something we’ll all regret.

That was for the FCC.

If you’re wondering what I’m doing here, at a prayer breakfast, well, so am I. I’m certainly not here as a man of the cloth, unless that cloth is leather. It’s certainly not because I’m a rock star. Which leaves one possible explanation: I’m here because I’ve got a messianic complex.

Yes, it’s true. And for anyone who knows me, it’s hardly a revelation.

Well, I’m the first to admit that there’s something unnatural… something unseemly… about rock stars mounting the pulpit and preaching at presidents, and then disappearing to their villas in the South of France. Talk about a fish out of water. It was weird enough when Jesse Helms showed up at a U2 concert… but this is really weird, isn’t it?

You know, one of the things I love about this country is its separation of church and state. Although I have to say: in inviting me here, both church and state have been separated from something else completely: their mind. .

Mr. President, are you sure about this?

It’s very humbling and I will try to keep my homily brief. But be warned—I’m Irish.

I’d like to talk about the laws of man, here in this city where those laws are written. And I’d like to talk about higher laws. It would be great to assume that the one serves the other; that the laws of man serve these higher laws… but of course, they don’t always. And I presume that, in a sense, is why you’re here.

I presume the reason for this gathering is that all of us here—Muslims, Jews, Christians—all are searching our souls for how to better serve our family, our community, our nation, our God.

I know I am. Searching, I mean. And that, I suppose, is what led me here, too.

Yes, it’s odd, having a rock star here—but maybe it’s odder for me than for you. You see, I avoided religious people most of my life. Maybe it had something to do with having a father who was Protestant and a mother who was Catholic in a country where the line between the two was, quite literally, a battle line. Where the line between church and state was… well, a little blurry, and hard to see.

I remember how my mother would bring us to chapel on Sundays… and my father used to wait outside. One of the things that I picked up from my father and my mother was the sense that religion often gets in the way of God.

For me, at least, it got in the way. Seeing what religious people, in the name of God, did to my native land… and in this country, seeing God’s second-hand car salesmen on the cable TV channels, offering indulgences for cash… in fact, all over the world, seeing the self-righteousness roll down like a mighty stream from certain corners of the religious establishment…

I must confess, I changed the channel. I wanted my MTV.

Even though I was a believer.

Perhaps because I was a believer.

I was cynical… not about God, but about God’s politics. (There you are, Jim.)

Then, in 1997, a couple of eccentric, septuagenarian British Christians went and ruined my shtick—my reproachfulness. They did it by describing the Millennium, the year 2000, as a Jubilee year, as an opportunity to cancel the chronic debts of the world’s poorest people. They had the audacity to renew the Lord’s call—and were joined by Pope John Paul II, who, from an Irish half-Catholic’s point of view, may have had a more direct line to the Almighty.

‘Jubilee’—why ‘Jubilee’?

What was this year of Jubilee, this year of our Lords favor?

I’d always read the Scriptures, even the obscure stuff. There it was in Leviticus (25:35)…

‘If your brother becomes poor,’ the Scriptures say, ‘and cannot maintain himself… you shall maintain him… You shall not lend him your money at interest, not give him your food for profit.’

It is such an important idea, Jubilee, that Jesus begins his ministry with this. Jesus is a young man, he’s met with the rabbis, impressed everyone, people are talking. The elders say, he’s a clever guy, this Jesus, but he hasn’t done much… yet. He hasn’t spoken in public before…

When he does, is first words are from Isaiah: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,’ he says, ‘because He has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.’ And Jesus proclaims the year of the Lord’s favour, the year of Jubilee. (Luke 4:18)

What he was really talking about was an era of grace—and we’re still in it.

So fast-forward 2,000 years. That same thought, grace, was made incarnate—in a movement of all kinds of people. It wasn’t a bless-me club… it wasn’t a holy huddle. These religious guys were willing to get out in the streets, get their boots dirty, wave the placards, follow their convictions with actions… making it really hard for people like me to keep their distance. It was amazing. I almost started to like these church people.

But then my cynicism got another helping hand.

It was what Colin Powell, a five-star general, called the greatest W.M.D. of them all: a tiny little virus called A.I.D.S. And the religious community, in large part, missed it. The one’s that didn’t miss it could only see it as divine retribution for bad behaviour. Even on children… Even fastest growing group of HIV infections were married, faithful women.

Aha, there they go again! I thought to myself Judgmentalism is back!

But in truth, I was wrong again. The church was slow but the church got busy on this the leprosy of our age.

Love was on the move.

Mercy was on the move.

God was on the move.

Moving people of all kinds to work with others they had never met, never would have cared to meet… Conservative church groups hanging out with spokesmen for the gay community, all singing off the same hymn sheet on AIDS… Soccer moms and quarterbacks… hip-hop stars and country stars… This is what happens when God gets on the move: crazy stuff happens!

Popes were seen wearing sunglasses!

Jesse Helms was seen with a ghetto blaster!

Crazy stuff. Evidence of the spirit.

It was breathtaking. Literally. It stopped the world in its tracks.

When churches started demonstrating on debt, governments listened—and acted. When churches starting organising, petitioning, and even—that most unholy of acts today, God forbid, lobbying… on AIDS and global health, governments listened—and acted.

I’m here today in all humility to say: you changed minds; you changed policy; you changed the world.

Look, whatever thoughts you have about God, who He is or if He exists, most will agree that if there is a God, He has a special place for the poor. In fact, the poor are where God lives.

Check Judaism. Check Islam. Check pretty much anyone.

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill… I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff… maybe, maybe not… But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.

God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house… God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives… God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war… God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them. “If you remove the yolk from your midst, the pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness, and if you give yourself to the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then your light will rise in darkness and your gloom with become like midday and the Lord will continually guide you and satisfy your desire in scorched places”

It’s not a coincidence that in the Scriptures, poverty is mentioned more than 2,100 times. It’s not an accident. That’s a lot of air time, 2,100 mentions. [You know, the only time Christ is judgmental is on the subject of the poor.] ‘As you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.’ (Matthew 25:40). As I say, good news to the poor.

Here’s some good news for the President. After 9-11 we were told America would have no time for the World’s poor. America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it’s true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.

In fact, you have double aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for global health. Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support for the Global Fund—you and Congress—have put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided 8 million bed nets to protect children from malaria.

Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive. Historic. Be very, very proud.

But here’s the bad news. From charity to justice, the good news is yet to come. There’s is much more to do. There’s a gigantic chasm between the scale of the emergency and the scale of the response.

And finally, it’s not about charity after all, is it? It’s about justice.

Let me repeat that: It’s not about charity, it’s about justice.

And that’s too bad.

Because you’re good at charity. Americans, like the Irish, are good at it. We like to give, and we give a lot, even those who can’t afford it.

But justice is a higher standard. Africa makes a fool of our idea of justice; it makes a farce of our idea of equality. It mocks our pieties, it doubts our concern, it questions our commitment.

6,500 Africans are still dying every day of a preventable, treatable disease, for lack of drugs we can buy at any drug store. This is not about charity, this is about Justice and Equality.

Because there's no way we can look at what’s happening in Africa and, if we're honest, conclude that deep down, we really accept that Africans are equal to us. Anywhere else in the world, we wouldn’t accept it. Look at what happened in South East Asia with the Tsunami. 150, 000 lives lost to that misnomer of all misnomers, “mother nature”. In Africa, 150,000 lives are lost every month. A tsunami every month. And it’s a completely avoidable catastrophe.

It’s annoying but justice and equality are mates. Aren’t they? Justice always wants to hang out with equality. And equality is a real pain.

You know, think of those Jewish sheep-herders going to meet the Pharaoh, mud on their shoes, and the Pharaoh says, “Equal?” A preposterous idea: rich and poor are equal? And they say, “Yeah, ‘equal,’ that’s what it says here in this book. We’re all made in the image of God.”

And eventually the Pharaoh says, “OK, I can accept that. I can accept the Jews—but not the blacks.”

“Not the women. Not the gays. Not the Irish. No way, man.”

So on we go with our journey of equality.

On we go in the pursuit of justice.

We hear that call in the ONE Campaign, a growing movement of more than two million Americans… left and right together… united in the belief that where you live should no longer determine whether you live.

We hear that call even more powerfully today, as we mourn the loss of Coretta Scott King—mother of a movement for equality, one that changed the world but is only just getting started. These issues are as alive as they ever were; they just change shape and cross the seas.

Preventing the poorest of the poor from selling their products while we sing the virtues of the free market… that’s a justice issue. Holding children to ransom for the debts of their grandparents… That’s a justice issue. Withholding life-saving medicines out of deference to the Office of Patents… that’s a justice issue.

And while the law is what we say it is, God is not silent on the subject.

That’s why I say there’s the law of the land… and then there is a higher standard. There’s the law of the land, and we can hire experts to write them so they benefit us, so the laws say it’s OK to protect our agriculture but it’s not OK for African farmers to do the same, to earn a living?

As the laws of man are written, that’s what they say.

God will not accept that.

Mine won’t, at least. Will yours?


I close this morning on … very… thin… ice.

This is a dangerous idea I’ve put on the table: my God vs. your God, their God vs. our God… vs. no God. It is very easy, in these times, to see religion as a force for division rather than unity.

And this is a town—Washington—that knows something of division.

But the reason I am here, and the reason I keep coming back to Washington, is because this is a town that is proving it can come together on behalf of what the Scriptures call the least of these.

This is not a Republican idea. It is not a Democratic idea. It is not even, with all due respect, an American idea. Nor it is unique to any one faith.

Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ (Luke 6:30) Jesus says that.

‘Righteousness is this: that one should… give away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the wayfarer and the beggars and for the emancipation of the captives.’ The Koran says that. (2.177)

Thus sayeth the Lord: ‘Bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked, cover him, then your light will break out like the dawn and your recovery will speedily spring fourth, then your Lord will be your rear guard.’ The jewish scripture says that. Isaiah 58 again.

That is a powerful incentive: ‘The Lord will watch your back.’ Sounds like a good deal to me, right now.

A number of years ago, I met a wise man who changed my life. In countless ways, large and small, I was always seeking the Lord’s blessing. I was saying, you know, I have a new song, look after it… I have a family, please look after them… I have this crazy idea…

And this wise man said: stop.

He said, stop asking God to bless what you’re doing.

Get involved in what God is doing—because it’s already blessed.

Well, God, as I said, is with the poor. That, I believe, is what God is doing.

And that is what He’s calling us to do.

I was amazed when I first got to this country and I learned how much some churchgoers tithe. Up to ten percent of the family budget. Well, how does that compare the federal budget, the budget for the entire American family? How much of that goes to the poorest people in the world? Less than one percent.

Mr. President, Congress, people of faith, people of America:

I want to suggest to you today that you see the flow of effective foreign assistance as tithing…. Which, to be truly meaningful, will mean an additional one percent of the federal budget tithed to the poor.

What is one percent?

One percent is not merely a number on a balance sheet.

One percent is the girl in Africa who gets to go to school, thanks to you. One percent is the AIDS patient who gets her medicine, thanks to you. One percent is the African entrepreneur who can start a small family business thanks to you. One percent is not redecorating presidential palaces or money flowing down a rat hole. This one percent is digging waterholes to provide clean water.

One percent is a new partnership with Africa, not paternalism towards Africa, where increased assistance flows toward improved governance and initiatives with proven track records and away from boondoggles and white elephants of every description.

America gives less than one percent now. Were asking for an extra one percent to change the world. to transform millions of lives—but not just that and I say this to the military men now – to transform the way that they see us.

One percent is national security, enlightened economic self interest, and a better safer world rolled into one. Sounds to me that in this town of deals and compromises, one percent is the best bargain around.

These goals—clean water for all; school for every child; medicine for the afflicted, an end to extreme and senseless poverty—these are not just any goals; they are the Millennium Development goals, which this country supports. And they are more than that. They are the Beatitudes for a Globalised World.

Now, I’m very lucky. I don’t have to sit on any budget committees. And I certainly don’t have to sit where you do, Mr. President. I don’t have to make the tough choices.

But I can tell you this:

To give one percent more is right. It’s smart. And it’s blessed.

There is a continent—Africa—being consumed by flames.

I truly believe that when the history books are written, our age will be remembered for three things: the war on terror, the digital revolution, and what we did—or did not to—to put the fire out in Africa.

History, like God, is watching what we do.

Thank you. Thank you, America, and God bless you all.


Thesis Critique

These are photos of my thesis project for my M.Div.

While it is hard to explain, this is the back panel that will be suspended above the chapel organ. There will be three (as there are three days in the resurrection). My intention in this portrayal is to leave a space for the grieving in the Easter story. The imagery is inspired by the story of Mary seeing Jesus at the tomb in the Gospel of John.

Sadly, I can't seem to get one picture of the whole thing. So, there are sections.


God is Still Speaking through ART

This week, I was honored with the gift of being featured on the Still Speaking website of the United Church of Christ.
Check it out at: http://www.stillspeaking.com/arts/gallery/peters_montauk.html.


Vagina Monologues

There are women that perform the Vagina Monologues all across our globe today. While women reclaim their bodies, Eve Ensler encourages us to affect change in the danerous ways that violence is enacted about women, simply because they are women. V-day (www.vday.org) does amazing work to educate and motivate us. But, I offer my own monologue from my own unique perspective:

Let us pray.

Holy Sophia, who created the trees and mountains that litter our ancient texts with polite euphemisms for breasts and fertility, we come before you as your creation. We come before you, created in your image, knowing that we are more that a uterus with breasts. We are so much more than this. And yet, our most erotic texts can only prattle on about our breasts. We don’t need more songs about these lumps of fat celebrated as “two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that feed among the lilies.” We are created in your image and for the love of God, we have pussies.

O She Who Is, hear this prayer for our pussies.

We search our sacred texts for just reference to this marvelous creation. This creation with more nerve endings than other human organ that allows us to feel more pleasure than any Father God could possibly comprehend. So, we flip again to this conversation between two lovers to find a channel. A channel? “Your channel is an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits,” coos the lover. Is this really the best we can do? Or can we gather than the inconclusive results of Biblical scholarship to find just one word. One word that may offer the peace of our celebrated creation. One word to praise our pussies. Like this adoring lover, let us raise our voices. “Awake!” Wake up! The beloved invites her lover to “come to the garden, and eat its choicest fruits.” For every seminarian who has found comfort in the gentle hum of a dildo, let us gather tonight and celebrate oral sex.

O She Who Is, hear this prayer for our pussies.

We pray for the many women who lead your churches into new possibilities of the gospel. We are the women that serve you. We are the women who put our pussies in the pulpit. Your fellow servants in the pews may enjoy the masquerade. They may hide their own penises and pussies. But, we are upon the altar dancing through liturgical action in the way that you have made us. In the pews, they may not see our curves hidden beneath long, bulky robes. But centered neatly between those yards of fabric that make our stoles, there is our pussy. Framed in its own glorious creation, we celebrate your image.

O She Who Is, hear this prayer for our pussies.

We can dance. But, when we go to the bar on Friday night to kick back and have a few drinks, we are the women who have to explain our sexuality. Yes, we are women of the Church. We are committed to the Gospel. We can preach. We can serve. We yearn for justice. And, as sure as Christ is risen, our cocktail comes with some off-hand joke about the infidelity of Catholic priests. While lifting up prayer for women who cannot be ordained in various traditions, we would love to enjoy our libations without explaining that indeed we are allowed to have sex. Our sexuality as unwed women has no impact on abuses in the Archdiocese of Boston, or any other city. Can’t you hear Sojourner Truth screaming, “Ain’t I a woman”?

O She Who Is, hear this prayer for our pussies.

Divine Mother, praise our pussies. Care for our clit. Value our vagina. We yearn for a world where women are not tortured for their creation. We remember women who mutilated, raped, violated and enslaved. We pray for the vaginas of young women and children who have been cursed by injustice. We name these women in our hearts and uplift them to you. And we pray for women who are afraid of their pussies. We remember women who have never found their g-spot either by themselves or with a lover. We pray for women who have never admired your creation with a compact mirror perched awkwardly between their thighs.

O She Who Is, hear this prayer for our pussies. Grant all of these things in the name of your holy channel. And let all vaginas say, Amen.


Minor Panic Attacks

It's not needed. There is no logic behind it. And yet, I'm having small panic attacks about the fact that this is the very last semester of my academic career. Ok, there is a chance that I might go get my D.Min. Slim chance, but a chance. I'm so excited about being in the pulpit and working with the people. I'm so excited about being in service in my denomination. But...

I'm a little scared.


Woman, why are you weeping?

These come later. I like the idea of Mary as the first disciple in John's account of the Empty Tomb in chapter 20. But, these images are really about longing. Missing something. Weeping for something that doesn't really have a name. Faith isn't always that easy. To know the dead are in Heaven. To know that resurrection of all souls will reunite us. Sometimes, there is just longing.

In the beginning was the word.

These are early paintings from last semester that attempt to articulate my experience of grief. My mother died 19 years ago last week (it was February 2). Somehow, no matter how dark I seem in my grief, these images capture creation. Read them with the first chapter of John.

For the love of God, Smile.

This weekend, I attended the wedding of one of my oldest and dearest friends in Hawaii. The fact that it was in Hawaii doesn't really matter, other than it's fun to rub in. It was a tropical paradise and certainly a fabulous place to run away to -- just as the semester begins.

I was honored with the opportunity of reading one of the sacred texts -- though not the Gospel. The Catholic priest presiding over the ceremony made it clear that I was inadequate in many ways. Never mind that I dropped the bomb that I am in seminary. An (almost) ordained woman?? Perish the thought.

I mention this priest to remind myself -- and others -- to remember to celebrate. When liturgy becomes anything close to going through the motions, we have lost something. Jane and Patrick do not celebrate their faith in any overt way. They may not attend this parish again for prayer or worship. But, it meant something to them to be in the blessing of the Catholic Church before God, their family and friends on this day.

In this wonderful proclamation of love, the priest just muttered. He muttered as if it was an annoying inconvenience to be present at this celebration! He muttered like they were empty words without meaning to the gathered. We were not all Catholic. We were not even all Christian. But to call upon God in this celebration means something, so do it with a smile. Do it with grace. Do it with love. I was so angry with this blatant dismissal of the possibility of God's profound place in this celebration. Now, Jane and Patrick might not feel this way. They might not share my anger or have even caught the bitter attitude of the priest. Nevertheless, it frustrates me that we so often fail to celebrate the unexpected.

Smile. Proclaim. Share. Sing. And bestow God's blessing with great love. This is our calling as clergy. If the motions and words become empty, then we must be attentive to the Spirit bringing new possibility. Until the Spirit is clear on where we are headed, for the love of God, SMILE.