Saturday, October 24, 2015


I'm drinking a dirty chai in a cozy cafe just yards from the shore of Lake Tahoe. I just ate the best croissant of recent memory?

It's just past 7am. Yeah, you read that right.

I'm on retreat with my LEVNeers, after a whirlwind of UCD Welcome Week, and travel to Chicago and Salt Lake City. I'm not 100% sure where I am, again, yet.

It's nice to just sit here. I walked about five minutes from camp in the 37-degree morning, which was as excellent as I imagined. So fresh, cool, calm, and quiet. I woke up before the sun and headed out the door in the brightening dawn. It's been quite some time since I've had that opportunity.

I've been working hard and playing hard for several months now, and have technically been on three retreats in that time, but this is the first one that actually feels like I'm on retreat. Yes, I'm "at work" technically.

But there's a crackling fire in the grate, and sunlight peeking through pines, and quiet.

Friday, October 16, 2015


[Jesus] came so that you may have life, and have it abundantly (John 10:10).

Y'all, I live an abundant life.

I'm writing this in my notebook on a turbulent Southwest flight from Phoenix to Salt Lake City. This morning, I woke up in Chicago, the final day of our Episcopal Service Corps Program Director meeting. I woke up exhausted, given that I'd slept less than 6 hours three nights in a row...and had been talked into a tequila shot for the first time in who knows how long. It's impossible to resists following a full day of work conferencing with dinner and drinking and endless laughter with my ESC colleagues--especially when we get to visit incredible cities like Chicago!

It was so much more abundant this time, too. My first ESC PD meeting was ~3 months into my new job--a little overwhelming. I met many wonderful folks and so this time got to say "good to see you" instead of just "nice to meet you"--one of the best transitions we make as humans.

There were a few new faces this time (including my roommate, Broderick, who I already knew from the internet hahaha) and folks absent from the Philly meeting regarded me as "new" again.

Our work, too, reflects this idea of abundance. We spend our days with excellent young adults, exploring and absorbing the world around them.

They live simply, in close quarters, with a lot on their plates. We could focus on the sacrifice (autonomy, money, privacy) but choose rather to see abundance (relationships, spiritual and vocational discernment, group fun times).

I could focus on my lack of sleep, inconsistent hours, cross-country responsibilities, middle-distance relationship, and vocational exhaustion. But choose rather to see my plethora of new experiences, never-a-dull-moment opportunities, support from my partner, and continuing reformation.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Not Your GOP's American Jesus -- A Sermon on Matthew 11:25-30

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always. Amen.

When I read the words of Jesus in this week’s gospel text, I was struck. These are beautiful words, comforting words—some of the kindest words Jesus ever says. They’re so familiar to me—I’ve read this story several times, probably. And it’s likely that these kind words are printed on posters or bookmarks or other borderline-cheesy Christian swag. But don’t let that fool you—these words are not pithy or contrived.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 
Think about the folks listening to these words—he’s talking, in this discourse, to disciples of John the Baptist, who are curious if Jesus is who John said he would be. They’re likely the definition of weary. Overworked, underpaid, undernourished, exhausted, never quite getting comfortable in their scratchy blankets and worn-through shoes. It’s either too cold or too hot, and they’ve walked so far already today. They’ve sought out this man that is going to change something. John the Baptist prophesied about a new way of being, coalescing in this man, Jesus, and they’re here to hear about what that is. 

Since y’all are just getting to know me, you may or may not be surprised to hear that the Gospel always speaks to me about contemporary American politics and culture. Now don’t you worry, none of the characters in our national drama are stand-ins for Jesus—he’s still here, speaking for himself. His words rarely actually appear in the course of an election cycle.

This week, though, his words called to mind a very American idea. Humor me, a moment: 
“Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, with conquering limbs astride from land to land;here at our sea-washed sunset gates shall standa mighty woman with a torch, whose flameis the imprisoned lightning, and her nameMother of Exiles. From her beacon-handGlows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes commandthe air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.  
‘Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!’ cries shewith silent lips. ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,the wretched refuse of your teeming shore.Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!’”
Do you recognize that? It's The New Colossus, a poem by the 19th-century Jewish-American Emma Lazarus, inscribed on a famous US landmark—the Statue of Liberty. 

Did you see the same resemblance I saw? “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Jesus says. Lady Liberty’s arms are similarly open, saying “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Here in the United States of America (a nation of immigrants, we often say) we, historically, know a thing or two about being weary, and carrying heavy burdens. We were built by enterprising immigrants and slave labor. We are built by innovative inventors and blue-collared unions. We are built by minimum-wage earners and migrant workers. We are weary, and carry heavy burdens. We whose families are still doing this nation-building, and we whose families benefit from this nation-building, and we whose families orchestrate this nation-building, and we whose loftiest goals are to initiate new ways of nation-building. We are weary, and carry heavy burdens.

Here in the United States of America, we are processing a recent visit from Pope Francis—whose namesake we celebrate with today’s feast! Both Pope Francis and St. Francis of Assisi are celebrated as being particularly concerned with the poor and with the earth—Pope Francis speaks out often about income inequality and climate change, and St. Francis was ostracized for living among lepers and valuing the lives of animals. 

Across the world, there are poor and huddled masses, who are weary and carry heavy burdens. At this very moment, there are an estimated 19 million refugees. This is horrific on a number of levels—terror and violence forced 19 million people out of their homes and into refugee camps in neighboring countries and then into other nations, hoping for asylum. No stage of fleeing a war-torn community is a good one. As they move from place to place, they are overworked, underpaid, undernourished, exhausted, never quite getting comfortable in their scratchy blankets and worn-through shoes. It’s either too cold or too hot, and they’ve walked so far already today. 

Pope Francis recently called upon each European catholic parish to take in a refugee family. US Secretary of State John Kerry recently announced that we would increase our intake of Syrian refugees in the next few years, reaching 100,000 per year by 2017. These are small fractions of the total number of people seeking refuge, and we can and must do better, but each burden lifted changes a life. In these moments, we live up to the name that Emma Lazarus gave us in that first stanza—Mother of Exiles. 

Jesus says to his disciples and friends and to you and to me and to Pope Francis and to 19 million refugees—come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. In moments like these, I feel guilty about the reasons why I am weary, and the burdens I consider heavy. But Jesus didn’t set any parameters. The weight that you bear today is a weight he will lift. Whatever burdens you, he will help to carry. Your course load, your grocery list, your budgeting disaster, your fragile relationship; last week’s awkward conversation you can’t shake off, your fears about the future, your disappointment in a friend, the phone call you forgot to make. Your burdens are Christ’s burdens. See that’s the thing about Jesus’ radical equalization—he listens to every voice. Whatever you pray for, whatever you seek, whether you think those things are large or small, they are never beyond the scope of the love of God. You are never beyond the scope of the love of God.

Each time we gather, here, we are celebrating this knowledge. Sometimes, we’re here to be reminded, and sometimes we’re here to remind others. When we pray together, learn together, sing together, eat together, we participate in the passing over to God of that heaviness we brought with us. Here at the table we eat the bread and drink the wine that unite us with God and with all those who also eat and drink—the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.

So, come. All you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, God will give you rest. Come to the table, and breathe free.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Hamilton, again. Except Burr.

You may think I am cheating because I've already blogged about Hamilton kind of but it's not cheating because I have been listening to the musical non-stop since then and so it's basically the only thing I have engaged--theologically or otherwise--in a week. It's playing in the background right now as I'm writing. And probably will be playing in the background (of my life) whenever you're reading this. Okay maybe not forever but at least the first time.

There's so much to be said about how much Hamilton has made me feel. (Like that time when there was a lyrical reference to The Last Five Years and you BETCHA I gasped and then cried.)

But! What I want to grab at this week is the profound sense of loss expressed by Aaron Burr. I know, I know, he's like the bad guy or whatever. But! In the first act, Burr (played beautifully by Leslie Odom, Jr.) sings "Wait For It." The first verse is about the married woman he has a relationship with. He can't really have her, because her husband is a British soldier. Whoops.

[Pro tip: go on Spotify and play this song. It'll help you to get where I'm coming from if you can hear the resignation in his voice, and then the rising to meet the anguish of the ensemble.]

He sings:
"Love doesn't discriminate
between the sinners and the saints
it takes and it takes and it takes
and we keep loving anyway.
We laugh and we cry
and we break
and we make our mistakes.
And if there's a reason I'm by her side
when so many have tried
then I'm willing to wait for it
wait for it wait for it."
The next verse is about the deaths of his parents, and so the chorus is altered slightly--and this is where the theologizing of his experience just leaps out of my speakers:
"Death doesn't discriminate
between the sinners and the saints
it takes and it takes and it takes
and we keep living anyway.
We rise and we fall
and we break
and we make our mistakes.
And if there's a reason I'm still alive
when everyone who loves me has died
then I'm willing to wait for it,
wait for it, wait for it."
This is what's hard about not ascribing to an "everything happens for a reason" kind of understanding of God, because we can't say "this death all around you is the direct work of God" and be satisfied with that explanation. Lutherans like myself are so easily able to say that God doesn't discriminate between the sinners and the saints because we know ourselves to be simultaneously sinner and saint! That's the mess of it. "We keep living, anyway. We rise, and we fall, and we break, and we make our mistakes." And God rises and falls with us.

And I cannot ignore the pronouns. We keep living anyway. We rise and we fall and we break and we make our mistakes. There's a recognition of the communal nature of this type of suffering, but then there's a deep loneliness in the return to the singular pronouns of "I'm still alive when everyone who loves me has died."

And I don't know how long he waits. Is that one of those "all questions answered at the pearly gates" kind of things? Because we all know I'm not there with that.

I wonder: is he waiting for a time when he can live a life not marked by loss? Living alongside his beloved partner and child(ren), not in secret, not in fear. Living into a new generation, less pre-occupied with the death of his own parents. After the war, after the revolution, not surrounded by fallen soldiers, all so young. I think Burr just wants to live a whole, whole life. And who among us can't identify with that?!

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Thank You Note to Lin-Manuel Miranda

Dear Lin-Manuel Miranda,

It seems absurd to send words to you. Whichever words I choose and whatever order I put them in, you could do it better, I'm sure of it. To me, words are everything. Sir, your words are everything.

Moments ago, I finished listening to the NPR stream of Hamilton and I am convinced for the second time that you've written a musical meant to change me. I first heard In the Heights several years ago and I last heard In the Heights sometime last week. When I sing along with it, I sing every part (of course not the harmonies all at once, that'd be magic) because the layers of words and notes and rhymes and themes are just too intricate to discriminate against. I cannot adequately express this.

This evening, as I sat down to experience Hamilton, I could hardly contain myself. My brain, accustomed to your sounds, tried to sing along, tried to anticipate, tried to hear Usnavi in the chorus. And did, to the extent that to hear Usnavi in the chorus is to hear Lin-Manuel Miranda in the chorus.

Each time I heard a character's motif come through, in song after song, I said, "damn!" out loud, so impressed by your incredible skill. Not surprised in any sense--if you cannot already tell, I revere you, deeply--but as line after line wove itself into this hip-hop history lesson I threw up my hands. Each lilting syllable, each syncopated storyline...I'm laughing at myself because I can't even put together a sentence to try to explain to you how much I love your ability to put together sentences!

I suppose at some point in a thank you note it is customary to say thank you. Thank you for teaching me. Thank you for getting under my skin and into my lungs, rattling my bones and making me feel inexplicably human in this music. Thank you for showing this Californian how the city of New York has crossed time and space to be the place all these people call home. Thank you for giving such large pieces of yourself in these performances. Thank you for writing. Thank you.

xo Case