CPE and the Seminary Professor


I spent the majority of this summer working as a chaplain intern in the Clinical Pastoral Education program at Seton Medical Center Austin. This was an unusual departure from my typical summers, which involve catching up on writing projects, researching, preparing for the new academic year, and vacation time with my family. None of those were in the offing this summer. Instead, as part of my ordination process I worked on the oncology and intermediate care floors. True to its purpose, this CPE program provided me with opportunities to minister, to reflect, to learn, and to grow.

I was also in an unusual situation. While the rest of my cohort, save one, were seminary students, I was a seminary professor. On top of that, about a third of the group were current students at my school. For the sake of my own learning and growth, I bracketed my role as professor in the context of CPE. At the same time, since I am pursuing ordination while remaining in a seminary community, I often reflected on how CPE was informing my understanding of my dual vocation of professor and priest.

I had many important experiences during CPE. I gained greater confidence in my role as a pastoral caregiver. I learned how to be present in the face of physical, emotional, and mental suffering. I thought a lot about family systems and their effects on all facets of one’s life, including health. As a former evangelical and a devoted Episcopalian, I dove into praying extemporaneously and learned a great deal about the nature of prayer.

About halfway through CPE I had an insight about why it was important for my own vocational journey: All seminary professors ought to take CPE.

First, some context for this insight. In my world of Episcopal seminaries it is fair to estimate that about half to two-thirds of faculty are clergy in the Episcopal Church. For virtually all of them, CPE was a requirement of their ordination process. (While the canons do not require CPE, I don’t know of a diocese that doesn’t). That means about a half to a third are lay faculty. Most are Episcopalian. I would guess this proportion holds for most other accredited seminaries. One surprise to me was that not all denominations require CPE for ordination. What this means is that there can be a healthy number of faculty in seminary who have never taken CPE.

So why do I think that the CPE experience matters for all seminary faculty?

Because faculty are in the vocation business and CPE is a critical means of discerning vocation.

I don’t think seminary is best understood as graduate school. That view provides a distorting effect on training for ministry since it places so much emphasis on intellectual achievement. Rather, I view seminary as a vocational training school. It is a place where people go who have discerned a call in community and where they learn the concepts and skills they need to live into their vocation. Seminary is also a place for ongoing and sustained discernment about the shape of a person’s vocation to ordained ministry. As they learn the content for effective ministerial leadership (biblical studies, theology, history) they also are learning how to apply that content in ethical, pastoral, liturgical, and administrative patterns. But so much of this learning process can seem abstracted and students too often have a hard time imagining themselves as ordained leaders. As a result, they often can’t imagine how their learning links to their vocation. This is where CPE comes in as a place where students concretely exercise their vocational identity and work through how that maps onto their personal identity, the formation they have received up to that point, and what they have learned in seminary.

So how do seminary professors fit into all this?

I would argue that the benefit of CPE for faculty who have not done it before is that it helps them to better understand the experience of their students. (Here I have in mind especially my own Episcopal context.) In particular, it provides an up close view of how formation for ministry and continued vocational discernment is happening to students during their seminary careers. I would argue it puts faculty into a more compassionate space and provides an opportunity to see the integrative work going on in the lives of students.

But this is not just about understanding student experiences. The genius of CPE is that it requires one to do integrative work and come to greater self-knowledge. One gains greater insight about one’s own behaviors, assumptions, and relational patterns. And this in turn provides insight into why one has chosen one’s vocational path. In short, I would argue that CPE offers the seminary professor a way of moving out of some of the deficits of university-based doctoral training that emphasizes intellectual achievement as the greatest good. CPE helps one pivot towards the vocational and formational focus that is proper to seminary-based education. This pivot enables faculty to better shape curricula, courses, and assignments towards the vocational goals towards which students are moving. On top of this, a unit of CPE can allow faculty to reconnect with their own vocational path. They can gain deeper self-knowledge about what ministry means for them in a seminary context and as a result live into a fuller calling as a seminary professor.

I realize that doing a summer of CPE is a sacrifice. It means a summer with no research, writing, or class prep. Vacation time is basically eliminated. Seminaries expect some sort of productivity during the summer, so doing CPE requires working with deans and presidents. But I believe the sacrifices are worth it.

I have also been blessed by the fact that at Seminary of the Southwest we as a faculty have been in sustained conversations over the course of the past year about what formation and vocation means. As a result, our own patterns of teaching and course design have changed and will continue to for the next several years. Not all institutions are in the same place. But I am grateful to be in a place where I can pivot from a focus on the university based model of intellectual achievement to a model of integrative preparation for a life-long vocation.

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Into the Night


Wednesday of Holy Week

Isaiah 50:4-9a

Psalm 70

John 13:21-32


Our gospel reading brings us right to the edge of the drama of the Triduum.

It is the night of the arrest of Jesus.

He is at table with his disciples and he predicts that one of them will soon betray him.

Jesus hands the bread to Judas, the one he knows will betray him.

The gospel reads:

“So, after receiving the piece of bread, he immediately went out. And it was night. When he had gone out, Jesus said, ‘Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.” (John 13:30-31).

“It was night.”

Judas slips out into the darkness of the world on his mission to betray Jesus.

And at that very moment, Jesus declares, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.”

This declaration is one of the most powerful and sublime elements of John’s Gospel.

At one of the very darkest moments of human history, somehow God is glorified.


I am captured by the image of first Judas and then Jesus plunging into the night.

For Judas, like for us, it is a headlong fall into our destruction.

We all have had moments when we find ourselves going out into the night.

For some of us, the night stands for the tragedies that mark our lives.

The deaths, the transgressions, the abuses, the betrayals.

I also am thinking of the dark moments of our common life.

The terrorist attacks in Brussels.

The racism and xenophobia erupting in our politics.

The crushing burdens of poverty and injustice.

It can feel like we are all plunging into the night.

It can feel like we are at the darkest hour.


And yet Jesus declares that at this darkest hour is when he will be glorified and the Father with him.

We stand on the cusp, waiting for this to be revealed.

The revelation of who Jesus truly is depends on his plunging into the night we find ourselves in.

When Jesus goes out from his last meal and into the night on his walk to Gethsemane, we can grasp the full meaning of John 3:19:

“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.”

The events of Holy Week puts into relief the darkness this world reveals.


Like the disciples, we can become scattered when the evil of this world strikes, when night falls.

But we can also turn to the example of the beloved disciple.

Imagine resting up against the chest of Jesus.

Imagine the security and the love you would feel nestled there.

Imagine choosing to be like the Beloved Disciple who stays close to the heart of Jesus.

And in that choice he too is plunged into the darkness of this world.

He is brought to the foot of the cross and to the grave.

He is there when darkness swallows everything up.


If you choose to be like the Beloved Disciple will stand at the foot of the cross and weep.

But you will realize that when it seems that death has swallowed everything up in its night, the light of Christ breaks forth.

So abide in the gathering darkness, close to the heart of Jesus, and do not fear stepping into the night.

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Ash Wednesday

February 10, 2016

Christ Chapel

Seminary of the Southwest


Joel 2:1-2; 12-17

Psalm 103

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-22


“We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor 5:20b)

As we enter into this season of Lent, I have been thinking a great deal about reconciliation.

I have felt deep in myself all the places in which divisions and hurts have created deep chasms and gulfs among people.

We see this in our politics where the Democratic and Republican fields reveal stark contrasts about the nature of this country and where it ought to head.

And these are divisions not only between the parties but strong generational and ideological divides within these electorates.

We feel it deeply in the life of the Anglican Communion where both progressives and traditionalists alike can appeal to Scripture, reason, and tradition to offer completely different views on human sexuality.

These seemingly irreconcilable views have lead to deep wounds in our life together as Anglicans.

And of course we feel it daily in our lives — the hurts we have experienced and done; the isolation and anonymity of our lives, the marginalization of the poor, the homeless, the different.

We live in our bubbles, surrounding ourselves with like-minded people, resisting encounters with those whose very presence might upset our vision of reality.


And so we must hear again earnestly these words of Paul — “We entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Cor 5:20b)

Why first must we be reconciled to God before we can be reconciled to each other?

The witness of Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation, is that since humanity is, as the pinnacle of creation in the image and likeness of God, the stability of the created order and our own lives depends on humans first living in right relationship with God.

If we see God as the source of all good things and we remove ourselves as the center of reality, we, our relationships, society, and creation itself, is able to live in harmony.

But if we remove God as the source of all and put ourselves, our politics, our economics, or anything else in the center, chaos eventually creeps in.

Too often this is exactly what happens.

And so we need reconciliation.

And if we see the signs of the need for reconciliation in our lives and in the world around us, it is also a sign of our collective need for reconciliation with God.


This reconciliation is constantly offered to us by God.

We experience it as something done for us definitively in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

But it is also something we are called to over and over again in our lives, as we hear in the words of the prophet Joel.

“Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.”

We are called to return to God over and over in the Scriptures.

And why do we return?

Because God has revealed to us his true nature.

God is not a fierce, angry judge waiting to destroy us.

Rather, God is, as we first heard in Exodus when Moses was on Sinai, and now again in Joel, God is gracious and merciful, abounding in steadfast love.

The punishments that fall upon us are the results of the chaos and discord that raises up when we draw away from God as the scope and focus of all things.

But when we draw near to God, we encounter grace, mercy, love.

We experience reconciliation.

We experience reconciliation, first with God and then with one another.


It is fitting that we place ashes on our heads today.

They serve as a sign of our true repentance and our deep desire for reconciliation.

And as dust they remind us of the dust to which we will return.

But that dust also represents the earth, the created order.

We stand remembering it is God who made all that is and that we are here to live in right relationship with God and all creation.

And we stand on the cusp of the long journey towards the cross and the grave, to that moment, when Jesus, returned to the earth, rose up from it, triumphed over death and set all things right.

Jesus Christ is the author of our salvation and the maker of our reconciliation with God and all creation.

So let us receive our ashes and return again to the work of reconciliation.

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J Appears to His Friends

Second Sunday of Easter

Acts 4:32-35

Psalm 133

1 John 1:1-2:2

John 20:19-31

The Christian faith is bookended by two great mysteries:

the mystery of the Incarnation and the mystery of the Resurrection

During the season of Christmas we hear the truth that God came to dwell among us as an infant, completely dependent on human kindness.

And now in the season of Easter we declare that this same child grew to proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God and was wrongfully arrested and executed for it.

But not only that, but after all seemed lost, after his shameful death and the scattering of his followers in confusion, Jesus was raised from the dead, triumphing over sin and death.

But, if you were one of his disciples, in those days after his death, would you be ready to believe his resurrection was about to happen?

Imagine you are Peter or Martha, and Mary Magdalene comes to you on that morning and tells you that she has seen Jesus and that he is not dead but alive.

Would you believe it?

Suppose that while you are there, Jesus suddenly appears among you.

And it is not a ghost or mass hallucination.

Instead he is there and you see the marks on his body, the marks that showed how terribly he died.

And he does not upbraid you for not believing but instead says, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

Hear that phrase again: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”

This one you have loved so much, who has been murdered so violently, he says to you simply: “Peace.”

And then next Jesus breathes on you – literally giving the breath of God — the Holy Spirit.

And then he tells you that if you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven.

This is the core of what Jesus has sought to teach his disciples – he has come to grant the peace of God, found especially in the forgiveness of sins.

In that moment of receiving the Spirit, the disciples grasp who Jesus truly is.

And they grasp who they are – apostles – apostle in the New Testament Greek meaning those sent to continue the mission of God in Christ on earth.

But suppose you were not there at that pivotal moment.

Suppose you are Thomas.

For whatever reason, you were not there when Jesus appeared to the others that Easter Day.

And you wonder if all they said is really true.

But then you, Thomas, receive a gift – Jesus appears to you and the other disciples a week later.

And you see all that the disciples saw before.

And you too fully grasp who Jesus was in that moment and you worship him as your Lord and God.

I think John is telling us that in the act of recognizing who Jesus truly is; that act also makes Thomas an apostle, a sent one.

And so here we are.

We are all like Thomas in our own ways.

We were not there when Jesus was raised from the dead.

And yet every week we are called to proclaim this great mystery of the resurrection.

Indeed Jesus says of people like us, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (20:29).

The Apostle Paul says that to the world, believing that someone was raised from the dead can seem like great foolishness.

So why do we believe?

For each one of us that believing has different beginning points.

But I would venture that for most of us we believe because our hearts have been touched by someone who spoke the good news of Jesus to us.

It could have been your mother or father, a friend, a teacher, a counselor, a pastor.

I would argue then that the message of the good news of Jesus has come to us through apostles in our day, ones who have been sent to us in our lives.

And to go one step further, the one who brought you to the gospel, that person had been brought there by other apostles who had proclaimed the gospel to them.

Now, let us consider that if there are about 25 years in a generation then we could imagine a line of about 80 people between the ones who proclaimed Jesus to us and those first apostles who encountered the risen Jesus two thousand years ago.

Imagine that line of 80 people extending from the pack of the church all the way up to the altar.

Imagine the ones who have gone before you — the ones sent out to proclaim “what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands” (I John 1:1).

We are the ones now sent to proclaim the Good News of the Risen Christ.

As you come up to this altar and as you sit in your pew while others receive communion, imagine us all flowing up to the altar seeking the risen Christ and meeting him there and returning again to our seat, sent from the altar as his apostles in the world.

Christ is risen, let us go forth from here as his apostles, his pierced hands and pierced feet in this world.

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Maundy Thursday

April 2, 2015

Christ Church Chapel

Seminary of the Southwest


You don’t see Jesus get up and took off his robe.

You are too busy trying to make sense of the table set before you.

It is Passover.

But there is no Passover meal set out on the table.

There is no lamb — just some bread and other simple food.

It is only after a few minutes that you look around.

You notice Jesus is not with you.

You turn your head from where you are reclining along the banquet table.

You see him in the corner.

There he is with his robe off and filling a bowl with some water.

You watch him go over and start washing the feet of Andrew and then Philip.

But you all had your feet washed already before you sat down to eat.

The servant boy who had done it now is fumbling around, thinking he must have missed something.

He rushes over to do his work again, but Jesus kindly turns him back.

Simon Peter pulls his feet in when Jesus turns to him next.

But Jesus says, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”

And then you realize this is not about your feet, dirty or clean.

He is showing you that you have been made clean.

Clean of everything — inside and out — but only if you let Jesus be this close to you, gently washing and wiping your feet.

When he washes the feet of Judas, you see the tender look Jesus gives Judas as he looks deep into his eyes, while caressing his feet in those towels.

And you see Judas turn his face away, unable to hold his gaze.

When Jesus finishes and takes his place back at the table, he tells all of you that you should wash the feet of one another.

Just as he has for Andrew and Philip and Peter and Judas and you.

Thinking back on it, you know that you could not have washed the feet of Judas.

To do it would have meant forgiving him and loving him.

And you think what Judas did was unforgivable

But Jesus did wash the feet of Judas and when he did it, he loved him.

Looking back on it all, you realize this is what he meant when he told you his new command was to love one another
The next day, after a terrible night, you will stand there at the cross.

You again will see Jesus without his robe.

But this time it will not be carefully folded on a stool.

Now it is in a pile at the foot of a soldier.

And again on that next day, you also see a washing bowl next to Jesus.

But this time it will not be to wash your feet but so you that you can wash his body.

And when you are done with that sad and silent work, you will turn and wash the feet of the one next to you.

And it is then that you will know that Jesus truly has come from God.

And that he has returned to God.

And you will pick up the bowl and go back to the room where you have all gathered and you will wait.

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Ashes to Go, Blessings on the Way

For the first time today I participated in Ashes to Go. I joined other people from St. David’s in Austin at the corner of 6th and Congress in front of the Starbucks for 90 minute shift.
I would guess that in the time we were there we imposed ashes on about 60 people. Maybe more. Several things struck me during my time there.
First, people came with openness. Many were appreciative, saying they were not able to get to church and felt the need to have the ashes in any way they could. About half said before receiving ashes that they were Roman Catholic. I was not always sure what they meant by this. All of us imposing ashes simply affirmed their identity and offered them ashes. The attitude of all who received ashes was profound gratitude.
Two encounters stand out for me. One was when several of us imposed ashes on about half of a Segway tour group. The other was when we gave ashes to a Christian from Iran. I don’t think her church in Iran had a custom of imposing ashes but she explained she had just moved to America and wanted the ashes as a sign she believed in Jesus. We gave her a card that we gave to every person that included a list of services for St. David’s. She seemed profoundly moved and said she would come to visit.
Some of my clergy colleagues and I had a Facebook discussion today about where the Easter equivalent to Ashes to Go is. If on Ash Wednesday we offer a public witness in preparation for Lent, when does that happen for Easter? Of course, a public action on Easter Sunday might not be as effective downtown or at commuter stations. But what if something was done on Easter Monday? What if we offered a blessing of the baptismal waters from the Easter Vigil? What if we offered a blessing in the name of the Risen Christ? What if we offered to all those people who pass by us a Blessing on the Way?


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Grace and Hope

Thursday of Proper 19

I Corinthains 15:1-11

Psalm 118: 14-29

Luke 7:36-50

Christ Chapel, Seminary of the Southwest


These readings remind me of two big Christian ideas — grace and hope.

Like with all big ideas contained in a few letters, it can be hard to wrap our minds around all that these small words convey.

But I think our readings from Luke and I Corinthians help us better understand them.

First, let’s turn to grace.

Lately I have had occasion to re-read the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer.

I really believe this document is one of the hidden gems of the 1979 prayer book and I commend it to you for meditation and study (but not right now!).

This is how the BCP defines grace for us:

“Grace is God’s favor towards us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.” (BCP, 858).

I think the story of the woman from Luke 7 gives us insight into this definition of grace.

The story has us assume that the woman’s sins are forgiven after she has wept over Jesus.

But it is likely that she has been forgiven already.

If we want to fill in the gaps of this story, I can imagine that earlier she had heard the preaching of Jesus or witnessed his miracles of healing and came to him for the forgiveness of sins that he proclaimed.

And I believe that Jesus gave this to her.

In a word, God’s grace, God’s favor, unearned and undeserved, was granted her.

Her mind was enlightened, her heart was stirred, and so she wept.

In light of this theme of grace, note the response of Jesus.

“Your sins are forgiven . . . Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”  (7:48, 50)

In these words, I hear Jesus asking her to stop weeping.

He wants this woman to embrace her forgiveness and go in peace — to enter into the wholeness that God desires for her.

He wants her to enter into the favor God has shown and to dwell in grace.

Ultimately, to live in the confidence of grace is to live in hope.

Christian hope, the catechism defines for us, is “to live with confidence in newness and fullness of life, and to await the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God’s purpose for the world.” (BCP, 861)

We can hear the movement into hope in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.

In the portion we heard from chapter 15, Paul offers a summary of the gospel of Christ he has been commissioned to proclaim — the gospel of his death for our sins and his resurrection.

Paul lists all who have been commissioned to proclaim the gospel, ending with himself, one untimely born, one not fit to be called an apostle.

But he says, “by the grace of God, I am what I am.”

Paul is empowered to proclaim the Gospel by grace.

From that, he proclaims the Gospel in hope — confident in the newness and fullness of life.

He lives, working and straining towards the completion of God’s purpose for the world.

While we might not always be able to quickly and easily say what grace is or what hope is, we can look at the examples of this unnamed woman and Paul as reminders.

And we can look within ourselves to when we experienced God’s favor, to when our hearts were stirred, our minds enlightened, and our wills strengthened.

God’s favor is outstretched now.

Claim it and live in confidence, looking for the completion of God’s purposes in this world.

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