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.

 

 

 

 

Advent is Here. No Shame, No Fear

Advent is almost here.  Advent is the first season of the Church Year, and the meaning of Advent is "coming."  In this season we await the coming of Christ in his Nativity, and because his Nativity brings into visible form the grace and truth of God, we then are taught to wait upon God to renew all things in Christ.

Advent is about waiting.  Waiting is really hard to do.  That's because we're so easily and thoroughly distracted in the midst of our busy modern lives.  My wife tried a little exercise with me that she learned recently, the result of which was to remind us both how difficult it is to remain in the moment before our attention skitters off in a new direction.

I read a perceptive article recently that describes a new form of business enterprise which tracks our mouse-clicks online and then markets our attention to other enterprises which then market to us.  Our attention is being bought and sold all the time, because we are so restless and distracted. I am talking about myself here.  I recently realized that this distraction was taking a toll on my peace of mind, so I radically limited my exposure to the internet.

Advent invites us to step out of this marketplace; to wait, to pay attention to our souls, to our yearnings, to our innate desire for the peace of mind that can only come in relationship to God, the ground of our being.  How can we put aside distraction to wait?

A major difficulty for us is the spiritual training - or rather lack of it - that has shaped us.  A lot of us really don't get yet that God regards us all with tender, fierce love.  We've had too much shame.  The last thing we may want is to be before God, because we don't trust God with our lives.  We may think of God as one more being "out there" who is going to shame us and tell us we're "not doing it right."

This is sad, because the truth is quite the opposite.  God is our constant lover.  We are invited to be in the presence of God daily so that we can come to realize the truth discovered by generations of spiritual seekers and teachers, which is - as Fr. Thomas Keating has put it - that "the only thing God is asking of us is our consent to be loved."

This truth has been explored and celebrated in Fr. Chuck's class called "The Cure," for which I give thanks.  This truth is practiced daily by many of your brothers and sisters at St. Paul's in their daily prayers and ministry activities, and weekly at the Contemplative Prayer Group.  This truth is acted upon as our Alms Ministers meet, without judgment, the many people who come through our doors seeking some spiritual warmth and some practical help.

Advent is for waiting.  What do you need to do to wait?  Do you need the medicine God's love for your harried soul?  Do you need to get encouragement from the clergy or a trusted spiritual friend?  Do you need to set aside a daily time to say the "Our Father," to do a short form of prayer from the Book of Common Prayer or "Forward Day by Day?"

Are you ready to try silent contemplative prayer?  There is a group that meets at 5:30 pm on Thursdays in Room B22 at St. Paul's.  It helps to try this for the first time with others.

The practice of stillness and silence before the mystery of God is commended to us by Jesus himself, who taught us to go into our room and close the door and pray to our Father who is in secret. (Matthew 6:6)   A child can do this naturally, and the World Community for Christian Meditation facilitates the teaching of Christian meditation to children.  Their newsletter reports the observation of one child, who said that "after meditation we look out for each other more."*  And there's the fruit of meditation: being able to demonstrate love more fully.  And doesn't the world need that?

What do you need to do to help yourself wait, so that you might find out for yourself the truth of the Proper Preface for Advent that you will hear at the Eucharist each Sunday of Advent, which is that "we may without shame or fear rejoice to behold Christ's appearing?"

Yours for a blessed Advent:

Jonathan+

*"Hope for the Future: Meditation in Schools," in Meditatio: Newsletter of the World Community for Christian Meditation. Vol 40, No. 3; October 2016.

 

A Statement after the Presidential Election of 2016

Dear friends in Christ.

The present moment in our national life calls me to prayer and thought and to say some things.

The sacrament of Holy Baptism calls Christian believers into a life of deepening union with Jesus Christ and his Gospel. This means a life in growth in service to him by serving those he loves in the spirit of the Beatitudes. (The Gospel According to Matthew chapter 5: verses 1 - 11)

The Church throughout its history has had moments when our light shone brightly. Truth-telling also demands that we admit the extent to which the Church has made peace with oppression, or been accurately characterized as manifesting “weak resignation to the evils we deplore,” as a hymn-writer put it.* We have, for the sake of making false peace among ourselves or between ourselves and the surrounding culture, failed to stand up to evil and to confront cruelty and injustice.

Times like the present moment call for a clear re-commitment to following Christ in the way of a disciple. We especially who are baptized into mystical union with Christ and who receive his Body and Blood as a sign that he dwells in us and we in him must commit to seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves. In the parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus defined for us what a neighbor is. There is no one who is not our neighbor. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, neighborliness is not a quality we seek in other people, it is their claim upon our lives. As the baptismal vows express, we will “respect the dignity of every human being.”

 

  • We will protect the human dignity of refugees and immigrants, no matter their status, and call for them to be treated with dignity by our authorities.

  • We will stand with our neighbors of diverse sexuality.

  • We will support the dignity of women.

  • We will stand alongside and find common cause with people whose religion or ethnic background is different from ours, with particular resistance to ideologies of racial superiority.

  • We will speak up against language and actions which seek to incite fear and prejudice and threaten the harm of anyone, recognizing that language is indeed powerful. We will not be passive in the face of such manifestations, confronting in a spirit of humility. We will speak words of respect and healing.

  • We will protect the psychological, spiritual and physical well-being of those who have physical limitations, those who are elderly and infirm, those who suffer mental illness.

  • We will seek common cause with neighbors with whom we disagree on political philosophy, and we will seek to listen as much as we speak.


Together, we can make this world a better place. Together, we can bear witness to the God who loves everybody.

Please pray these prayers!

Almighty God, who created us in your own 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. (Collect for Social Justice, Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 260)

 

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart and especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (Prayer for Social Justice, Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 823)

* Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah."  Hymnal 1982, #690.

O, Thank God for the poets in a time such as this!

Here, for instance, is an excerpt from a poem by W. H. Auden:


"The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone."

- W. H. Auden, from September 1, 1939. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/september-1-1939 

And from Holy Scripture:

Psalm 146:2-5  (Book of Common Prayer translation)

Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth, *
    for there is no help in them.

When they breathe their last, they return to earth, *
    and in that day their thoughts perish.

Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help! *
    whose hope is in the LORD their God;

And from American contrarian and prophet Wendell Berry:

So, friends, every day do something
that won't compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor. 
Love someone who does not deserve it. 

Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed. 

 -an excerpt from "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front."  From Collected Poems: 1957 - 1982. (New York: North Point Press, 1995) p. 151.

And from the Gospel According to Luke, the Song of Mary (BCP 1979 translation, Rite I):

My soul doth magnify the Lord,

and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.

For he hath regarded

the lowliness of his handmaiden.

For behold, from henceforth

all generations will call me blessed.

For he that is mighty hath magnified me,

and holy is his Name.

And his mercy is on them that fear him

throughout all generations.

He hath showed strength with his arm;

he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

He hath put down the mighty from their seat,

and hath exalted the humble and meek.

He hath filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he hath sent empty away.

He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel,

as he promised to our forefathers,

Abraham and his seed forever.

 

Amen.

A Homily for a Burial Eucharist

Marcia Coutant Averre

I begin with the line from Marcia's obituary notice that organized all my thoughts for this moment:

 

“As Marcia frequently said when gazing into the eyes of her loved ones, “We’re soooo lucky.”

 

There is nothing that gives a life meaning so much as gratitude.  An attitude of gratitude in someone makes them a good person with whom to associate.

 

Marcia was born into material prosperity, and she had the wisdom to appreciate that this is a gift that some, not all, are given.

 

I smile when I read the obituary, and combine that with my memories of Marcia.  She not only was born into material prosperity, she was also born into an environment in which people nurtured her talents, and she blossomed.

 

Looking at her photo, I notice the life in her eyes, the straight-on approach to the world that I read there.  Having been blessed from birth, she anticipated more blessing each day, and that was a blessing to all of us.

 

Marcia was probably well aware of the trials of the ancestors who were Huguenot; Protestants who fled dire persecution in France because of their religion.  I would imagine that this awareness informed her attitude of gratitude.

 

Marcia took good care of her health, and that helped her to reach the age of 96.  I would imagine that Marcia also knew that good health also is as much the result of genetics and of what for a lack of a better word we might call “good fortune.”  I’ll bet she was aware of that, and grateful.

 

Marcia was an artist, too, and despite her parents’ misgivings, married her artist lover and companion and musical collaborator. How good is that?  That’s a story that makes me want to applaud!


Marcia got to do the things that make people clap and cheer and even get up on their feet; the things that flood the listener with feel-good hormones and leave the performer spent but filled with a deep satisfaction.

 

The world is often not kind to artists.  The world often doesn’t know what to do with artists.  But we need them badly.  We need the music, the well-crafted words, the visual creations that change our perspective.  Without it our souls wither.  I’m grateful that God gives us artists like Marcia, like Richard, her husband, whose music we hear today, like the musical artists among us today.

 

Marcia and Richard were people who blessed the Church with their presence and their art.  Perhaps Marcia, with her awareness as to how much she was blessed, was aware of the call of Mary’s song, the Magnificat, which we will soon read in Advent to orient us once more.  In that song is announced the humbling of the mighty and the exaltation of the humble and meek.  The call of that song is to come to know God as compassion, and to live for others.

 

The Gospel we read today tells us that God has come near us in Jesus; has become present for us.  The weak and downtrodden of this world often know of someone powerful who could help them, but is too distant from their distress to be of any help.  There are people who sympathize, but who don’t have the power to help.  The Gospel tells us that God is present to all of us, calling us from spiritual death to life, so that we might also become children of God as Jesus was, and be present where help is needed.

 

Marcia experienced great love in her life.   I think she knew that love was to be shared and extended.  I would guess that Marcia would have understood the wisdom of the poet who wrote:

 

For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

 

Marcia, I believe, knew God; the God who loved her, yes, but also who loved all God’s children and calls them to recognize in one another the Beloved.  Auden was right: none of us are loved alone.  On the verge of a World War, Auden sat in a “dive on fifty-second street” and felt himself part of a human race that seemed to him in that time to be

 

Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good

 

No one exists alone,” he wrote.  “We must love one another or die.”

 

This was the vision of the prophet Isaiah, who wrote the words with which we began our Scripture readings.


We heard there of a feast prepared for all peoples; a feast of rich food and wine.

 

We heard there of the removal of the shroud of grief and death cast over all peoples.  We heard that death would be swallowed up in life, and that God would wipe away tears from all eyes.

 

“It will be said on that day,” writes Isaiah, “Lo, this is our God, we have waited for God, so that God might save us.”

 

That day is here, among us, if we but awaken to it.

 

May God grant each of us the capacity to receive that, and to be able to say with Marcia: “we are soooo lucky.”

 

poetry by W. H. Auden, September 1, 1939.  https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/september-1-1939 

After this election It's hard Work ahead

The evening of election day was spent with Sharon celebrating her birthday with a long walk and dinner out. For the most part, we ignored the reportage.

The next morning we awoke to an unexpected reality, to text conversations with a daughter, then to the call of a day's work. We were both glad to have things to do.

On the way to work I stopped for coffee and oatmeal and crossed paths with a parishioner who needed to share with me her sense of deep distress. This parishioner has children - small daughters. We spoke briefly of a way forward in reassuring the daughters about the rule of law in this country, about the checks and balances of our government and about our commitment as adults to hold public officials accountable to the rule of law and our commitment as parents to uphold the dignity of women. I prayed for her and the daughters, right there in front of the coffee station.

Then it was off to work and a planned conversation with a parishioner about poetry. That was a tonic.  We talked of the present moment. She recommended a poem for me; a work by W. H. Auden written as another World War was beginning.i In this we read:

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return. 

 

And this:

For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone...
...no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

A planned lunch with another parishioner was the occasion for some serious conversation. Then in the afternoon I sat with a daughter and son of Marcia Averre for conversation about their late mother in anticipation of her Burial Eucharist. This, too, was a welcome respite from the day's news.

In the evening Josh preached at the Eucharist, relating some stories about bullying incidents from real life reports to him. He spoke of the church's call to be a safe place for us; especially for those feeling most vulnerable. And after the Eucharist I spent an hour in impromptu conversation with another parishioner who had thoughts to share and questions to raise.

Being a safe space doesn't just happen. It's created intentionally. In the wake of such a divisive and vitriolic campaign the feelings of people on both sides are raw. Let no one ever convince us that language doesn't matter. It does. We know it, when we're the ones affected.  And after the language of this campaign, there are hurting people, frightened people.

In order for there to be safe space, there has to be the discipline of listening to each other. Listening is just plain hard work, because when we listen we hear things we may not want to hear; things that make us uncomfortable. But here's a hopeful example of the fruit of relationship from Bishop Rickel's blog today:
 

“A person conveyed to me that a man at her church was a huge Trump supporter, and the two of them had, for the most part, jokingly pushed and prodded one another these last months. This morning, he called her, genuinely asking, “how are you doing this morning, I care about you far more than I do the outcome of this election.”

 

We need more of that kind of thing.

I'll let Auden have the final word:

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

 

iW. H. Auden, September 1, 1939. https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/september-1-1939

 

 

Election Eve 2016

This Election eve morning I awoke to read Morning Prayer from the Book of Common Prayer, this time using the mobile app from Mission St. Clare, which lays it all out for you complete with readings and hymns.

The reading from the ancient prophet Joel was a lament from the midst of the devastation caused by a plague of locusts.

Psalm 80 gave voice to a cry of help to God for a beleaguered nation set about with troubles, and the reading from the Revelation to St. John the Divine was a word to persecuted believers about the ultimate downfall of the Roman power that oppressed them.  The Gospel lesson from Luke was Jesus teaching a parable about the ultimate desire of God to set a universal banquet, and about human ambivalence toward God’s invitation.  All these readings spoke from the midst of distress and pointed in some way toward hope.

The app designers include a hymn, and today’s choice was a text by G. K. Chesterton found in our Hymnal 1982 at number 591, set to “King’s Lynn” by the Ralph Vaughan Williams, in which were here these words:

“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…”


Wow, I thought.   How appropriate these words seemed after the distress of our divisive and hateful election campaign, which the world has been watching; our enemies with delight, our allies with consternation.

The Psalmist gave voice to the cry which goes up from our hearts:

“Restore us, O God of hosts;

Show the light of your countenance,

and we shall be saved.”

I sat in silence for my Centering Prayer, but I wasn’t too successful quieting my mind.  Oh well, there’s always the next time.  God is always patient.

Then, on the way to work in my car, I listened to the beginning of a podcast that gave me hope.  A sociologist was interviewed.  She left her left-wing bastion of Berkeley and gave herself to five years meeting and learning from people who live in a right-wing bastion part of Louisiana.  She “turned off her alarm system” and made herself genuinely available to people whose lives she didn’t share, whose views she didn’t share, in order to honor their humanity and learn from them, face to face, about who they were.

She began with getting to know people.  She’d ask them about their birthplace, their family and their story.  Barriers would drop.

I haven’t been able to finish listening.  But I will, because it seems to me that this sociologist was practicing for five years the commitment we make in our baptismal vows to “respect the dignity of every human being.”

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow.  But no matter who is elected President, and no matter what happens with control of Congress, our nation is in a great crisis.  There’s a great opportunity in the crisis, which is to turn from hating one another to learning about and learning from one another.  Yes, there are people hardened into hateful positions.  But most people let down their guard when someone takes a genuine interest in them as a person.  We’ve got to come together.

The work of this sociologist sets a good example.   We’re going to have to learn to listen.  We’re going to have to own our own “confirmation bias," which is our inclination to only take in information which supports our opinions.  We’re going to have to become better people in this way.  I can take responsibility for myself.  You can take responsibility for yourself.

In order for the restoration the Psalmist prayed for to come about, we’re going to have to change.  And so I end with the last line of the first verse of G. K. Chesterton’s hymn:

“…take not thy thunder from us,

but take away our pride.”

Amen to that.

"O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen."   (Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 815)

"Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart and especially the hearts of the people of this land, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen."  (Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 823)

Insights from Richard Hooker as Election Day approaches

We had a great day of celebration on the occasion of the Bishop's Visitation this Sunday, and since then I've been been confined to home, my head and body aching with fever and my energy drained. It's kind of a metaphor for how a lot of us feel about the Election campaign we've been subjected to. I had planned on writing something earlier this week about the Election, but my body failed me. I spent most of my time the last three days lying down, because it hurt to sit up.

I got up this Thursday morning feeling much better and turned my attention to writing a homily to deliver this morning at our Eucharist, at which we commemorated Richard Hooker, who is one of the greatest Anglican theologians.

I'm going to tell you about Hooker and how he helps us understand the Church, and that will take quite a few words, and then finally I'll say some things about how this all suggests a way of being in the wider world of society and politics.

Hooker – a distinguished scholar and parish priest, lived between 1533 and 1600, decades in which the Elizabethan Settlement was being received as the guiding principle of the Church in England after the Reformation and the break with the Roman papacy. This was a time of continued controversy, and Hooker, a man known for his profound learning and wisdom and temperate spirit, prepared a defense of this settlement in the face of attacks on it by a noted Puritan churchman.

The result was Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, which combined his great learning from the writings of the early Church theologians and the legacy of Aristotle. The central idea is natural law, and that this is the foundation for all the positive laws of Church and of State, and that these laws are discerned through Scriptural Revelation, reason, and ancient tradition.   Anglicans ever since have appealed to Scripture, Reason, and Tradition as the foundation for our belief and practice.

Book V of the Laws is a thorough defense of the Book of Common Prayer, which with great care and careful reasoning answers objections by Puritans in the church who wanted to take the post-Reformation English church in the direction of a totally unified body of doctrine, rather than the decision of the Elizabethan Settlement to come together in Common Prayer, recognizing that continuing disagreements and tensions over various points of doctrine were to be expected and tolerated and welcomed as normative in the life of the Church.

In this book Hooker gives us a very useful and thought-provoking understanding of the Church, and in reading it I encourage you to understand that the gender-specific language would have been normative in his day, although not in ours:

“The Church is always a visible society of men; not an assembly, but a Society. For although the name of the Church be given unto Christian assemblies, although any multitude of Christian men congregated may be termed by the name of a Church, yet assemblies properly are rather things that belong to a Church. Men are assembled for performance of public actions; which actions being ended, the assembly dissolveth itself and is no longer in being, whereas the Church which was assembled doth no less continue afterwards than before.”

The key idea here for me is that the Church is a Society, and this remains true after any assembly for worship, for deliberation and decision making or for service and mission has adjourned. This Society is drawn together by the call of the Holy Spirit making real in our lives the call of Jesus to join him in receiving the Kingdom of God into our lives. The Church is a Society which is called together by God and is continually gathering into itself people from various walks of life and from various cultures and languages and patterns of thinking and unique personal circumstances.

Sam Portaro, an Episcopal priest and thinker writing in 2001, draws out some implications from this definition of church as he observed the life of the Episcopal Church around him.

It is of the nature of the assembly, and its political agenda, to be partisan. That is perhaps why in our recent assemblies we have tended to act as parties unified around particular ideologies, and why we have so much difficulty in conceiving of ourselves as belonging to some larger organic whole. While some believe that unity is found in conformity to a single ideology or polity, such designs for unity among Christians are quite unlikely, and even undesirable. It is far more likely, and more consonant with the gospel as understood by Hooker, that any future unity will be based not upon unified public assemblies of partisans (or Christians), but rather in a spirit – a sociability , if you will – that transcends the limitations of assemblies.i

I find Portaro's insights into Hooker helpful and instructive. The history of the Church is a history of disagreement and difference. Just consider how many bodies of Christians there are in the world, after all. And within our Episcopal Church I know I'm not the only one who wishes people would all come to see things the way I see them!  Partisanship is a fact of life.  We tend to want to assemble with people of like mind.   Any Christian assembly will be limited to the perceptions, ideals, and interests of the membership, dealing with the information that it has in the moment, and perhaps rejecting information that may suggest another way.  God knows this, and loves us still!

This is what makes it such a challenge to be in a church which gives a major role in governance to a triennial General Convention of laity and clergy elected from dioceses by laity and clergy of those dioceses. Politicking of a quiet sort is always going on when deputies are chosen. There are various parties in the Church who want their point of view represented so that the decisions of Conventions will go the way they want them to go. This means that there are always in some sense “winners and losers” when the decision of a Convention goes in a way that disappoints some party of people.  We've seen two major times of exodus from our church during my lifetime as an Episcopalian.

What we hope for, and to some extent realize despite our differences, is that after the decisions are made and the minority reports are in, we realize that we are all fundamentally in this together because of Christ's call; and that the Church continues on. The assembly is done, and the Society continues. We are one in Christ in ways that we have yet to discern, and that unity is a gift which we are constantly called upon to receive. We must have a certain humility about our perspective, and a fundamental respect for the mystery of what God is doing elsewhere and in someone else and with some other assembly, and for the timetable in which God seems to operate.

One of the Scriptures chosen for Hooker's feast day is from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 2, in which we hear these words:

“'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him" --

these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”

As humans, we are limited in our understanding, and tend not to acknowledge that fact. But we are called by the Spirit, and the Spirit searches all things, and the Spirit has in mind nothing but good for us.

In other words, God has a vast grasp of things beyond our understanding, and a great deal of humility is therefore appropriate before the mystery of God. A great deal of humility is called for from every baptized person. We essentially ask for this when we pray over each newly baptized person, asking that they be given “an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” (BCP page 308) This prayer commits us to a lifetime of humility and questioning and discerning, which promises joy and wonder along the way, as well as difficulty and conflict and obstacles to overcome.

This suggests something about how Christian life will be about living in society with questions and in dialogue, with more questions perhaps than answers, because the Spirit is searching everything, and, I would add, everything is vast!

But in all of this, we're pursuing a course described by Hooker. We consult the Scriptures, the Bible of the Old and New Testaments. We employ our God-given faculties of reason, which engage the whole person. We will consult and be instructed and challenged by ancient tradition, as in the ancient creeds, and we will pray always for God's guidance.

Now to politics.

Hooker's insights into the Society called the Church suggest for me insights into the society in which we all participate.

Partisanship is a fact of life in society. We all belong in one way or another to various traditions of thought about how society should be organized. We can be quite ideologically rigid about this at times. The advent of multiple outlets for news and opinion on the Internet has facilitated this reality, as has the advent of social media. We can easily confine our conversation to an echo chamber by refusing to listen to or view or read certain media outlets, or by blocking on Facebook those relatives or acquaintances whose political views we find abrasive. We tend to want to be around people who agree with us, or share our cultural assumptions. This partisanship has grown extreme and even toxic in contemporary life, and the travesty of this election cycle is the result of this developing trend.

And yet, I think we have within us a basic yearning for unity. At least the people I associate with do. Down deep within us is the realization that we are in this together, and that our welfare and security depends on our living together in a measure of peace.  I see a lot of examples every day of people acting with decency and good will.

The American experiment in democracy has always envisioned, if not fully realized, the idea that “all men are created equal,” and put in place a Constitution and Bill of Rights which provides a way for us to be self-governed.   We've done best when we've been led by statesmen or stateswomen, those politicians with enough strength of character and intellectual curiosity and humility and moral character to be able to govern with the aim of doing as much good for as many people as possible. In our two-party system we've seen statesmen of both major parties.  These kinds of leaders can deal with difference and hammer out public policy in vigorous debate with the willingness to compromise.

To me, politics is very important because it is in the political arena that we are to learn to live together, to provide for the common good, to pay attention to and be responsive to the real needs of the weakest members of society. It stands to reason that people will come up with honest disagreements as how best this aim can be accomplished, and they'll have to work them out in the arena of advocacy and compromise that we call politics.

Because we know that politics is important, the current campaign for the presidency has been a stressful thing for so many of us. The divisions are deep, the partisan rancor and expressions of hatred ubiquitous. The words of Yeats come to my mind:

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.ii

The campaign has raised for us concerns about how the political game is played in Washington, and tested our capacity to trust politicians to guard our security and to not be influenced by the opportunity to profit from their position.

The campaign has raised to public consciousness a shadow side of our culture in which women are treated as objects for men's desire and abused and exploited, and also challenged us to accept that there are many barriers to a woman coming forward with her story, just as there are barriers that any victim of abuse must overcome to tell their story.  It is hard to do.   We learn this in our "Safeguarding God's Children" curriculum.   I have enough direct pastoral experience with abused and exploited people to have any illusions as to how many barriers there are to coming forward when there are so many standing by to silence or shame the victim, to blame the victim, to deny and to obfuscate and cover up for the sake of reputation.

The reality of terrorism in the world is huge for our political life. We all have fears about peace and security. We need our national leaders to be shrewd and cunning in this struggle against terrorists, but those of us who follow one who was scapegoated and expelled and crucified as an innocent victim should resist cultural pressure to single out and negatively categorize whole groups of people to blame for the sins of some. We have too much knowledge since Jesus as to how easy it is for the innocent to be blamed and expelled and even killed for the sake of expediency.

This has been a very difficult time for me and for you.  I've been aware, as has one of my sisters, that "the children are watching, and they have a long memory."    The campaigning will soon be done and the ballots counted and the next phase of our young experiment in democracy underway. We pray for God's protection and for access to God's wisdom; a wisdom we know is found in Christ, with the help of the Holy Spirit. We pray that God will use us Christians as a means for reconciling.

We'll do this best as Americans in consultation with our founding documents, with the employment of all our faculties of reason, and with due respect for the body of law that we've accumulated during our young experiment in democracy. Those of us Americans  who pray should pray.

In the midst of this I give thanks for the Church, and let me say a positive word about our assemblies, especially the assembly for the Holy Eucharist. In a society in which church attendance has plummeted relative to the population, church stands out as a place where people of various political persuasions still actually congregate in one place for a common purpose at the same time. That's pretty awesome, when you think about it.

In our Eucharistic assembly, we are all reconstituted each week as the Body of Christ, consisting of many members with a variety of gifts to serve God by loving God and our neighbors as ourselves. We gather at the altar rail, a Republican next to a Democrat next to a Libertarian next to a what-have-you. We all receive the Eucharist together. We know that as the worshiping assembly we are not the only people God loves. We realize that God's love is far beyond the boundaries of our assembly. But we know ourselves mystically drawn toward a unity which is in God's mind; a unity that we sense because we sense in the Eucharist that God loves all things and fills all things and doesn't know a creature that God doesn't love.  We are to let this idea fill our imaginations and enlighten our thinking.   Richard Hooker, I think, had this in mind!   It's quintessentially Anglican in a way he described for us.

And we go forth into the world with that confidence that God is with us as we seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.

Let's remember our baptismal commitments as we vote. Let's also remember this the day after Election Day, and as we exercise the awesome rights and privileges afforded us in this United States of America to seek the good that God wants for all.

Let us pray:

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States and of our state and community in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(The Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 822)


 

iBrightest and Best: A Companion to the Lesser Feasts and Fasts. (Boston: Cowley Publications, 2001), p. 202.

iiWilliam Butler Yeats, The Second Coming. http://www.potw.org/archive/potw351.html

Report from the 106th Convention of the Diocese of Olympia

The 106th Convention of the Diocese of Olympia took place Friday and Saturday, October 21-22 in Seatac under the theme Your Kingdom Come.  Attending were St. Paul’s delegates Collin Morrow, Jim Beckwith, Jon Fedele, Linda Ward, and Linda Telfer.  Ruth Mulvihill was not able to attend, and so first alternate delegate Kaylee McElroy took Ruth’s place as a delegate.  Third alternate Rob Vollkommer also attended the entire convention.

Diocesan Convention is a annual gathering of elected representatives of all the congregations of the Diocese together with our Bishop.  Delegates are elected at each congregation’s Annual Meeting.

Diocesan Convention elects members to serve on our Diocesan Council and Standing Committee and, when called for, elects deputies to the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, a triennial event.  At Convention the bishop also announces appointments to bodies such as the Commission on Ministry and the Board of Directors.  Convention receives a budget proposal from the Diocesan Council and deliberates on it and passes a budget for diocesan program.  Convention also creates resolutions of policy for the diocese, makes changes to the Constitution and Canons of the Diocese of Olympia, and hears reports from various ministries of the diocese.  It is also a time for workshops, networking, and fellowship.

Finally, and most importantly, the Convention meets for worship.  Prayer services begin and end each session, and at the close of Convention we all celebrated the Holy Eucharist together, renewed our baptismal vows, and commissioned those elected or appointed to positions of diocesan leadership.  This was inspiring to me.

For the second Convention in a row, I was appointed by the Bishop to chair the Convention Committee on Resolutions of Policy, and the Convention deliberated upon and passed four resolutions of policy submitted to it by the Diocesan Council and the Diocesan Personnel Committee.  One set a clergy salary scale.  A second lowered the rate at which congregations are assessed to support diocesan program.  A third set a policy for family leave for clergy and lay employees of the congregations and institutions of the Diocese.  A fourth made some further provisions for the health insurance program for clergy and lay employees of the Diocesan staff and congregations and institutions.

Rob Vollkommer stood for election to Diocesan Council, but was not elected this time.  Jim Beckwith stood for election to the Standing Committee of the Diocese and was elected.  The Standing Committee is a committee of lay and ordained persons who serve as a committee of advice to the Bishop and have a number of canonically prescribed functions essential to the mission of the Diocese.  Diocesan Council is something like the “vestry” of the Diocese, meeting six times a year to give direction to Diocesan work in cooperation with our Bishop.  Congratulations to Jim and thanks to Rob for being willing to serve.

Delegate Linda Telfer gave me these observations of her time at the 106th Convention:

“I have been to Diocesan Convention several times over the last 20 years, and this was one of the happier conventions.  We seem to at last be maturing as a Diocese, stepping out boldly and confidently to meet our challenges rather than reacting like fearful children to every change.  For example, at a past convention we were charged to move toward equity in benefits between lay and ordained employees: there was a fair amount of moaning about how we were going to pay for equal benefits to lay staff, fear that it would lead either to staff cutbacks in the smaller churches or diminished benefits to clergy.  What a contrast there was this year, when we discussed a resolution aimed at giving paid family leave to clergy and lay alike….  By the grace of God we have stepped out of fear into faith, and it is marvelous in my eyes.”

 

Alternate delegate Rob  Vollkommer told me he spent time trying to write a well-formed paragraph about Convention, and found it difficult to accomplish in a short time, telling me there were for him "flashes" of "being part of a larger whole.  The time was "spiritual" and "educational."  There were "challenges to my comfort zone," he writes.  There were issues of social justice before him as he considered the Native American presence at Convention and the presentation from our Ministry to Seafarers.  He enjoyed seeing "old friends" and making "new connections," learning about diocesan governance, praising God, feeling "love."

Delegate Jim Beckwith writes with appreciation of a new vision for the Diocese initiated at Convention and spoken to by Bishop Rickel in his Convention address.

“I found that the Bishop's decision to focus outwardly on the congregations instead of inwardly to his office to echo the charge of sending the Apostles out into the world.  This change in focus puts the onus on each congregation to grow by its own inherent qualities.  I particularly liked the idea put forth by our own congregation that each congregation send out visitors to other congregations to learn the others' best practices and maybe even learn to avoid their worst mistakes.  With the Bishop looking outward, instead of inward, this puts the whole Church focused on its work in the world.”

When Bishop Rickel was elected Bishop in 2007 he led us to focus on three priorities, which were Stewardship, Evangelism, and Ministry to those under 35 years of age.  Bishop Rickel, after extensive discussions involving the lay and clergy membership of Diocesan Council, Standing Committee, and Board of Directors (collectively the governing bodies of the diocese) led us in his Convention address to embrace a congregation-centered approach to setting priorities for mission, with the Bishop and staff of the diocese working to support the development of mission on a local basis.

Before the Convention was gaveled into session by Bishop Rickel at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, a series of workshops were held throughout the convention center.  I attended one led by Greg Hope, the Director of our diocesan Office of Refugee Resettlement in Seattle.  Greg briefed us on their work.  In attendance were a family recently arrived from Syria: mom, dad, and two children.  We heard from Greg and from staffer Irene Willis (daughter of St. Paul’s parishioners Dee Willis and Nancy Welliver) about the challenges of resettlement, which include high rents in the Seattle area and the usual challenges facing refugees as they adjust to the ordinary day-to-day challenges of negotiating basic household-supporting activities in an entirely new context.  We heard of the need for more volunteers.

In Diocesan life I continue as an appointee of the Bishop on the Board of Directors, which stewards the financial and property assets of the Diocese.  The Bishop also re-appointed me to serve on the Disciplinary Committee of the Diocese, which we hope never has to meet. The only occasion of meeting is if a complaint is lodged against a member of the diocesan clergy, and their work is to follow the canons of the Episcopal Church to pursue the proper disciplinary action.

I came away from our Convention convinced that we have a healthy diocese with healthy Episcopal leadership and well-functioning diocesan governing bodies, and a lot of creative approach to mission on the part of congregations and institutions of the Diocese.

To listen to and read a text of Bishop Rickel’s address to Convention, click here.

Learning about Islam

I've been taking time to learn about the religion of Islam.   I'm reading the Quran (Koran) in English translation.  I'm reading material about Islam, and about Islamic-Christian conversation.

I'm trying to learn more because of my Christian convictions.  I'm commanded to love God with all my heart, soul, strength, and mind, and my neighbor as myself.  Jesus himself upheld this greatest commandment as the center of the whole enterprise of following him.

Love requires certain commitments of attitude and action, and with respect to the neighbor, that attitude is to seek understanding, and to respect the neighbor's dignity and freedom.  Jesus couldn't have been more clear about that commitment.

So I'm seeking understanding.  Understanding the Muslim neighbor is very important to me right now, because of the very real fear that pervades society; a fear borne of the terrorism carried out in the name of Allah.  People are scared.   I have to deal with fear just like anyone else.  When we are scared, the "fight or flight" impulse takes over, and that's apparent now.

Because of this fear, some are targeting Muslims with hostile speech and acts. This is wrong. It is wrong to condemn all Muslims for the actions of some Muslims.  We are not to bear false witness against our neighbors in this way.

I'm not a naive person.  I watched on TV as those planes hit the World Trade Center, a place I used to frequent with my daughters when we were living in New York during seminary.  I felt horror. I've visited Ground Zero since then, looking at those waters tumbling down black granite walls into the depths of what was once the footprint of the twin towers.

I read a lot of news.  I know about Boko Haram, about Al Qaeda, about ISIS or Daesh.

A little less than a year ago, I was in Southeast Turkey with Christian people who experience persecution as a Christian minority in a Muslim majority nation.  I walked with Fr. Dale Johnson down a street in Midyat where some years earlier a Christian doctor was assassinated in a hail of bullets.  I know what can and does happen there in terms of a steady erosion of the rights of Christians, and know first-hand why hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled the homeland that welcomed Christianity in the very earliest days.  I heard the bishop at Mor Gabriel Monastery lament that they did not experience Islam as a religion of peace.  I believe him.

Then I had a quick tour in Kurdistan in Iraq where I met people who are the victims of the terror unleased by ISIS.  I met them in refugee camps.  I met the Iraqi Christian lawyer who is responsible for the UN's Human Rights efforts in Iraq, and heard from him both as a displaced person and as an advocate for other displaced persons.  He fled Mosul with his wife and daughters when ISIS came in with their culture of terror and death.  He reminded me of the US role in the de-stabilization of Iraq; a situation that helped give rise to ISIS.  I returned from Iraq to Turkey with feelings of sadness and anger; anger at the injustice of it all; sadness at the suffering, and also admiration for the resilience of some of the people I met, and for the generosity of local Christians who are working hard to address the needs of refugees and displaced persons, no matter what their creed or nationality or tribe.

There is a real evil unleashed in the world by these young men who believe that they've been led to slaughter and subjugate and rape in the name of Allah.  I've been near where this evil is taking place.

I don't have many answers to the pressing questions raised by this terrorism in the name of Allah.  There are pressing humanitarian issues; pressing national security issues.  There are pressing military issues.  There are pressing diplomatic issues.  There are pressing moral and ethical issues, and there is always the challenge of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount to trouble my conscience and the conscience of any citizen who tries to both follow Jesus and live as a citizen in a pluralistic and secular society.  It's a complicated world.  It was a complicated world in Jesus' day, too, and he suffered as a scapegoat and a victim because - in no small part - he refused to make his kingdom a kingdom of this world.

Following Jesus, I will expect that in this world will be much tribulation, but that there is always the life of God upholding the world and giving life and hope.  Following Jesus, I will believe that God suffers with us, and God is compassionate, and that God will in the end judge those who hurt and destroy in God's name.  I can imagine God's anger at that.  I can also imagine God's restraint of that anger.  I can imagine that because of the witness of Jesus in the event of the resurrection.

What I won't allow myself is the easy out of blaming all Muslims for the terror of Daesh, as seems to be the attitude of some.  I won't allow myself to forget that Daesh (ISIS) targets Muslims as well as Christians.   I will deplore the persecution of Christians.  I will deplore the persecution of non-Christians.   I will expect to live in a nation of laws, by which those who do evil are brought to account.  As a citizen of the United States who expects that public officials will uphold their pledge of office to uphold the Constitution, I will not support religious tests for citizenship or for entry to our country.

I'm finding out for myself what's in the Quran.  I felt motivated by seeing and hearing people generalize about the Quran, sometimes in a way that seemed to manifest no good will toward Muslims.   I want to know what's in it for myself.   "It teaches violence," someone said to me after I mentioned that I had begun reading it.  Well, does it?  What is the overall message I get from reading it?  I'm finding that out for myself.

I'm finding that there is much more to the Quran than these generalizations, just as there is much more to the Bible than the account of Joshua's conquest of the land of Canaan or any of the other passages of the Bible that attribute violence to God or that describe human beings acting heinously.

I know of the Bible being read and interpreted to justify terrible things.  By the same token, there are those who read the Quran to justify terrible things, and this is a problem Muslims must address just as Christians have had to address their own uses of the Bible to justify inhumanity and cruelty and terrible injustice.

So when someone says "Islam teaches so-and-so", I'm asking myself: "says who?" I have to ask that question, just as I have to ask that question when someone says "Christians teach" or "Christians believe" something-or-other." Which Muslim leader is saying that?" I have to ask. "What are other Muslim leaders saying?" It's just too easy to misunderstand otherwise; to mis-represent. I find that within my own extended family of professing Christians are some pretty pointed disagreements about the whole thrust of Christian teaching. I was told recently that I had left the Christian faith because I had written something appreciative about a well-known Buddhist teacher whose writings I've read, whose practical wisdom is profound, and whose appreciation of Christ's message is profound. I was told that Buddhism was of the devil! I couldn't disagree more with my family member! There are Christians I've met whose aim was to bring about a theocracy in America. I couldn't disagree more with that point of view, both as a Christian and as an American who values the Constitution!

There are Muslims who want to establish a caliphate and get  rid of non-Muslims, and they are the threat we're facing.  We must understand, however, that most Muslims do not hold this view and that there are Muslim scholars who tell us that these young terrorists are ill-informed as to their own Holy Book and the traditions of interpretation of Islam.

Within Islam, Islamic scholars read the Q'uran and the Hadith (the tradition of sayings of the prophet) and the various traditions of Islamic jurisprudence, with a view to interpreting Islam for our present day.   Those scholars have the task these days of articulating a way of being Muslim that is in opposition to the terrorist element in the Islamic world, and to help Muslims understand how to practice submission to God in the context of pluralistic societies.  I'm trying to learn more about how this work is going on in the world.

Within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam there are those who espouse the way of violence. The futility and blasphemy of this has been addressed by those such as Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, whose recent book "Not in God's Name" made clear that God does not countenance our violence.  It is not insignificant that Rabbi Sacks draws on the thought of a Christian named Rene Girard to help make his case.  Girard's influence on Christian theology in the last twenty years has been considerable, leading to deep consideration by Christian theologians of Christian complicity in violence and the resources of the Gospels to address and correct our error.

All of this is to say that I am trying to approach the understanding of Islam in today's world with clear-eyed realism, but also with hope that through all this struggle and confusion we might finally arrive at a more gracious place as children of Abraham.  Terror has no place in this future.  Those who insist on it are delusional and are creating their own hell.  God loves all God's creatures, and does not coerce.

We won't get toward the future we want by categorically misrepresenting people and their views.  We won't get there by writing off a whole religion with easy stereotypes.  We can't wish away the world's Muslims, nor should we.  They are our neighbors, as the teaching of Jesus clearly implies.  We won't get there by allowing ourselves to be victims of demagoguery.

Somehow, I have to find the way forward that involves making peace wherever it is possible to make peace.  "If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all," said the Apostle Paul (Romans 12:18).  Somehow, I have to find my way beyond fear, because fear causes human beings to make terrible decisions.  The message of the angels is always "fear not."

I find in reading the Quran alongside our own Bible that my own gratitude for the witness of Jesus grows. I'm respectful of a tradition that teaches submission to God, but I'm personally grateful for a vision of God who is Love.  That's the great witness of Christianity to the world.  I hope I can live up to it somehow as I grow.  I hope that Christians can embrace the love of Jesus which allows us to love our Muslim neighbors.