About djgrieser

I have been Rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, WI since 2009. I'm passionate about Jesus Christ and about connecting our faith and tradition with 21st century culture. I'm also very active in advocating for our homeless neighbors.

Bernard of Clairvaux, 1153

I love because I love; I love that I may love. Love is a great thing; as long as it returns to its beginning, goes back to its origin, turns again to its source, it will always draw afresh from it and flow freely. In love alone, of all the movements of the soul and the senses and affections, can the creature respond to its Creator, if not with an equal, at least with a like return of gift for gift…. For when God loves, he wants nothing but to be loved; he loves for no other purpose than to be loved, knowing that those who love him are blessed by their very love. Sermons on the Song of Songs 83 (Bernard of Clairvaus, Selected Works, 272-273)

Some reading on Ferguson

From the Rev’d Steven Lawler, Rector of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ferguson:

Tonight there is more sorrow, tear gas, and destruction. Tomorrow will be a day devoted to distributing food, funding a program that engages youth in entrepreneurialism, and sitting quietly in prayer. Like most people I know in Ferguson, I will be trying to discover what it’s like to be on solid ground.

From Christena Cleveland: The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail

Yesterday, my neighbor broke down while we talked about the realities of police brutality toward young black men. Her hands trembled and tears showered her face. Experiencing the unique mixture of rage and sorrow that black moms know well, she described the numerous ways in which the local police have already treated her 8 year old son like an animal.

The cross and the Molotov cocktail: hTonight there is more sorrow, tear gas, and destruction. Tomorrow will be a day devoted to distributing food, funding a program that engages youth in entrepreneurialism, and sitting quietly in prayer. Like most people I know in Ferguson, I will be trying to discover what it’s like to be on solid ground.

Scenes from the Occupation


We’ve seen similar scenes this summer from the Ukraine, Gaza, Syria, Iraq. But this time, the photo was taken  in the heartland of America, Ferguson, MO.

The New York Times published this photo today. It exposes the reality of life in the USA today. After nearly thirteen years of the War on Terror, we are a society at war with ourselves as well as the world. Our politics, economy, culture, everything it seems, is conducted as war. We resort first to violence, violent language in ordinary discourse, and military fatigues, weapons, and armored personnel carriers at the first hint of trouble.

We mourn the lost future of Mike Brown, of so many others who were caught up in the militarized violence of the police and populace: Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin. The list is endless. We should mourn what we have become as a nation and a society: “All who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26:52)

From the ALCU:

Our neighborhoods are not warzones, and police officers should not be treating us like wartime enemies. Any yet, every year, billions of dollars’ worth of military equipment flows from the federal government to state and local police departments. Departments use these wartime weapons in everyday policing

The full ACLU report on the militarization of US policing is available here

Lord, Save Me! A Sermon for Proper 14, Year A


We’ve been paying close attention to Paul’s letter to the Romans this summer, taking our cues from the lectionary which includes readings from that great letter for thirteen consecutive weeks. Still, we are barely scratching the surface. The lectionary omits significant chunks of Paul’s writing, including some of his most challenging and important themes. For example, chapters 9-11, where Paul talks about the doctrine of election and seeks to explain how God includes both Jews and Gentiles in God’s providence, are largely ignored. We had a few verses from chapter 9 last week; this week we read from chapter 10; and next week we’ll hear a few verses from the beginning and the end of chapter 11. Continue reading

The Tragedy of Great Power: Israel and Gaza, the US and the world

I will close this article – and in truth, my act of bearing witness – by borrowing a phrase from John Mearsheimer: “the tragedy of great power.” The reality is that Israel, which has the fourth strongest army in the world and has a full arsenal of weapons of mass destruction, is a great power. As critical as the Holocaust was and still is in the rise of the entire edifice of human rights norms, Israel suffers the psychology of great power.

The real tragedy of great power is that it is fundamentally at odds with ethical conscientiousness and judgment. Don’t get me wrong, “great power” will consider normative values, will engage in moral discourses and will reflect upon ethics, but it is invariably and persistently self-indulgent and self-serving. Great power will idolize itself, and demand obedience from whoever falls within its sphere. It will reflect on ethics, but ultimately will always reach the conclusion that whatever it does or decides is indeed ethical, and that all who are less powerful must sublimate and praise its virtues. And the highest form of sublimation is obedience. The tragedy of Israel’s great power is that it has lost the ability to be restrained or proportionate. In other words, it has lost the self-critical insight and restraint needed for reasonableness.

I believe that the first principle of ethics is to pursue goodness and resist evil, but the second principle is to speak the truth of goodness and the shame of evil to great power. It is due time that we recognize that the critical premise of all moral acts is reasonableness, and that when great power acts unreasonably, great evil unfolds. Whatever the religion, nationality, ethnicity or race of this great power, the human suffering is always the same.


Conversations about Marriage: It’s not just about couples (gay or straight); It’s about community!

On July 31, in response to the request by the Task Force on Marriage, a group of 22 clergy and laity from Madison’s Episcopal parishes gathered to work through the discussion materials prepared by the Task Force. We talked for approximately two hours. We didn’t reach any conclusions but our conversation did raise up several interesting issues. What follows is my summary of the main topics that we discussed, based on notes taken by Andy Jones.

One of the issues we discussed at length was the role of clergy and church in the state sanctioning of marriage. There were clergy present who expressed considerable displeasure at serving as “agents of the state” in the signing of marriage licenses. Other clergy and some laypeople reminded us of the emotional attachment many have to precisely that activity. In some parishes the license signing takes place on the altar.

We talked about our complicity in the “marriage-industrial complex.” In Dane County where Madison is located, the average cost of a wedding is $27000 (according to one of those present at our discussion). To the extent that we host weddings for people who are only nominally involved in the lives of our parishes, our churches and clergy participate in and enable such economic excess. Attempting to teach a spiritual meaning within marriage through pre-marital counseling or in the ceremony itself is rendered more difficult because of the alternative message being sent by everything else associated with weddings in twenty-first century America.

There are competing claims around the legal, sacramental, and cultural significance of marriage and we need help negotiating these claims. The conflicts around the ceremony itself are one thing; the role the ceremony plays in the relationship of the two people who are united in matrimony, the long-term success of that relationship, and the role the community of faith plays in couples’ lives also need further clarification. In spite of the fact that many weddings take place in churches and many more are officiated by clergy, congregations tend not to play important roles in the lives of many of the couples that are married in their churches. Strengthening that bond is important because the ultimate success of the marriage depends on the prayers and support of a religious community.

We also spent a lot of time talking about other relationships and other ways of being in community. We agreed that any discussion of marriage has to take place in the context of a larger discussion about the nature of Christian community itself and how to strengthen ties within such communities. A few quotations from that portion of the conversation:

“This is too narrow a conversation. If the church is going to have a role in marriage it should also have a role in other kinds of relationships and community building.”


“For the church to remain relevant in our lives it has to continue to build community – that is what makes us holy, different from the state”


“The church’s role in marriage lies in the exclusivity of the relationship. I will commit to loving ‘you’ for the rest of my life. It derives from Jesus’ words, ‘where love is, I am…’ This is what the church is recognizing when it witnesses and blesses a marriage.”


“The church has a big role or part in ‘community.’”


Just a couple of notes about the process itself and the materials provided by the task force. People who attended wanted to talk about marriage and want the church’s help in building life-giving and sustaining relationships. They appreciated hearing from others about their experiences.

I found some of the materials unhelpful as I thought about facilitating a conversation. We used the materials prepared for the ninety-minute session and reading through the handouts I couldn’t always figure out how someone coming to the session with no background or context could use them to generate their own thoughts. In fact, I found the handout on the historical background so unhelpful that I prepared my own for the group.

Some other essays on marriage:

Emma Green reflects on the precipitous decline in the number of Roman Catholic weddings (and it’s wider significance):

So while it’s simplistic to say that American Millennials are totally abandoning their churches, at least in Catholicism, the trend away church weddings might be an indication of how young people tend to see their religious institutions. As Gray said, it’s entirely possible that today’s young non-church-goers might return to the pews in a few years, just as their hippy parents did before them. But it’s also possible that beach weddings are an early sign of a generational shift among religious Americans, with more and more people finding meaning beyond the walls and words of a church.


Nathan Chase writes in response to Green:

. For this reason, the answer to the question “Are Church weddings a thing of the past?” is much deeper than it might appear at first glance. It cuts to the heart of modern humanity, and it should force us to reflect on ourselves, the Church, and the modern world. If we begin down that road we might not like what we see; however, we must have faith that no matter our brokenness God, who can do all things, can heal the wounds of the world.

Transfiguration and War

August 6 is the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is also the 69th anniversary of the dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. In fact, the connection between August 6, the Transfiguration, and war goes back to 1456, when Pope Callixtus III established that day for the Feast of the Transfiguration, in celebration of the victory of Hungarian forces led by John Hunyadi over the Turks which temporarily stopped the advance of the Ottoman Empire into Europe.

For those of us who grew up after World War II, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were frightening symbols of the power of atomic weapons and of the horrible destruction they could unleash. The unimaginable suffering of those who died and survived created indelible images that were balanced by the equally unimaginable suffering caused by the war that was ended by Japan’s surrender.

In the decades since August 6 1945, we witnessed continued war and suffering, but thankfully no more use of atomic weapons. This summer we commemorate not just Hiroshima but also the 100th anniversary of the beginning of World War I. We witness wars and violence in Gaza, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, as well as in central Africa.

What is the message of the Transfiguration in the midst of all this violence, historical and current? On one level, the Transfiguration is about the mysterious appearance of Jesus Christ to his disciples in the radiance of his divinity, with a voice from heaven telling them, “This is my beloved Son.” Still, Jesus’ suffering and death, the cross, looms on the horizon of the Transfiguration, the Mount of Transfiguration foreshadows the mount of Calvary, as the collect for the day so beautifully expresses:

O God, who before the passion of your only­begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mountain: Grant to us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


A powerful essay reflecting on John Howard Yoder’s abuse

The Christian Century published a challenging essay that reflects on Yoder’s history of abuse in light of his own theology as articulated in The Politics of Jesus:

If we are not going to abandon Yoder’s theology after all that has happened, and if we want to make use of it in light of those happenings, we suggest that the source material for doing so lies in his most famous work, The Politics of Jesus, where Yoder talks about “the powers” as 1) created for good; 2) fallen and corrupted; and 3) redemptively still used by God in God’s providential restoration of creation. By “powers,” Yoder meant those structures that God has set in place to order creaturely life. When in working condition, creation is ordered by these powers toward its own flourishing.

In Yoder’s life, such powers might be seen as the structures through which he practiced his teaching vocation, the relational structures of a large family in which he and his wife brought up five children, and the professional theological world through which Yoder could disseminate his work. “These structures were created by God,” Yoder writes. “It is the divine purpose that within human existence there should be a network of norms and regularities to stretch out the canvas upon which the tableau of life can be painted.” But, he adds, “the powers have rebelled and are fallen. They did not accept the modesty that would have permitted them to remain conformed to the creative purpose, but rather they claimed for themselves an absolute value.”

We might read Yoder’s failings as a tragic manifestation of this rebellion. He twisted his teaching vocation into a structure for predatory behaviors; he distorted mentorship and influence for untoward purposes; he used analytic stubbornness to isolate himself from community; he perverted academic achievement in order to manipulate and bully others.

Written by David Cramer, Jenny Howell, Paul Martens, and Jonathan Tran, it reveals more details and wrestles with the important question of the relationship between a theologian’s life and his/her work. I read a longer version of the essay in early July when it was mistakenly posted by The Other Journal (it will no doubt be reposted).

I’ve previously posted on Yoder here

Give them something to eat: A Sermon for Proper 13, Year A

We’ve been hearing a lot these last few years about the growing inequities in our society, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the struggles of those who live in poverty to achieve a decent standard of living. We’ve also been hearing about “food insecurity” a new term that’s emerged recently to describe those large numbers of people in our society and across the world who aren’t sure where their next meal is going to come from or whether they’ll have enough food to make it through the end of the month.

We see evidence of food insecurity here at Grace. The constant stream of visitors to our food pantry is evidence of the difficulties people have to acquire adequate food. Typically, the number of visitors spikes in the last days of the month as people who subsist on disability, or social security, or SNAP—food stamps—find their resources inadequate for the month. It’s especially heartbreaking and ironic to see a line of people waiting for the pantry doors to open on Saturday morning while a few steps away thousands of people are gawking at the bounty of the Dane County Farmer’s Market. But that’s life in 21st century America. Continue reading

God in Proof, God in Prayer: A Sermon for Proper 12, Year A

Proper 12, Year A

July 27, 2014

“The Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”

Right now I’m reading a book by Nathan Schneider called God in Proof. I first encountered Schneider’s writing some years ago through the website he began with some other young writers called “Killing the Buddha.” It’s hard to describe in a few words what they’re trying to do with the site, but at its core is the quest of young people, millennials, to explore questions of faith and spirituality in our modern world. Continue reading