All we do, for good or ill, affects each other's lives...

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As we approach what for some will be a long weekend to celebrate Labor Day, I remind us that Labor Day is an observance in our liturgical calendar, complete with a collect (a prayer) and a set of scripture readings. 

Here's the collect:

25. For Labor Day (BCP p. 261)

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another
that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide
us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but
for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for
our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of
other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out
of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. 
Amen.

A collect begins with an acknowledgement of some truth about God, and in this case that truth is that God "[has] so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives."

If we linger on this for a moment we see that this is a restatement of the claim on us of Jesus'  Great Commandment.   The Great Commandment makes clear that there is no private spirituality in the Biblical tradition of Judaism and Christianity.   The Kingdom of God, the Realm of God is by definition a social reality.   Our engagement with Christ needs to be personal and intimate, to be sure, but Christ leads us by his teaching and example to the insight that God "has so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives."

The rest of the collect consists of our request for God's guidance as we seek to obey the Great Commandment, specifically in the realm of our work.  

The collect has us asking ourselves: "what is the good my work accomplishes for the sake of the common good?" We ourselves, as well as those around us, experience this question from time to time in the midst of an existential crisis.   Work can bring meaning into a life, but a person can also feel imprisoned by their work, and feel frustrated in their aspirations for meaning.   As pastors and lay people alike, we need to be aware of this dynamic in any congregation and in our community at large.   If you're struggling in this area and could use a listening ear, I'd like to be able to listen. 

In addressing the issue of compensation for work the collect expresses the tension between our own personal aspirations and the rightful aspirations of others for compensation.    Reflecting Jesus' teachings which put so much emphasis on the dangers of greed and of the worship of wealth, the collect gives cold comfort to proponents of the "Prosperity Gospel", who would have us measure our closeness to God in terms of our wealth.   At the same time, the collect places before us - whether we be employers or the employed - the rights and responsibilities that occur to those who bear in mind that "all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives."   As rector of a church which employs staff and is in a dynamic process of change and aspiration, I feel personally this challenge, and I'm grateful for lay leaders who help me address this challenge in a constructive way.   If the church isn't a good place to work, that's a real problem.

The collect also leads us to concern for those who are out of work.   Meaningful work for which one is reasonably compensated is such a key factor for well-being, as I've come to know personally during a time when I experienced being laid off.    The psychological stress of this is considerable.   There may even be a tendency for a person who is unemployed to withdraw from community of the church at the very time when the need for companionship and encouragement is most present.   Our concern can be to assure unemployed persons of their inherent value as God's creatures and to offer any assistance we can as they take steps toward gainful employment.    As a pastor, I invite anyone in this situation to speak with me.

My clergy colleague Armand Larive has written a masterful book entitled "After Sunday: A Theology of Work."*  His intent is to address the topic of work in a way corrective of the impression that the church is only concerned with what happens on Sunday morning, and not with the lives we live Monday through Saturday.  This false impression is lampooned in a quote he offers from layperson Mark Gibbs to the effect that all the church is concerned with is "turn up, sit up, pay up."

Fr. Larive's book celebrates the way in which humans are called in Christ to engage with God the Creator as co-creators.  His work celebrates the possibility that we can undergo the transformation that allows us to see our workplaces as places of divine activity working through us.   He's grounded deeply in our sacramental approach to life, which teaches us that God is present in and through and with all material things and in and through all situations.

Fr. Larive quotes a vivid passage from the great Dorothy Sayers, and I want to leave it with you:

In nothing has the Church so lost her hold on reality as in her failure to understand and respect the secular vocation.  She has allowed work and religion to become separate departments, and is astonished to find that, as a result, the secular work of the world is turned to purely selfish and destructive ends, and that the greater part of the world's intelligent workers have become irreligious, or at least, uninterested in religion.  But is it astonishing?  How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have on concern with ninetenths of his life?  The Church's approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk or disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays.  What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes on him is that he should make good tables. Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly--but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry?*

"All we do, affects, for good or ill, all other lives."   That doing includes your workplace.  May God bless you in finding meaning in your work, or finding work with meaning, and may God lead us to embrace in our work the common good, and may God help us church leaders to know how to support this holy quest you have.

 

*After Sunday: A Theology of Work.  (New York, Continuum, 2004).  This book is available in our parish library.

*Quoted in Fr. Larive's book.  The original work is Sayers' Creed or Chaos? (London, Methuen, 1947), 58-59.

Christmas Menorahs met hate with love in Billings

Saying she was inspired by a recent sermon, St. Paul's Children's Librarian Linda Tiffany recently passed along to me from our St. Paul's Children's Library a copy of The Christmas Menorah: How a Town Fought Hate.

This book, authored by Janice Cohn with illustrations by Bill Farnsworth, tells a story based on the facts as to how the citizenry of Billings, Montana rose up as a community during December of 1993  to withstand and counter acts of hatred; specifically an act of hatred directed at a Jewish family.

The Billings Gazette wrote up the story this way.

As I read it I was inspired again to see the example of people acting on the conviction that there is nobody who is not our neighbor.

This is a good read for parents with their children.  I've returned the book to the collection, so it's there.

The human condition is such that hatred and fear are ever-present.  But the words of one character in the story, as told to a young boy, are memorable:

"You know, honey, hate can make a lot of noise.  Love and courage are usually quieter.  But in the end, they're the strongest."

I'll let you read the story to see how it all played out.

As I read it, I wonder:  "Do we have to wait until someone is attacked before we do something united together?"

That's something to think about, and pray about, that God will show us how the occasion when we can act in the spirit of those Billings citizens in 1993.

"Oh, honey, you're so much better than that!"

"Oh, honey, you're so much better than that!"

Those words were uttered by an elderly African-American woman to a customer at the McDonald's where she worked.  She uttered these words upon seeing the swastika tattooed on his hand.

This story is recounted in Jason Byassee's timely article in the August 2017 issue of Sojourners, entitled "Confessions of a Former White Supremacist."

The article tells the story of Vancouver B.C. resident and former white supremacist Tony McAleer and of an organization called Life Without Hate, whose mission he works to advance, that mission being “to inspire individuals and communities to a place of compassion and forgiveness for themselves and for all people.”

Those kind words from a server at McDonald's were the seed that "germinated for years until the man left white nationalism and dedicated himself to helping others leave," writes Byassee.

I commend this article to all to read.  In it you will hear about the path that took McAleer into white nationalism and neo-nazi activities and out again.

Reading the article helps illuminate what is behind what McAleer said to Sojourner's magazine: “The hardest thing in the world is to have compassion for those who have no compassion, but those are the people who need it the most.”

McAleer sums up his message and that of Life Without Hate: “We try to help people reconnect with their humanity."

Christians have a mission which is a call to reconciliation.  That woman in the McDonald's that day perfectly embodied that mission when, recognizing the humanity of the misguided man before her; seeing the possibility of redemption held out to him, said to him "Oh, honey, you're so much better than that!"

It took a long time, but the seed sown in that moment took root and grew into a healthy plant.

It was the seed of the kingdom of God, which took root in that man.

I'm personally not shocked that there are people who live by hating.  I'm continually saddened by it, and I'm angered when hate takes it's toll on others, as it did in Charlottesville, taking the life of Heather Heyer.  We have to be unequivocal in condemning the hateful ideology of white supremacy whenever it is expressed.

Hating can give us energy.  It's energizing to be "against," to be "oppositional."  I know that from observing my own psychological states and by reading the Scriptures, particularly the Psalms, which are a mirror of every psychological state known to humanity.

But hatred is a dead-end.  Hatred and condemnation cannot lead us into the Reign of God.  But love can.  And love is hard.   Really hard.

"Oh honey, you're so much better than that!"

Those were godly words, godlike words.   She who said these words was filled with the Holy Spirit.  I bet she spoke them out of the depths of what she'd learned from her own suffering and her life of prayer.

May what this woman said this day live forever, and help direct our path.

I urge all to read the article.  It will give you hope in these very bleak times in the United States of America.

The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin

Today in the Episcopal Church is the Feast of St. Mary the Virgin, mother of our Lord.

I call attention to the Magnificat, the song of praise on her lips as she greets her cousin Elizabeth as the two of them celebrate their pregnancies.

As you read again the Magnificat, read it for what it is: the statement of the theme of the mission and ministry of Jesus.

As you read this setting forth of the theme of Jesus' ministry, and by extension our ministry, what does it tell you about God's priorities?

Where do you think our church is with respect to the priorities set forth in Mary's song?

Looking at the world around us, who are the lowly who are lifted up?

This song gives warning to the proud; warning of the danger of conceit.   Where are we with respect to this warning?

This song gives no comfort to us who make riches our priority.  Where do we stand with respect to this warning?

This song holds forth promise.  What word in this song tells us what the promise is?

How do we stand with respect to this promise?  How might we become receptive to this promise?

Here's the Song of Mary as it appears in the Office of Morning Prayer in the Book of Common Prayer:

The Song of Mary    Magnificat 

Luke 1:46-55 

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
    for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. 
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
    the Almighty has done great things for me,
    and holy is his Name. 
He has mercy on those who fear him *
    in every generation. 
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
    he has scattered the proud in their conceit. 
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
    and has lifted up the lowly. 
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
    and the rich he has sent away empty. 
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
    for he has remembered his promise of mercy, 
The promise he made to our fathers, *
    to Abraham and his children for ever. 

Charlottesville

White Supremacy was celebrated last Friday and Saturday in Charlottesville, VA as the "Unite the Right" rally drew hundreds to protest the city's plan to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.

"Blood and Soil!" chanted the marchers as they processed at night with their tiki torches alit.

That slogan comes from early Nazi propaganda used against Jews.  The intent of the marchers in Charlottesville is self-evident.  They weren't just marching for Southern "Heritage".  They were marching for white supremacy.

Let's name white supremacist ideas for what they are: heresy, error, an offense against God.

"...You have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth, and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off, and to those who are near," reads one of our prayers in our prayerbook.

This says it all.  Humanity is one.  God created all life, and all humanity.  God provided for variations in the expression of humanity.  There are different shades of skin, different visible characteristics.  There are different cultures and languages; different historical forces at work to shape people's lives; different customs.  God loves what God has created, and asks us to love too.

In Luke's Gospel, we read (6:35) Jesus' teaching that "the Most High...is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked." (NRSV).  Jesus says that God loves us when we're good.  God loves us when we're bad.

People naturally asked Jesus something like this:  "Well, if God is good, then why does God allow bad stuff to happen?"   We read in Matthew's Gospel that he answered their question with a story about wheat and tares (13:24-30).

While on vacation I worshiped at an Anglican Church on Vancouver Island and heard Fr. Anthony Divinigracia preach the Good News powerfully and clearly from this text.  He said that we are called to name evil actions plainly and openly, while leaving the ultimate judgment of the souls of those who do evil to God alone.  "Our job is to love," he plainly said.

And loving is hard.  Loving includes naming evil actions and evil thoughts for what they are.  This is necessary in order to protect the dignity of people whose dignity is being trampled upon and honoring God who gives dignity to all.  Loving in this way means that some people will be mad at you for pointing this out.   When we do evil things we typically hide behind the idea that we're actually doing good, after all.  We don't like being confronted with the possibility that our "good deeds" may actually be evil deeds.  Jesus found this out.  He got killed for being this truthful.

"All you need is love," sang the Beatles.  Well, yes, but as a teacher once told me, the real question is "what does love require?"

Love requires truth-telling, among other things.

So let me tell some truth about me.  I'm a recovering racist.   No, I've not been the habit of uttering racial slurs or consciously expressing racist ideas.  I've liked to think of myself as beyond all that; better than that.  

But I've been the beneficiary of a racist society.  I've benefited from white supremacy.  How, you say?

I was born in a state founded upon white supremacist ideals enshrined into the Constitution.  Yes, I'm talking about Oregon.  I managed to get through all my primary and secondary education there without having this fact pointed out to me, much less emphasized. As a white man I never had to fear for what street I walked on in what town I was in.  I didn't ever have the experience that some black youth from a Portland high school basketball team had when they were called the "n-word" from the bleachers of a high school gym downstate in a city reputed to be "liberal."  This was in the 90's, by the way.  It was only as an adult that I had any notion of the civil rights struggles of black Oregonians that were going on in our state's largest city.  And then there's this.  As a 17-year-old I knowingly signed up to attend a "Christian" college with a whites-only admissions policy.  I didn't stay long, but I didn't have enough awareness to be horrified at the choice I was making, and I didn't have any adult around me saying "this is wrong!" This is darned embarrassing, but it's the truth.  The truth sets me free.

Truth sets me free to accept God's mercy for my ignorance and for the "things done and left undone."

Let's call out what happened in Charlottesville over the weekend as the expression of white supremacy, a repugnant and odious ideology born of fear and hatred, and espoused by those who are led astray.  We must be unequivocal about this.

Let's affirm that God loves all people without exception or exclusion.  Let us resist those who deny this truth, and resist the impulses in ourselves which are like unto the impulses to which they have fallen victim.

And let's pray that God will continue to show us how to be faithful witnesses to Christ.  This prayer from our prayerbook is a good guide:

Almighty God, who created us in your image: Grant us
grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace
with oppression
; and, that we may reverently use our freedom,
help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our
communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy
Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Fired farmworkers at Sumas farm: a onsite report

This afternoon I visited the home of Lucia and Joaquin Suarez near Sumas, on whose land are camped the farmworkers fired by Sarbanand Farms this week after they went on strike to call attention to working conditions after their co-worker Honesto Silva Ibarra died Sunday at Seattle's Harborview Hospital.

You may have already about this in today's Bellingham Herald.  My attention was alerted by a call yesterday from a priest colleague asking what I knew about this matter, and by reading today's articles in the Herald and also the Cascade Weekly.

I spoke for a few minutes onsite with Edgar from Community to Community Development of Bellingham, one of two organizations - the other being Familias Unidas por la Justicia - that are working directly as advocates with the fired farmworkers.

Edgar told me that as of this afternoon the farmworkers are still without pay and without funds to travel and concerned about the status of their work visas, which are specific to their employment at the farm near Sumas.

I was told that the primary need right now is for funds to help the farmworkers to travel from the area back to their countries of origin.

While I was onsite a van from La Iglesia de Resurrecion in Mt. Vernon showed up piloted by The Rev. Helen McPeak, accompanied by church members who brought some supplies and their proficiency with Spanish to seek information as to how we can help.

Donations may be made to Community to Community Development (www.foodjustice.org) designated for the Sumas Farmworkers.

I will pass on information as I find it out.

The Seattle Times had a reporter at the farm today, and I was told that CNN had also called.

Please pray for these farmworkers, so far from home and in such a difficult circumstance, and for their families back home, and for the talks involving the Labor Department and the State Department and the officials at the farm, that decisions be rendered that are just and compassionate.

This is also a situation in which it's appropriate to contact politicians to encourage them to seek a just and equitable solution to this crisis.

Bobby and Scotty Sires home burned down last night

BobbyScotty.jpg

This morning at 1:30 a fire alarm awakened St. Paul's members Bobby and Scotty Sires in their home.  They were able to escape the blaze along with Bobby's sister Maddie, who was staying overnight.  The house and contents are a total loss.

I visited the home today and spoke with Raynell Ewell, Bobby's mother; and Tony, Bobby's brother.  They were engaged in the sad task of recovering from the ruins the bodies of Scotty and Bobby's six dogs; their "puppies."

Bobby and Scotty are taking shelter in Tony's home in Ferndale.  I spoke with Bobby briefly by telephone today.  He was heartbroken over the loss of the dogs.

Fortunately, their vehicles were parked far enough away from the blaze to escape damage.

St. Paul's will let members know how you can help Scotty and Bobby with recovering their lives.  Those of you on Facebook may know more than I know, and if you do, please share it with us at St. Paul's.

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Pray for them in this time of loss and sadness.

Independence Day 2017

Prayer Resources from the Book of Common Prayer 1979

Independence Day    July 4

Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this
country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the
torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and
all the people of this land may have grace to maintain our
liberties in righteousness and peace; through Jesus Christ our
Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one
God, for ever and ever. Amen.

17. For the Nation

Lord God Almighty, you have made all the peoples of the
earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace:
Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the
strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in
accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our
Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one
God, for ever and ever. Amen.

18. For our Country

Almighty God, who hast given us this good land for our
heritage: We humbly beseech thee that we may always prove
ourselves a people mindful of thy favor and glad to do thy will.
Bless our land with honorable industry, sound learning, and
pure manners. Save us from violence, discord, and confusion;
from pride and arrogance, and from every evil way. Defend
our liberties, and fashion into one united people the multitudes
brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues. Endue
with the spirit of wisdom those to whom in thy Name we entrust
the authority of government, that there may be justice and
peace at home, and that, through obedience to thy law, we
may show forth thy praise among the nations of the earth.
In the time of prosperity, fill our hearts with thankfulness,
and in the day of trouble, suffer not our trust in thee to fail;
all which we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

19. For the President of the United States and all in Civil
     Authority


O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We
commend this nation to thy merciful care, that, being guided
by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace. Grant
to the President of the United States, the Governor of this
State (or Commonwealth), and to all in authority, wisdom
and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the
love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful
of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus
Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the
Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

A Hymn by G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

Hymnal 1982, # 591

1 O God of earth and altar,
bow down and hear our cry,
our earthly rulers falter,
our people drift and die;
the walls of gold entomb us,
the swords of scorn divide,
take not thy thunder from us,
but take away our pride.

2 From all that terror teaches,
from lies of tongue and pen,
from all the easy speeches
that comfort cruel men,
from sale and profanation
of honour and the sword,
from sleep and from damnation,
deliver us, good Lord!

3 Tie in a living tether
the prince and priest and thrall,
bind all our lives together,
smite us and save us all;
in ire and exultation
aflame with faith, and free,
lift up a living nation,
a single sword to thee.

 

 

Interrupted for hospitality

Proper 8 July 2 2017       near Independence Day

 Jesus said: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”

A few weeks ago someone got a welcome here in Bellingham.  He dined at table with one of our parishioners on Saturday evening, who then delivered him to the door of our home.

 He came in wearing black pants and a black clergy shirt and black vest, with a small satchel slung across one shoulder.  After some conversation and a glass of wine with us, Fr. Dale Johnson went downstairs to the quiet and privacy of our guest room to rest and sleep before a morning of worshiping here among all of you at St. Paul’s.  On Monday morning he appeared briefly for some toast and coffee, then disappeared again into our guest room for a full day of quiet and reflection and writing; a time of respite in his schedule going here and there proclaiming the Good News of God’s love and telling the story of his beloved refugees in the Nineveh Plain of the Middle East.  I dropped him off on Tuesday in Mt. Vernon, leaving him with a gift for his travels and one of my clergy shirts, bringing his total number of clergy shirts in his wardrobe to two.

 Jesus said: “Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous, and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple -- truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”

 Sharon and I were rewarded by his presence, which was reward enough.  In his presence we always feel the mysterious presence of a generous God who suffers with us and laughs with us and cries with us and who promises to lead us into the ever-widening circle of God’s love for all God’s creatures.  Dale knows tremendous suffering, but he also knows tremendous joy.

 Dale’s God is our God, and God is calling us through Jesus to the mission on which he sent his first disciples;to bring bring healing to the sick, life to those given up for dead, re-entry for those excluded, liberation for those oppressed by evil spirits. We are sent on that mission. All of us.

 We are to be open to interruption in our lives for the sake of the kingdom; receiving the message and the messengers who come to us through “little ones” like Fr. Dale, who may be “little” in the eyes of the despots of the world, but who comes as Christ enfleshed to those who are crushed under the heel of those same despots.

That same God will have us be interrupted by each other; we who are intensely pressured to be divided one from another, to believe the lie that we are enemies one of another, to cut ourselves off from one another; we who also live in a time of intense loneliness and isolation and fear.

Jesus wants us to give out cups of cold water to one another, to take from the Bread of Life at the Eucharist and be bread for others, as Sara Miles so beautifully puts it in her book Take This Bread:

 “...[Christianity] proclaims against reason that the hungry will be fed, that those cast down will be raised up, and that all things, including my own failures, are being made new. It offers food without exception to the worthy and unworthy, the screwed-up and pious, and then commands everyone to do the same. It doesn't promise to solve or erase suffering but to transform it, pledging that by loving one another, even through pain, we will find more life. And it insists that by opening ourselves to strangers, the despised or frightening or unintelligible other, we will see more and more of the holy, since, without exception, all people are one body: God's.

 The collect today says that the Church is founded upon this interruption for the sake of the kingdom of God.  This interruption, the chief interrupter being Jesus, is our reason for being here, for God’s sake.

The Church has a message for us as we approach the anniversary of our Independence.  God wants citizens who are willing to be interrupted by the revelation that God “has made all the peoples of the earth for God’s glory, and that a “zeal for justice and strength of forbearance” to “use our liberty in accordance with God’s gracious will” is God’s charter for patriotism.

 And if you’re thinking that this all sounds both alluring and incredibly challenging and difficult, well, you’re right.

 My hope for St. Paul’s is that we’re always willing to be interrupted for the reign of God, that we’ll hunger for the reign of God.

So I ask you: Is this church community being used by God to interrupt your life, open your heart to God?  Does this church offer you a cup of cold water when thirsty, some measure of healing for your soul, some measure of liberation for joy?

 I’m asking you that if you don’t find that here, for God’s sake find it somewhere.

And if you do find that here, I ask you today that if you aren’t already doing so, that you begin a habit of supporting this church by your financial giving, by some measure of your wealth.

All gifts, no matter how small, are important.  Full participation is the aim.  I need not belabor the point that the way in which we’re doing mission requires money.  This Church is growing in numbers because we’re doing more.  If we could literally get by on cups of cold water, that would be great, but I ask you to consider that one way of offering a cup of cold water to each other is to support with your financial giving the community that interrupts our lives with the startling Good News of God in Christ.

In your pews are pledge cards.  You can fill one out and put it in the offering plate, or mail it in.  You can give online.  You can drop cash in the plate.

 Let us pray:

 O God, with the Psalmist we are persuaded that your love is established forever.  Open us to interruption for the sake of your love and your reign of justice and peace.

Amen.

Pride in Bellingham

Pride celebrations have been going on across the country in June as they do every year and will happen July 7- 9 in Bellingham. St. Paul's will be represented at Pride, and elsewhere in this issue you can see some details about that from members of St. Paul's who are making our presence known there, and who invite us to participate along with them.

Pride is an opportunity for followers of Jesus to bear witness to the love of Jesus for everyone. A lot of people need reassurance that God loves them, and you never know who might see our membership represented in Bellingham's celebration and receive a much-needed reminder that God loves them.  Goodness knows there are still plenty of difficulties and potential roadblocks for GLBTQ people, and I'm thinking especially of those teens who are discovering they are "different" than their peers and really need love as they grow into all that they can be as human beings and children of God.

I'll be away with family that day in Vermont.  Please know I'll be praying for those who are at Pride in Bellingham.  I'm grateful for GLBTQ people among us as fellow pilgrims and disciples at St. Paul's, and for what they've taught me and how they love us and how they are helping us live into what the Book of Common Prayer describes as the essential mission of the Church, which is to "draw all people to unity with God and each other in Christ." (BCP 1979, p. 855)

Together, as last Sunday's collect has it, we're all being built upon the foundation of apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. We're being called by God to a unity of spirit as we're made a holy temple, a dwelling for God. (BCP 1979. p. 230).

As we're at Pride, let's look at everyone with the understanding that God dwells within them and wishes to do so, and that we're all in this together.

Fr. Dale Johnson: an Update

We were blessed to have Fr. Dale Johnson with us on Sunday, May 21 to attend worship and have conversations with us.  On Sunday evening Fr. Dale joined with a group for an hour-and-a-half of informal conversation at St. Paul's.

Fr. Dale Johnson, who grew up on a dairy farm near Mt. Vernon, is a priest of the Syrian Orthodox Church who has spent much of his life in the Tur Abdin (Mountain of the Servants) region of Southeast Turkey.  This region is the historic home of Aramaic-speaking Christianity.  Aramaic is the language Jesus used, and is still the language of worship and conversation for about a million Christians of that region, many of whom live in diaspora in Europe and Scandinavia.

In 2015 I took a trip with several other Episcopalians from the Diocese of Olympia to this region of the world in Fr. Dale's company.  During that trip we met with refugees in both Turkey and Northern Iraq and helped Fr. Dale in a project called "Seeds of Hope", which eventually succeeded in helping over 200 gardens be planted in refugee communities.

Fr. Dale was in Germany last year when an attempted coup in Turkey led to the denial of his application to renew his visa.  Fr. Dale then went to the Dominican Republic to stay, where he taught physics to college freshman at the University in Puerto Plata and prayed with a small group of Orthodox believers who are the remnant of a previous exodus from the Middle East.

Now Fr. Dale is in the area visiting family and renewing connections with churches and friends who have supported his ministry among refugees and displaced peoples along the long border shared by Syria, Turkey, and Iraq, where 2 million people are living in refugee camps after fleeing terror inflicted by ISIS.

Fr. Dale's contacts in Turkey are telling him that his visa renewal application is now likely to be approved, so he is hoping to return to his beloved Tur Abdin region in June.

Some of you heard about the "Seeds of Justice" project, which is focused on helping refugees document their claims to their properties and homes in the lands from which they have had to flee.  Fr. Dale reports that this project continues with the help of lawyers within Turkey who are multi-lingual in Turkish and Arabic.

Fr. Dale's latest initiative is following the lead of a Syrian Orthodox deacon named George, who lives in Germany, in a project called "Project Identity."  Deacon George recruited Fr. Dale to help him with this project, which addresses the need caused by the loss of personal property and effects sustained by refugees who have had to pick up and leave their homes under short notice and undergo many ordeals and trials in their flight from terror.  Many refugees end up as people with no official identity; a situation that renders them very vulnerable to psychological and physical danger.  Project Identity's work is to supply these refugees with identity cards.  It is this work that Fr. Dale intends to pursue in his return to Turkey.

Mor Gabriel Monastery

Upon his return Fr. Dale expects to reside at Mor Gabriel Monastery, which is the home of his bishop, Timotheus Samuel Aktas, Archbishop of Tur Abdin of the Syrian Orthodox Church.  From this base of operations near the borders of Turkey with Iraq and Syria, he will visit refugee camps along that border as he has done for many years.

Those who wish to follow Fr. Dale Johnson's ministry directly may do so on his Facebook page or the Seeds of Hope Facebook page.

An Ash Wednesday Homily

Ash Wednesday 2017      March 1

In the name of God and of the Church I welcome you here today to this celebration of Ash Wednesday.   Some of you have been coming for years.  Some of you are perhaps new to this.  All of us came here today for reasons known only to you, and perhaps for reasons that are not quite clear even to yourself.  The important thing is, you came here today, and you’re helping us have a holy space here.

I once entered an Ash Wednesday service for the first time myself, years ago, as a young twenty-something adult.  I had never experienced one before, so it was all new.  I was drawn to the solemnity, the poetry of the service and of the hymns and anthems, and the simple witness of that dark smudged cross of ashes the priest imposed on my forehead with those words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

This service told the truth.  I’m a sinner; I fail to do the good I want to do, and do the evil that I do not want to admit that I do.

That, and I’m going to die someday.  That day is sooner now than it was then, when I was in my early twenties.

This service told the truth, the whole of it.  I appreciated the honesty it of it, and the grace apparent in it.  I heard that day that God knows me, loves me, calls me forward. God knows I’m dust, the Psalm said.  God cares for my dusty little being as a loving parent, the Psalm said.  As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our sins from us, the Psalm said.  My sins, too.

And more than this, God knows everyone in line with me to receive those ashes and that holy meal of bread and wine.  God knows them and loves them. God intends me to know and love them too.

And more than this, God’s dominion is everywhere, the Psalm said. And the collect said that God hates nothing that God has made, which is a way of saying that God loves everything and everyone that God made.  That reminded me of the Creation story, in which God looked at everything that was made and said “It is good.  It is very good!”

Because God’s dominion is everywhere, and because God hates nothing that God has made, then we who come forward for ashes and again to receive the bread and the wine that is Christ are meant to be in the world as the hosts of angels are in the world, to do God’s bidding, to bless the Lord and to do the Lord’s will in all the places of God’s dominion, as the Psalm said.

I needed to hear all this that day.

I hope you will hear what you need to hear today.  I’m sure, actually, that you will, because the Spirit will make that happen in you.

In a few minutes you will be invited to a holy Lent.  Listen carefully to the invitation.  You will learn that Lent is a period of time of preparation for baptism or for the renewal of the promises and vows of our baptism.  Then we'll mark with Karissa, Rob, Kim, Elysia, Emilie, April, Tommy, and Sarah their journey toward reaffirming those baptismal vows before our bishop this spring.

Baptism, of course, unites us to Jesus Christ in his life, his death, his resurrection.  In baptism we take vows and make promises to renounce any of our tendencies to make a claim of sovereignty over our own lives, to think that all this is our dominion.  We all have that tendency toward the illusion that we are in control of our lives; that we can direct them toward whatever ends and purposes we imagine.

You’re here today because you probably have gotten wise to the fact that your life is fragile, that it is ultimately not in your control; that it is in fact a profound and holy gift.  It is an unspeakable gift.  God reigns in and through and over all things, and ultimately joy and fulfillment are found in desiring what God desires for this dominion.

The faith of a Christian is that we find our life after we renounce our claim of sovereignty over it.  We find our life as we find Christ’s life living in us.

So Lent is a time to reaffirm that we renounced our claim of sovereignty.

Three practices help us, our Gospel tells us:

  1. Give away wealth to benefit those who lack - renounce the hold that wealth has on us; our illusion that wealth can satisfy our deepest longings.  Use wealth as an investment in this new way of life in which God’s desires are becoming uppermost.

  2. Pray.  Go in secret to spend time alone with Jesus.  Let the love of God reach you in holy Scripture; speak the desires and questions of your heart alone to God.  As Thomas Keating tells us, bringing forward the wisdom of the desert fathers and mothers and the great mystics and lovers of God in our tradition, merely consent to let God love you.  It’s divine therapy, he says.  In time, all the other voices in your past and from within that condemn you will fade. In time, the clear voice of God’s love for you will emerge.  In silence welcome the One who is beyond description, in whose being you have your own being.

  3. Fast.  Deny yourself in some way in order that you might hear the voice of Jesus resounding as he resisted the temptation of Satan in the wilderness, about which we’ll hear next Sunday.   Jesus said then: “Human beings do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”  Deny yourself, and let that desire be shaped toward what God wants.

As we continue Lent, I am reminded of these words from Gregory the Great from the 6th Century:

Give us, O Lord, the discipline

that springs from abstinence in outward things

with inward fasting,

so that we in heart and soul may dwell with thee.

 

Grant, O thou blessed Trinity;

grant, O unchanging Unity;

that this our fast of forty days

may work our profit and thy praise!*

*Hymnal 1982 #152.  Kind Maker of the World.  Gregory the Great (540-604)

A state of emergency

Thanks to The Rev. Suzanne Guthrie over at her blog At the Edge of the Enclosure for this timely thought from Henri Nouwen:

We no longer have to ask ourselves if we are approaching a state of emergency. We are in the midst of it, right here and now, and we expect the future to mirror the past.... It is in the midst of this dark world that we are invited to live and radiate hope. Is it possible? Can we become light, salt, and leaven to our brothers and sisters in the human family? Can we offer hope, courage, and confidence to the people of this era? Do we dare break through our paralyzing fear? Will people be able to say of us, 'See how they love each other, how they serve their neighbor, and how they pray to their Lord?' Or do we have to confess that at this juncture of history we just do not have the needed strength or the generosity? How can we live in hope so as to give hope? And how do we find true joy?

-Henri Nouwen1932-1996
Clowning in Rome

"I was a stranger, and you took me in." -Jesus

When I heard last Friday of the Executive Order of President Trump on Immigration I joined many religious leaders national and local in signing this letter from Church World Service to Mr. Trump and Members of Congress.

The letter opposes "any policy change that would prevent refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen, or individuals who practice Islam and other faiths from accessing the U.S. refugee resettlement program."

On the same day, Bishop Rickel wrote this statement in which he opposed the Executive Order, reminded us all about the work of our own Diocese of Olympia's Office of Refugee Resettlement, and  included the following list of considerations:

Key Points to Remember

  • There are more than 65 million people displaced by war, violence, famine, and persecution.

  • The United States already has the most rigorous and thorough vetting process for allowing refugees into our country.

  • Since 1975, there have only been 8 deaths linked to acts of terrorism committed by refugees or asylum seekers.

  • Since 1975, there have been 438 deaths linked to acts of terrorism committed by US Citizens.

  • The RRO helps resettle 190 individuals each year.

  • The RRO provides a variety of services to help refugees resettle in a new culture and a new community.

  • Any ban on a specific religion or nation is against our nation’s values.

A broad swathe of the Christian community is opposing this Executive Order.  This letter from some key Evangelical leaders is an example.    The President of the National Association of Evangelicals called on President Trump to continue settling refugees and compared the rigorous requirements of the refugee resettlement process with the lax requirements for entry of other foreign nationals to question the value of the executive order to accomplish better security for Americans.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued this statement  in which they affirmed their belief in

"assisting all those who are vulnerable and fleeing persecution, regardless of their religion. This includes Christians, as well as Yazidis and Shia Muslims from Syria, Rohingyas from Burma, and other religious minorities. However, we need to protect all our brothers and sisters of all faiths, including Muslims, who have lost family, home, and country. They are children of God and are entitled to be treated with human dignity."

The Roman Catholic Cardinal Archbishop of Chicago issued a statement  in which he warned that "the world is watching as we abandon our commitments to American values. These actions give aid and comfort to those who would destroy our way of life."  He called upon Catholics to "put aside fear and join together to recover who we are and what we represent to a world badly in need of hope and solidarity."

In our own Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, less than one week after hosting the inauguration prayer service at the National Cathedral, called upon President Trump to "continue the powerful work of our refugee resettlement program without interruption."  The Rev. E. Mark Stevenson, Director of Episcopal Migration Ministries, said in a statement:

"For me, as a Christian, I cannot conquer the evil in this world.   But as a Christian, I know that I do not have to.  Jesus has already won that battle for me. I am called simply to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.   I can see the image of God in 'the other,' and give thanks for it." 

I'm grateful to The Rev. Susan Creighton for calling my attention this morning to a powerful post by Richard Mammana from the independent Anglicans Online website in which he reminds us that

"It is not a partisan matter to note that in the cores of scriptural revelation we receive—the Torah and the Gospels—there is utter clarity about the way in which believers are to treat those who come to us from without:

But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. 

[Jesus said:] I was a stranger, and ye took me in.

"This is no silly proof-texting; it is one of the epicenters of the social vision God has revealed in the scriptures, and it provides the person who would be a faithful Anglican today with a stark opportunity for discipleship."

I've been with refugees a few miles from ISIS-controlled areas in Iraq and Syria.  These were Christian refugees, Muslim refugees, Yazidi refugees.  For the record, I do not associate all Muslims with the actions of a few.   I welcome Muslim neighbors among us.  I'm presently reading a book about the rise of ISIS.  I'm as aware as anyone of the evil being done in the name of God by terrorists in the name of Allah, and I'm in favor of policy which protects Americans from terrorists.  I do not believe last Friday's Executive Order advances that interest.  In fact, I'm afraid it emboldens terrorists in their recruitment efforts.

Those of us who are pastors in the church know we are all serving congregations whose members, although vowed to live into our Baptismal Covenant, find themselves differing in political philosophy and affiliation as they seek to apply those vows to their commitments in the realm of public policy.

What I want to stress at this moment is Christ's claim on all of us that transcends partisanship. What I want to stress is the challenge to us all of the Beatitudes, which I hope are still ringing in our ears from last Sunday's Gospel reading.

And in case you missed the link, here - thanks to the United Church of Christ, is a list of passages from the Bible which pertain to immigrants and refugees.

Sharon and I have a young friend in Salem, Oregon who with her husband is coordinating refugee resettlement in that city, having recently returned from a time living in Bosnia during which she and her husband witnessed the flow of refugees from Syria and the rest of the Middle East first-hand.  In a local media interview on January 19,  Anya reminded us that one out of every 113 people in this world are displaced persons fleeing war, violence, or persecution.  Anya's Christian faith motivates her, and I am inspired by the positive work she and Doug are doing there.

What can you do?  Here's help from Episcopal Migration Ministries to orient you to how to support refugees. 

In the short term, I encourage your attendance at the first of three sessions called "Islam 101" sponsored by the Adult Formation Ministry of St. Paul's Church beginning this Saturday, February 4 from 10 am until 12 noon.  Sessions two and three will be on February 11 and 18 on the same schedule, and all sessions are at the church at 2117 Walnut Street.  I urge you to meet some of your Muslim neighbors and begin building relationships that can lead to common caring and healing.  

Unity with God and each other in Christ

Remarks for Annual Meeting 2017

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Bellingham, Washington, Diocese of Olympia

The Rev. Jonathan Weldon, Rector

 

Q.What is the mission of the Church?

A. The Mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in      Christ.

 

We all feel the pain of living in a divided nation these days, knowing especially that those divisions over politics run right through the center of the Church, our church.   Our political opinions are deeply rooted in us, perhaps even incorporated as an element of our very self-identity. And we've all experienced and one way or another participated in what has become a deeply divided citizenry.

Our divisions manifested themselves recently in our own Episcopal Church with the response to a couple of announcements about our church's involvement with the Inauguration ceremonies on Friday and Saturday.

First, the choir of the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and Paul in Washington DC – known to most as the “National Cathedral”, will sing as part of a musical prelude before the Inauguration ceremonies on Friday at which Donald Trump takes the oath of office as President of the United States.

On Saturday, the Cathedral will host the 58th inauguration prayer service, at which many faiths will be represented.

Episcopal News Service reports that some in the church have raised objections to the Church's involvement in both events, posting on social media and sending e-mails to church leaders to raise their objections.

ENS also reports that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry; the Bishop of Washington, Marianne Budde, and Randall Hollerith, the cathedral dean, have reaffirmed their intention to participate as scheduled, and given their reasons.

Bishop Curry pointed out the practice of prayer for our leaders is “deep in our biblical and Anglican/Episcopal traditions," and raised these questions:

“When I pray for our leaders, why am I doing so? Should I pray for a leader I disagree with? When I pray, what do I think I am accomplishing?”

Bishop Curry said that the tradition of prayer for leaders means that Episcopalians are praying that “their leadership will truly serve not partisan interest, but the common good.”  He said:

“We participate as followers of Jesus in the life of our government and society, caring for each other and others, and working for policies and laws that reflect the values and teachings of Jesus, to ‘love your neighbor,’ to ‘do unto others as you who have them do unto you,’ to fashion a civic order that reflects the goodness, the justice, the compassion that we see in the face of Jesus, that we know to reflect the very heart and dream of God for all of God’s children and God’s creation,” he said.

Then Bishop Curry gave his personal witness:

“I pray for the president in part because Jesus Christ is my Savior and Lord,” he said. “If Jesus is my Lord and the model and guide for my life, his way must be my way, however difficult. And the way of prayer for others is a part of how I follow the way of Jesus.”

Cathedral dean Randall Hollerith said that choir members are participating voluntarily, and explained:

“Our choir is singing at the inauguration to honor the peaceful transition of power that is at the heart of our democratic government,” he said. “Let me be clear: We do not pray or sing to bless a political ideology or partisan agenda, regardless of the man (or woman) taking that sacred oath of office. We sing to honor the nation.”

“In our bruised and polarized country, we hope the gift of our music can help remind us of our highest ideals and aspirations as one nation under God.”

Bishop Marianne Budde responded to the objections thus:

“While I do not ask you to agree, I simply ask you to consider that we, too, acted on spiritual principles.  Those principles, while they may seem to conflict with yours, are also essential for the work that lies ahead.”

The first principle, she said, is that Episcopal churches “welcome all people into our houses of prayer.”

“Welcoming does not mean condoning offensive speech or behavior; it does not mean that we agree with or seek to legitimize.  We simply welcome all into this house of prayer, in full acknowledgment that every one of us stands in need of prayer.”

The second principle, Budde said, is that “in times of national division, the Episcopal Church is called to be a place where those who disagree can gather for prayer and learning and to work for the good of all.”

I call attention again to how our Prayer book defines the mission of the Church:

Q.What is the mission of the Church?

A. The Mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

Why is this the mission of the Church?  Because God made all creatures and all things, and dearly loves all creatures and all things that God has made, and because in Christ God came among us to love us fully and completely, to call us to confession of faults, receiving and giving of forgiveness, growth in love for God and neighbor, and to call one another to a higher standard than we often see in the world around us, or that we discern within ourselves.


The mission of the church is not an easy mission.  We have our own spiritual work to do within ourselves to repent of our sinful desires that draw us from the love of God, and to confront the inner habits and ways of action which frustrate the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

Only in doing this inner work can we be more and more useful for the mission of the Church, which is to be salt and light in the world, as Jesus taught.

So it is that another teaching of the Prayer book comes into focus:

Q. How does the Church pursue its mission?

A. The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel, and promotes justice, peace, and love.

Regular daily prayer and weekly corporate worship expose us to the message of the Gospel and introduce new patterns of thought and help us become renewed in our minds, taking on the mind of Christ more and more.  This in turn helps us find language to proclaim Good News, find ways to use our hands and feet to do Good News. The result is more and more that justice and peace and love come more and more into focus as the center of our lives.  This is called discipleship; being a disciple of Jesus.

As I reflect on all these things I believe it's very important what we believe about who God is.  My own journey in life has been from terror of a God I could not love toward knowledge of a God who loves me, in whose faithful love I can entrust myself to a slow and steady journey of transformation.

In this regard I end with some thoughts from the late Madeleine L'Engle, a distinguished writer and Episcopalian who gave us this witness, which I commend to you:

“I know a number of highly sensitive and intelligent people in my own communion who consider as a heresy my faith that God's loving concern for his creation will outlast all our willfulness and pride. No matter how many eons it takes, he will not rest until all of creation, including Satan, is reconciled to him, until there is no creature who cannot return his look of love with a joyful response of love... Origen held this belief and was ultimately pronounced a heretic. Gregory of Nyssa, affirming the same loving God, was made a saint. Some people feel it to be heresy because it appears to deny man his freedom to refuse to love God. But this, it seems to me, denies God his freedom to go on loving us beyond all our willfulness and pride. If the Word of God is the light of the world, and this light cannot be put out, ultimately it will brighten all the dark corners of our hearts and we will be able to see, and seeing, will be given the grace to respond with love — and of our own free will.”

So, in short, and for starters:

God loves Barack Obama.

God loves Hillary Clinton

God loves Donald Trump.

And so we pray for each other, not against each other.  We pray that God's will be done on earth as in heaven, starting with us.  We pray for unity, we seek to live into unity, which is no easy process.  If we don't pray for each other, it isn't likely that we'll be able to love one another and confront one another in love.  If we do, there's hope.  And God will help us.

Let us pray:  O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to your merciful care, that, being guided by your Providence, we may dwell secure in thy peace.  Grant to the President of the United States, the Governor of this State, and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will.  Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen

    http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/ens/2017/01/12/episcopal-leaders-address-churchs-part-in-trumps-inauguration/

  Madeleine L'Engle, The Irrational Season. (Harper San Francisco, 1977).

    Prayer for the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority, BCP 1979 p. 820

 

Leadership for Transformation

Soon we will have our Annual Meeting to celebrate where we've been and look to where God is leading us.  St. Paul's is a vibrant community these days, and it is because of leadership and those willing to follow their lead.

I'm thankful for our staff, each of whom in their area of responsibility take leadership to create the environment for spiritual transformation.  I feel so blessed as a pastor to be in the staff team with whom I work.   They are all making a wonderful difference for the sake of Christ!

I also am blessed to be working with so many members who exercise leadership. I believe my job as a priest is to enable people to discern what God is calling them to do and to encourage them in that call.  It's fun to see it happen.  It happens authentically when people pay attention to the voice of God within moving them into an area of action toward which they are inclined and for which God has given them some gifts which they feel called to develop.

Holy Baptism calls each of us to ministry, using our gifts and talents to promote the understanding of Christ's calling in our lives and to work it out in daily life, in church, at work, at play, at home.

At Annual Meeting we will elect leaders to serve us on vestry, which is the group that looks after the temporal needs of the congregation so that the congregation may pursue the mission of Christ.  Vestry members serve by both leading and managing, and I want to emphasize here the leadership part of their responsibility.

Donald V. Romanik* encourages us to recognize and empower what he calls transformational leaders.  He continues:

"Transformational leadership involves a series of attributes, skills and practices by an individual that help move an organization from its current state of being to a place where it is more focused, mission-based, and service-oriented."

Transformational leaders are characterized by:

  • The ability to articulate, inspire and build support for a shared vision.
  • The ability to enable and empower "followers" to act by encouraging collaboration and supporting their efforts.
  • The ability to set an example and model the way.
  • The ability to recognize the contributions of others and celebrate their achievements.

The Episcopal Church is in numerical decline, while at the same time the beauty and the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ has not diminished one iota.  The beauty and power of the Gospel of Christ is there for all of us to receive into our hearts and our lives, and as we receive it, it holds the power of forgiveness, the power of liberation from our shame, and the power to make us - as the prologue to the Gospel According to John promises - children of God.

As we select vestry members, I encourage us all to take a good look at these characteristics of transformational leadership described above and seek to call forth those characteristics in one another.

 

*Beyond the Baptismal Covenant: Transformational Lay Leadership for the Episcopal Church in the 21st Century. (Episcopal Church Foundation, 2010).

In Mourning for the martyrs of December 11, 2016 in Cairo

Yesterday morning 24 Coptic Christians worshiping in St. Mark's Cathedral in Cairo died in a terrorist bomb attack.  Most of the victims were women and children.

The President of Egypt named a 22-year-old suicide bomber as responsible for the attack, and said that others had been arrested in connection with the attack.  So far, according to news reports available to me at this writing, no group has claimed responsibility.

Today a funeral is taking place in Cairo, led by Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church.

Archbishop Justin Welby today joined the presidents of Churches Together in England in the following statement:

‘We heard with deep sorrow and concern of the attack yesterday on St Peter’s Coptic Orthodox Church within the complex of St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo as people gathered to worship. We pray for those who have lost loved ones that they may know God’s comforting presence. We pray too for the nation of Egypt as it mourns. As we prepare once more  to celebrate the coming of Christ, the Prince of Peace, our prayer is that all people of faith in Egypt, Muslims and Christians alike, may be strengthened in their quest for peace and their rejection of the crude and cruel tactics of the terrorists.’

Today is a day for mourning.

 

On the Commemoration of Thomas Merton (1915-1968)

Today in the Episcopal Church's calendar we celebrate the life and work of Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk and spiritual writer.

Thomas Merton is important to me because I found and began to read his writings when I was in my early twenties and struggling to make sense of Christianity; a Christianity first communicated to me in the context of Christian fundamentalism and a pronounced anti-Catholic bias.

My father - a Christian pastor - died when I was 19 years old.  Up until then his was the most influential voice in my own faith journey. This doesn't mean that I accepted everything that he said as truth, by any means, but it does mean that his was the most urgent voice in my head and in my heart, because he was my father, after all.  And for my father, Christian faith was his most urgent preoccupation, and when he was diagnosed with melanoma in his mid-fifties, his relationship with God was in crisis mode.  In the final days and hours of his life, he was wondering if God would accept him.  I know this because my father, on the last day of his life, confided in his 19-year-old son his fear that he would be rejected, and asked me for reassurance, which I gave him in the best way a 19-year-old son with his own issues about this matter could give.  I also took note in those days of the fact that my father acknowledged to me that he was receiving great spiritual comfort from the visits of a Catholic priest in the Catholic hospital in which he eventually died.

From the time of my father's death on, I was rather preoccupied with sorting through what I had been bequeathed as the character and content of the Christian religion.  I felt the freedom to explore, and I did, and in the exploration I found that the great gift to me that could not be taken away from me was the gift of a relationship to the person of Jesus Christ.  My father's great gift to me, in the end, was simply that he introduced me to the person at the center of Christian faith.

During my college years, others would help me read the Gospels for the first time.  I would encounter there the person of Jesus in a way that would for the first time in my life begin to assure me that God was good and gracious and forgiving and compassionate.

The depth and breadth of Christian tradition would open itself to me as I kept searching.  I would find things to read. One thing would lead to another.  I can't remember what first introduced me to Thomas Merton, but I suspect it was running across a copy of his autobiography: Seven Story Mountain, which I devoured.

There have been many authors and many voices who have shaped my understanding of the breadth and depth of Christian tradition, but Thomas Merton holds a special place among them as the one who first introduced me to the contemplative dimension of Christian faith.  When I began attending the Eucharist in an Episcopal Church and making retreats with Episcopalians at a nearby Trappist monastery, I would encounter and begin to trust the truth that God is near, that God is for me, and that God's truth is present throughout Creation and is comprehensive enough to allow us to explore everything without fear.

It's been a long journey, and it's a journey not finished.  It's been a journey in which I've had to face my own weaknesses and to sorrow for my sins, but it's been a journey into Love.   What the contemplatives in Christianity have taught me is that God is always present to us in Love, and that, as the Gospel of John affirms, "perfect love casts out fear."  

Now I'm more sure than ever that the contemplative tradition of Christian faith is not simply one option among many, to be engaged by monks and nuns and clergy, but essential to us all.  We're all called to some form of contemplation, which is the turning from distractions to what the late Jesuit Walter Burghardt called "the long, loving look at the real."

To the extent that we don't practice some form of contemplation, whether it be a slow meditative time in silent prayer, a slow, meditative time in the wood-shop, in the flower or vegetable garden, in a hike or a paddle or a walk or at the riverside with a fishing pole in hand or simply looking out the window in wonder, we're going to be estranged from who we truly are, and thus more apt to be estranged from one another.

Contemplative practices place us in relationship with God, in whom we live and move and have our being.  Contemplative practices make us have to confront our inmost thoughts and desires in all their complexity and power.  I've been pretty good at avoiding contemplative practices for much of my life, choosing instead distractions, even when those distractions are not in themselves bad.  Our lives give us plenty of freedom to go here and there seeking distractions.

About this, Thomas Merton wrote:

"A superficial freedom to wander aimlessly here or there, to taste this or that, to make a choice of distractions... is simply a sham.  It claims to be a freedom of 'choice' when it has evaded the basic task of discovering who it is that chooses."*

Contemplative practice is a way of surrendering to the love of God for us, which alone can fulfill us.  Contemplative practices help us acknowledge that we are not in control of our lives, and that our lives are a gift, and that we can trust, and that our lives are interconnected with all other life, and that we are called to serve God in humility.

Thomas Merton's book Thoughts in Solitude made famous a prayer of his that reveals a great deal about what a life of trust looks like; and that I think makes apparent that there is nobody who cannot become a contemplative:

"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone."

The collect provided by the Episcopal Church for the Commemoration of Thomas Merton is this:

Gracious God, you called your monk Thomas Merton to proclaim your justice out of silence, and moved him in his contemplative writings to perceive and value Christ at work in the faiths of others: Keep us, like him, steadfast in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Amen.

*from "Learning to Live," in Love and Living, edited by Naomi Burton Stone and Brother Patrick Hart. (Harvest Books, 2002).

Photo of Merton by Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18293738

 

 

 

A Letter from the Diocese of Olympia to President-elect Trump

I commend to you this letter from our Diocese of Olympia to President-elect Trump.  If you want to sign the letter after reading it, you can do so here.

Dear President-Elect Trump,

We are the people of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, and we join our voice with the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania and other faith communities. We value our nation’s heritage and affirm that the United States of America was founded on the principles of equality and justice for all.

As our new President-Elect, we want you to know that we are now praying and will continue to pray for you. We will pray for you in our liturgy, churches, and homes. We are the bishop, clergy, and laity of the Diocese. We are Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and other political parties. We comprise a cross section of America; we are a variety of political beliefs and opinions. We are those who voted for you and those who did not. Although we are diverse, we share in an unshakable common faith in the transformative and life-giving power of Jesus Christ.

As you are a professed follower of Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace, we believe you have empathy in your heart and want the best for our nation and the people of the United States. Thus, we ask that you affirmatively and unequivocally condemn any instance of hate, violence, intimidation, harassment, aggression against any of our brothers and sisters with whom we share this country. We are asking that this be done through a public pronouncement.

President-Elect Trump, we want you to publicly condemn violence and acts of hate or aggression against women, minorities, the poor, disabled, veterans, the unemployed, immigrants, those of different religions and beliefs, those who are gay or transgender, or the working poor. While the words of division used during this campaign caused deep angst and pain, we believe in redemption and goodness. Thus, we seek your voice. This is not policy pronouncement nor a political statement. It is a covenant with the people of our nation.

We are Christians who recite a baptismal covenant to pray, resist evil, repent, and return to the Lord. We proclaim by word and example the Good News of Jesus Christ and seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. We strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. As our President, we ask you do the same.

As followers of Jesus Christ in the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, we will pray for you. We will pray that God will bless you, protect you, and give you wisdom, patience, discernment, health, and love. We will pray for each member of your family. We will pray for your cabinet and your administration. We also need your voice. Stand against hate and discrimination.

This is who we are as Americans of whom you are the President-Elect. Each day we will pray for you. If the declaration we have hopefully asked of you has not been made, we will continue to pray for you and for our country. However, we will seek the voices of our brothers and sisters of all races, religions, and belief to join us in this request.

President-Elect Trump the time is now. While we pray, we await your voice.

The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel
VIII Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia

To place your signature on this letter, go here.

Being Awake

William Stafford (1914 - 1993)

William Stafford (1914 - 1993)

I commend to you this poem by William Stafford, which I find most appropriate for the beginning of this Advent season.  It sounds the theme of wakefulness.

The poem is entitled A Ritual To Read to Each Other.  It contains these lines:

 

For it is important that awake people be awake,

or a breaking line may discourage them back to

          sleep; 

the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —

should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.