Is there anything that we can do about gun violence?

This morning I called my congressman to urge him to take action to repeal the Dickey Amendment.

The reason I did this is that the author of the Dickey Amendment, former US Congressman Jay Dickey, has written that he regrets the effect of his amendment on research into gun violence.

In a 2012 opinion piece co-authored with Mark Rosenberg, Mr. Dickey tells us that his rider "removed $2.6  million from the CDC’s budget, the amount the agency’s injury center had spent on firearms-related research the previous year."  

The authors explain that this amendment, "together with a stipulation that 'None of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control,' sent a chilling message."

The chilling message has had the effect of discouraging the CDC from seeking federal dollars to fund research into the causes of gun violence.  Since the passage of the bill in 1996, they explain, the government has spent $240 million per year on traffic safety research, but "there has been almost no publicly funded research on firearm injuries."

The authors entitled their opinion piece as follows:  "We won't know the cause of gun violence until we look for it."

I'll let them explain in their own words:

As a consequence, U.S. scientists cannot answer the most basic question: What works to prevent firearm injuries? We don’t know whether having more citizens carry guns would decrease or increase firearm deaths; or whether firearm registration and licensing would make inner-city residents safer or expose them to greater harm. We don’t know whether a ban on assault weapons or large-capacity magazines, or limiting access to ammunition, would have saved lives in Aurora or would make it riskier for people to go to a movie. And we don’t know how to effectively restrict access to firearms by those with serious mental illness.

Mr. Dickey and Mr. Rosenberg, a former CDC official, admit that they were on opposite sides sixteen years ago, but now find themselves in agreement that research into gun violence is necessary.  They ended their opinion piece with these words:

Most politicians fear talking about guns almost as much as they would being confronted by one, but these fears are senseless. We must learn what we can do to save lives. It is like the answer to the question “When is the best time to plant a tree?” The best time to start was 20 years ago; the second-best time is now.

In 2015 Mr. Dickey sat down for an interview on this topic.  The interviewer summed up what he was hearing from Mr. Dickey in this way:

You're saying there might be some way to not interfere with anybody's right to own a gun but regulate it in such a way that fewer people are killed by guns?

Mr. Dickey replied:

That's correct. I can't tell you what that might be, but I know this. All this time that we have had, we would've found a solution, in my opinion. And I think it's a shame that we haven't.

So today I called my congressman to urge him to support repeal of the Dickey Amendment.

Thoughts on the occasion of Black History Month

Old St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, where Absalom Jones and Richard Allen protested being assigned to the balcony by leading a walkout.

Old St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, where Absalom Jones and Richard Allen protested being assigned to the balcony by leading a walkout.

Black History Month is here, and I have a few thoughts as an citizen and a would-be follower of Jesus.

Black History month came out of a need to tell more of the stories that shaped our nation, the stories of Black Americans.  Many of these are stories I never heard growing up.

First of all, Black History month is an opportunity to learn from the story of someone like Absalom Jones, the first African-American priest in the Episcopal Church, whose feast day in our calendar is February 13.  On that occasion we remember how in 1787 he and other black parishioners of St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia were told one Sunday morning that they had to sit in the balcony.  The white members of the church had met without these brothers and sisters and decided this all on their own.  Absalom Jones and his friend Richard Allen walked out that morning with other black parishioners.  They were received as a group by the Episcopal bishop of Philadelphia, and eventually Absalom was ordained priest and served the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, while Richard Allen eventually started the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Alexander Crummell

Alexander Crummell

Black History month also reminds me of the refusal of the General Theological Seminary (my alma mater) to receive Alexander Crummell (born 1819) as a student.   Why?  He was black.  This learned man went on to graduate from Cambridge University and be ordained, and to found the Union of Black Episcopalians after it was proposed that a separate missionary district be founded for African-American Episcopalians.

There's lots to celebrate in terms of overthrown barriers to fellowship in the Church.  We have an African-American Presiding Bishop, after all.  That couldn't have happened in the earliest days of our church.

So where are we with racism in this country?

I remember a conversation a few years ago at a summertime family picnic when a relative asserted that racism in America was over.  As proof, this family member - a white man - cited personal experience in military service as evidence that equality between the races is here.

In that the military was de-segregated very early on, it's not surprising that my relative would have a perception of equality.

I don't agree that racism is over.  There are plenty of signs it is alive in America. Just today I read about high school students at a basketball game on the East Coast throwing racial slurs at each other.  Students at a Christian high school, no less.  That's the kind of evidence of racism that isn't hard to find these days, sadly.  The lack of leadership at the highest levels of society is encouraging this trend.

Racism isn't simply a matter of these kinds of actions, however.  Racism is not just discrete actions that people do.  Racism is evident in lasting social structures that privilege one part of society over another.  For example: Michelle Alexander's ground-breaking book The New Jim Crow, published in 2010, opened my eyes and the eyes of many others to the issue of mass incarceration in this country, and of the overwhelming degree to which African Americans are represented in the prison population in a way disproportionate to their presence in society.  The tour of history through which she takes us and the way in which she links history to the present-day realities cannot be easily dismissed, and an agenda for reform in our justice system becomes more clearly apparent.

The discussion of racism is really difficult these days.  Some people want to be labeled as racist, and they've been emboldened of late.  Few people, however, actually want to be labeled as racist.  I know that I don't.  Conversations about race easily lead to feelings of defensiveness, because most of us don't think of ourselves as being purposefully offensive.  We probably think of ourselves as personally liberated from racist attitudes.   We don't want to offend.

I believe Christ can help us out here.   He commanded us to love our neighbor as ourselves.  He told us in no uncertain terms that we were not in a position to decide who our neighbor is and isn't.

Love of neighbor entails certain disciplines, like the discipline of humbling oneself to hear what another person has to say.  And I believe that if I'm listening only with a defensive attitude to a story that may not be what I want to hear, I'm not going to be able to hear what's being said.

The Scriptures are frank about structures of oppression, those "evil powers which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God" that our Baptismal rite asks us to renounce.  The Letter to the Ephesians, for example, is frank about the fact that "our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."   Slavery and Jim Crow laws are examples of those powers which corrupted and destroyed, and that kind of thing doesn't happen in society without lasting effects to our present day.  The struggle of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the other leaders of the Civil Rights movement was the struggle against these principalities and powers as manifest in lynchings and beatings and abuse hurled at our brothers and sisters who only sought recognition of the dignity with which they were endowed by our Creator.  Those principalities and powers were also manifest in practices like real-estate "red-lining" and the other remnants of Jim Crow which persisted so long.

Christians must acknowledge the enduring power of these forces, and are given power by the Holy Spirit to resist these powers.  This - and here I'm speaking to my fellow members of the white majority in this country - means a stance of humility, which allows us to listen to the stories that are emerging, and to be part of the healing.

There is coming a day, after all, in the not-to-distant future, when people of Northern European descent will be in the minority in this country.   That's me and my descendants.  Demographers are showing us a different world ahead than the one many of us considered normative in our youth.

How we face this reality has a lot to do with where we are grounded spiritually.   Are we grounded in God?

Speaking to the Athenians, the Apostle Paul said:

"From one ancestor [God] made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’"   (Acts 17:26-28)

Grounded in the knowledge that we're all God's offspring, and that God is just and merciful and kind and forgiving, we can face our future with hope.

The choice is ours.

Black History Month, Absalom Jones, and HBCU's

The Most Rev. Michael Curry Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

The Most Rev. Michael Curry

Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church

February is Black History Month, and in honor of this occasion and of Blessed Absalom Jones, the first African American priest in the Episcopal Church, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has called for an increased understanding and commitment to the Episcopal Historically Black Colleges and University, known as HBCUs. 
 
The Presiding Bishop invites Episcopalians "to deepen our participation in Christ's ministry of reconciliation by dedicating offerings at observances of the Feast of Absalom Jones to support the two remaining Episcopal Historically Black Colleges and University (HBCUs): St. Augustine's University in Raleigh, NC, and Voorhees College in Denmark, SC." 
 
The two institutions of higher education were founded in the later 19th century as an Episcopal Church missionary venture. "These schools bring educational, economic, and social opportunity to often resource-poor communities, and they offer many blessings into the life of the Episcopal Church," he said.  
 
Donations to the HBCUs will provide much needed help to: offer competitive scholarships and financial aid; attract and retain exceptional faculty; support cutting-edge faculty research; install new and upgraded technology campus-wide; provide state-of-the-art classroom and athletic equipment. 
 
"The Episcopal Church established and made a life-long covenant with these schools, and they are an essential part of the fabric of our shared life," the Presiding Bishop noted.  HBCUs Once there were 10 HBCUs; however, St. Augustine's and Voorhees are the only two remaining.  
 
Saint Augustine's University (SAU) was founded in 1867 by the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina.  Located in Raleigh, over 1,000 students pursue Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees at SAU, while adult learners engage in advanced studies in Criminal Justice, Organizational Management, and Religious Studies.  The mission of the university is to sustain a learning community in which students can prepare academically, socially, and spiritually for leadership in complex, diverse, and rapidly changing world. www.st-aug.edu

Voorhees College is a private historically black four-year liberal arts college located in Denmark, SC. Voorhees was founded as the Denmark Industrial School by Elizabeth Evelyn Wright, a young black woman, in 1897.  A former student of Booker T. Washington, Miss Wright dreamed the seemingly impossible dream of starting a school for African American youth in rural Bamberg County, SC. www.voorhees.edu  
 
To donate Donations are accepted here   www.episcopalchurch.org/Give  For more information, contact Tara Elgin Holley, Episcopal Church Director of Development, tholley@episcopalchurch.org

Absalom Jones, first African American priest in the Episcopal Church

Absalom Jones, first African American priest in the Episcopal Church



Absalom Jones Absalom Jones is commemorated in the Episcopal Church on February 13. Jones was an African American abolitionist and clergyman and the first African American ordained a priest in The Episcopal Church.  Absalom Jones was born enslaved to Abraham Wynkoop in 1746 in Delaware. Jones moved to Philadelphia after his master sold his plantation along with Absalom's mother and six siblings. Jones bought his wife Mary's freedom and later his master granted Absalom's emancipation in 1784. In 1787, with his friend Richard Allen, they founded the Free African Society, a mutual aid benevolent organization that was the first of its kind organized by and for black people. Bishop William White ordained Jones a deacon in 1795 and a priest on September 21, 1802. Jones faithfully served the people at the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas in Philadelphia, a church which remains a vibrant congregation.  "As we approach February, the remembrance of the Blessed Absalom Jones, the first AfricanAmerican priest in the Episcopal Church, we have a unique opportunity to celebrate his memory and to honor the witness of two schools that continue to form new leaders," Presiding Bishop Curry said. "In honor of Jones' commitment to advancing the education of African Americans and promoting the development of African American leaders in all areas of life, the Episcopal Church is delighted to designate Saint Augustine's University and Voorhees College as the beneficiaries of the 2018 Feast of Absalom Jones offerings."

Pride and Prophets

The Rev. Marsha Vollkommer preached the following message in St. Paul's on the Third Sunday of Advent.  She's given me permission to share it with you in this space. - Jonathan

A Sermon for Sunday, December 17, 2017 

Pride and Prophets 

Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11 – The Magnificat – John 1:6-8,19-28

 

There’s a voice in the wilderness crying… 

We heard some mighty voices, speaking mighty words, this morning. Did you listen? Did you hear what they said? 

Did you hear Isaiah say, “he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners…to comfort all who mourn…”? 

Did you hear Mary say, “he has scattered the proud in their conceit, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty…he has remembered his promise of mercy…”? 

Did you hear John say, “Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal…”? 

Three people – three prophets – born of fatherd and mothers, living lives as flawed and humble human beings – who listened to God and answered the call to be part of the fulfillment of God’s kingdom on earth – to bear witness to God’s love for God’s people – a love literally embodied in Jesus. 

And if we listen to them – if we truly hear what they are saying – then we have some serious questions to ask ourselves. 

Every year at this time, we in the church turn our hearts and our minds (and our time and our energy) to the glorious celebration of the birth so very long ago of God made flesh. In the midst of the hustle, the stress, the fatigue imposed by all that is attendant to our secular celebration of Christmas, there is still within us a warmth – an awe – a feeling of gratitude for what the season really means. The greatest prophet – the greatest teacher – the greatest living, breathing embodiment of the love of God was born to humankind. We listen – and we hear – and our belief is so strong we can feel it humming through our bones. 

And while I don’t want to throw a wet blanket on a good and joy-filled thing, the question is: what will we do with this gift? 

Another question – and I’ll make this mine – you can decide for yourself. When Mary talks about God scattering the proud in their conceit, and casting down the mighty, is she talking about me? “Surely not!” I’d like to protest – vehemently – and yet the simple notion that I stop to wonder somehow tells me that I may, indeed, have moments when I’m far too proud – far to “haughty” – placing myself among the mighty and not the lowly. 

Here’s the reason I think this is a particularly important question…and in the telling of the story, I am making my confession that I am, indeed, oftentimes too proud and haughty. Rob and I moved to Bellingham from a very beautiful place that was populated with far too many of the proud and haughty – a place where your house and your garden and the car you drove were important – were idols. We moved to a street in Bellingham that I have come to cherish…but I didn’t at first. It is a street of small, crowded houses – some with five or six or seven cars (in various stages of wholeness) in the street – some with window blinds akimbo, and garages overflowing into the driveways. I am ashamed to say that, at first, I would explain to people that when you got down the street a few blocks, things opened up and there were newer, bigger houses, etc, etc. A few months in, I began to notice the broad and beautiful diversity of the people living on my street – young and old, black and brown and Asian – multigenerational – couples (and families) in every configuration – and animals galore. I started waving at people as I passed…and of course they waved back. I started to see them…really see them…and, although I still don’t know their names, I know the ones who walk to take the bus to work every day, the moms and dads who walk their kids to school, the gaggle of middle-schoolers getting of the bus, the smiling black man (always smiling) walking home in his scrubs after his shift at the hospital. I see them all, now, and I can truly say I love them. And I can truly say that a pretty deplorable pride on my part kept me – at first – from seeing them at all. 

I can only hope, as Thomas Merton so aptly prayed, that God will recognize my (newly found) good intentions.

The reason I think searching our souls for pride is so important – perhaps the reason (or at least part of the reason) that God doesn’t want much to do with the proud and the mighty, is that hanging onto our pride, our “betterness”, keeps us from seeing the lowly, the hungry, the brokenhearted, those who are held captive and imprisoned by so many circumstances over which they have little, if any control. We don’t see them – so they don’t exist – because when pride and striving are at our center, the only place we look is in the direction of the next rung up the ladder of power and influence we have decided to climb. And yet these are the children of God that the Father watches over with special care – the children of God our Father implores us to see, to care for, to love. 

One last question…Who are the prophets whose voices you value – the ones to whom you listen – the ones whose words you take in to shape and form your life? 

We live in a time in the world that is full of voices. It is often said that in our sophisticated, 24/7 world of communication we all suffer from information overload – too much to know – too much to hear – to much to take in. I would suggest, instead, that we live in a world with too many voices. Too many people, for too many reasons, trying to tell us what to think, what to do, what we need, who we are supposed to be, how we are supposed to live…and what our full, accomplished, meaningful lives should look like. Too often those voices tell us what we should get, rather than what we should give. Too often those voices tell us what we must do to be more important than someone else. Too often those voices tell us that we (and the tribes to which we belong) are the most important, and we had better hang together or the “others” will overtake us. Too often those voices tell us that we have to stand up for “us” because “they” are out to get us. And they make us nervous, and they make us suspicious, and they plant in us a fear of what might happen, and we give ourselves over to their will. There are many voices that would like us to believe they are prophets because of their power…their power in governance, in wealth, in the marketing of what we buy, and what we consume, and what we value. And the pride of their conceit not only makes them haughty, it makes them feel as though they are the only true prophets any of us need hear. 

But. They. Are. Not. God!!!! 

Isaiah and Mary and John were prophetic witnesses to the love of God! If the stories are to believed, John was actually a bit of a kook…living in the woods, eating nuts and berries, apparently never combing his hair. He didn’t claim to be anything – and even denied being a prophet, calling himself unworthy even to perform a task left to slaves who stooped down to remove a person’s shoes. All he claimed was that he was called to be the voice crying in the wilderness “make straight the way of the Lord” – open up to the path of God’s love. And yet it was this man – whom we would no doubt choose not to see if we passed him on the street – a man who was challenged by the religious elite – a man who would be beheaded at the hands of the proud and the haughty – John was the one was called to baptize the incarnate Jesus. 

God asks us to listen to and truly hear only one thing – to love God with all our hearts, and minds, and strength…and to love our neighbors. The request – the call – is so simple that we all know it by heart. And yet it turns out to be one of the hardest things we are ever asked to do. To love with one’s heart isn’t so difficult…but to love with one’s mind – to value and dedicate one’s self intellectually to a love that is radical, and counter to the voices we hear all around us requires an overwhelming effort. And to love God with all one’s strength – which surely means God is calling us into action – into living, minute by minute, day by day, year by year, in accordance with that love, is a pledge that is daunting to make. To love one’s neighbor, in the way God asks, means not only loving those with whom we feel comfortable, or with whom we feel aligned, or with whom we prefer to be grouped. No, it means loving every single child of God with the same love God loves us. It means loving those who look and speak and act differently than we do; it means loving the frustrating and the annoying, and even the despicable…because in God’s eyes they are all God’s children…and when it comes down to it, if we believe what we profess to believe about God, we have no room to question who God loves, and why. 

The scriptures are full of powerful words and powerful stories of prophetic witness…and it come as no surprise that the message shared throughout the ages has been the same. God does not value the worldly idols we create, but values the children he created. There are prophetic voices around us, still, if we have ears to hear. My best guess is that the ones worth listening to – the ones in whom we put our confidence and to whom we give our respect – are the ones that talk to us about loving and valuing and respecting and reaching out to what Jesus called “the least of these.” Love and respect and reaching out can build many, many bridges…to the poor and the marginalized…to those we see as enemies…to those we see as other. Following God’s prophets, we will begin to find our connections, rather than our divisions…our commonalities rather than our differences…our sisterhood and brotherhood with Christ as children of a compassionate, forgiving and loving God. Make straight the way of the Lord, John said…open up – build a bridge – clear the path – reach out – share love. God is with us.

Advent

Advent_wreath_4.jpg

Welcome to Advent, the first season of the church year, also known as the liturgical year.

I have some thoughts of others to share with you, and the first sharing is the Advent message for 2017 from bishop, which you can access here.

Advent is from a Latin word meaning "coming", and it is a season of both remembrance and expectation.  The remembrance is of the first coming of Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem and of the revelation that unfolded from that humble beginning, a revelation we've been exploring in scripture and liturgy and prayer for the entire church year since the last Advent season: the seasons of which are, in this order: Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and the Season after Pentecost.  In these seasons we've been beholding the life of Jesus the Christ from his Baptism and Temptation through the ministry of teaching, healing, and proclaiming the kingdom of God, and then the events of the arrest, trial, crucifixion, and the resurrection and ascension.

In Advent we look forward to receiving Jesus again as an infant, but we also look forward to the final judgment of the world by God; a judgment which will finally make all things right; a judgment we are able to greet "without shame or fear," as the Prayerbook has it.

I want to leave you with these words from Austin Farrer from 1952.  Farrer was a noted Anglican spiritual writer of the 20th Century.  In this passage he describes the journey of our lives in the light of our relationship to Jesus the Christ.

Our journey sets out from God in our creation, and returns to God at the final judgment. As the bird rises from the earth to fly, and must some time return to the earth from which it rose; so God sends us forth to fly, and we must fall back into the hands of God at last.  But God does not wait for the failure of our power and the expiry of our days to drop us back into his lap.  He goes himself to meet us and everywhere confronts us.  Where is the countenance which we must finally look in the eyes, and not be able to turn away our head? It smiles up at Mary from the cradle, it calls Peter from the nets, it looks on him with grief when he has denied his master.  Our judge meets us every step of our way, with forgiveness on his lips and succour in his hands. He offers us these things while there is yet time.  Every day opportunity shortens, our scope for learning our Redeemer's love is narrowed by twenty-four hours, and we come nearer to the end of our journey, when we shall fall into the hands of the living God, and touch the hearts of the devouring fire.

 -from The Crown of the Year. (Dacre Press, 1952). Quoted in A Feast of Anglican          Spirituality. (Canterbury Press, Norwich, 1988), 148.

A Blessed Advent to all of you.

Advent Wreath By SolLuna - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=17276397

  

 

Thanksgiving Day

Thanksgiving Day is based on a long tradition of harvest festivals.  We give thanks for harvest because harvest means we may eat, and eating is basic for life.

The first reading for Thanksgiving Day includes this reflection on the sacredness of eating:

Deuteronomy 8:2-3 (NRSV)

2Remember the long way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, in order to humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commandments.3He humbled you by letting you hunger, then by feeding you with manna, with which neither you nor your ancestors were acquainted, in order to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

I enjoyed reading the following Jewish perspectives on this text.

Elisha Greenbaum writes:

A family friend once told me that she would notice a peculiar quirk whenever her father-in-law, a Holocaust survivor, would stay at her house.

Every night before retiring to bed, Zeide would wander into the kitchen and unobtrusively check out the contents of her pantry. He could not go to sleep unless there was bread in the house If there was bread on the shelf, he’d relax and head off to his bedroom. But if there was none, he would invariably leave the house to buy a loaf.

He never made a big fuss about it, and she does not remember whether he ever explicitly said that he could not go to sleep unless there was bread in the house, but that was his custom.

Obviously, his war experience influenced this behavior. We who have never been really hungry cannot possibly fathom the effect of the years of privation that he and his generation suffered in the ghettos and camps. But I can imagine, in an abstract sense, the anxiety of never really knowing where one’s next meal is coming from.

To read more about how Zeide's behavior is understandable, and about how all of this can lead us to reflect on food as a divine gift, read the rest here.

I also pass on to you this reflection on this same Torah portion from a Hasidic rabbi:

Man does not live by bread alone, but by the utterance of G-d's mouth does man live (Deuteronomy 8:3) 

This explains a most puzzling fact of life: how is it that man, the highest form of life, derives vitality and sustenance from the lower tiers of creation -- the animal, vegetable and mineral?
But the true source of nourishment is the "Divine utterance" in every creation, and, as the Kabbalists teach, the "lowlier" the creation, the loftier the divine energy it contains, like a collapsing wall, in which the highest stones fall the farthest.

          (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi)

As we sit down to eat on Thanksgiving Day, these reflections can draw us closer to God, who generously provides every good thing, and without whose utterances we cannot live.

Remember that Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, and one of the temptations was to turn stones into bread.  He replied by quoting this text:

Man does not live by bread alone, but by the utterance of G-d's mouth does man live (Deuteronomy 8:3) 

Happy Thanksgiving!

 

 

I believe the women

I believe the women.

I feel compelled to say that.

We are in the midst of an extraordinary development in our society.  Women are coming forward with allegations of sexual harassment and abuse against powerful men.  It all started snowballing with the exposure of movie producer Harvey Weinstein, and the list of men named seems to grow by the day.

The list includes men in the public eye: comedians and entertainers and actors; politicians and judges, businessmen.  The list has included a past President of the United States, and it includes the current President of the United States.  The list includes people you thought you liked, who you may have chosen to vote for if you could, or whose movies or shows you've liked.  The list includes people you don't like.

As I write I can't think of a major religious leader who is named in recent weeks, but I have no trouble thinking of the names of major religious leaders who have been named during my lifetime.

What all these powerful men have in common - despite their differences in religion and lifestyle and politics or what-have-you is power.

And power, as Jesus warned us, can be a dangerous thing.  One day he had to deal with a power play among his disciples, and he said this:

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant...." (Matthew 20:26a)

In the structures of our society, men have until relatively recently held all reins of political and organizational and economic power, and that's only been changing significantly in my lifetime.  That power easily goes to the head of the one who wields it.  A powerful man can and will often get by with abuse of those around him, leading to a feeling of immunity from accountability.  Powerful men attract those around them who like the association with power, making them unwilling to acknowledge and challenge the behavior of the powerful.

This dynamic, it seems, is being challenged before our very eyes.

There are men who - because of their power - thought they could get by with objectifying and exploiting women around them.   Now, women are encouraging one another to come forward to challenge this dynamic.

And this is a good thing.

In my ministry, I've spoken with and heard from women who were abused by powerful men in the church.  In my ministry, I've listened to one who was abused as a child by a powerful man in the church and assisted that person toward being acknowledged by the church and having their grievance addressed.  I once took part in a disciplinary process in another diocese when a male priest was found guilty of sexual abuse of parishioners.  I took part in conversations in the Episcopal Church that led to our current Safeguarding God's Children and Safeguarding God's People training.  I learned a lot in those conversations, and I think we've made progress, but vigilance is always necessary.

And knowing what I do about the acute suffering of survivors of abuse, I believe them.  That's because I know the pattern so often demonstrated.  Someone makes an allegation, and then they are attacked, their story discounted, their motives questioned.  The more powerful the man, the more resources are at the disposal of that man to shame and blame the victim.  It happens all the time.  There are reasons people suffer in silence for a long time before finally having the courage to speak up.

Yes, there are women who abuse as well.  But in my experience, it's the men who have had the opportunity to do so, and it's men who are being named time after time after time these days.  And their response to being named says a lot to us about who they are.

So I believe the women, and those who come forward to acknowledge being abused as children. They need to be heard, not shamed and silenced.

Can abusers change?  Is redemption possible?  Yes.  God is merciful, and God forgives the penitent, and provides power for amendment of life. But accountability is overdue in our society, and it seems to be coming.  Accountability is the only way many abusers are ever going to have to face their need to change.

God help us all.  Pray for the abused and harassed.  Pray for those who abuse and harass.  And pray for a better day.

 

First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas

The mass shooting carried out last Sunday at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs presents a deep challenge to faith in a God who is good and loving and kind.  The mass shooting also presents a deep challenge to the American public to act toward a world where an atrocity like this is not the norm.

First, the theological challenge.

I've been thinking.  Where was God on that Sunday morning when a small community of believers in Jesus was assaulted by the force of evil embodied in that young man in his black tactical gear brandishing a weapon designed to kill as many people as possible?

That thought took me back to May 21, 1998, which in the calendar of the church is Ascension Day. That day began in a routine fashion in my church office at Church of the Resurrection, Eugene.  That changed suddenly when I heard news of a shooting at Thurston High School in neighboring Springfield.  In short order I received a telephone call from a parishioner in distress.  She was in the teacher's lounge at Springfield High School in Springfield, Oregon.

Debbie, a Spanish teacher, reported that her teaching partner, Faith Kinkel, was dead, shot by her own son Kip.  She told me that Kip was the shooter responsible for death and mayhem at neighboring Thurston High, where he was a student.  Debbie wanted me to come to be with her and the other teachers.   I got in my car and drove to be with them.

Of that visit I can remember little of what I said, but I said little.  The teachers were in shock, hugging one another, some numb, some weeping openly.  The grief was just beginning to settle in.  I walked in with my dog collar on, and I did what one can do in those situations. Mostly, I sat quietly in mourning and vigil, offering such signs of condolence as seemed welcome.  I can remember without a lot of specificity one male teacher who stared at me with penetrating eyes, and I cannot be sure, but it may be that he challenged me with these words:  "Where was God when all this was happening?"  If he didn't actually say that, that was the message I received as he saw before him a man wearing a black clergy shirt with a white band around his neck.

I can't honestly remember what I said back to him, if I said anything at all.  But I do remember that this question was resonating in my heart and demanded some kind of response.

As the news unfolded, we all found out the terrible toll of that day.  At the Kinkel home, Bill Kinkel, a Spanish teacher at Thurston and Faith Kinkel, a Spanish teacher at Springfield High, were dead, shot by their own son.   At Thurston High, 16-year-old Ben Walker and 17-year-old Mikeal Nicholauson were dead.  24 students were wounded.  A whole community was seared with psychological and spiritual pain.

Later that afternoon I was to preach at an Ascension Day Eucharist at Eugene's Central Lutheran Church in the company of Lutheran and Episcopal clergy.   You can be sure that I scrapped whatever it was that I had prepared for that day, and went to the pulpit with fear and trembling and a few scratched out notes on paper.

My message was my response to the question that came to me earlier in the day.  "Where was God in all this?"

My message affirmed that God was not in the violence.  God was not in the killing.   God had no part in willing what happened that day.

God was that day in the actions that displayed love, concern, and active help.  God was present in the teachers and school staff who sought to safeguard their students.  God was present in the first-responders who risked themselves as they arrived on the scene.  God was present in all those who wailed and wept and embraced one another and shed tears.

God is love.  God was present wherever love was being shown that day.

Later I would hear of the example set by Kristen Kinkel, Kip's older sister, who would overcome her grief and shock and the unspeakable offense against her perpetrated by her brother to reach out to him in compassion in the midst of his suffering, demonstrate lasting support and love for Kip, who is imprisoned for life.

God does allow a world in which humanity has great freedom for good or ill.  On that day in May of 1998, as on many days in many places throughout time, the evil of which humanity is capable erupted in violence and inflicted unspeakable pain and suffering.

This is a very difficult thing to accept.  Some cannot accept it, and refuse to believe in anything other than blind chance and purely materialistic explanations for life as we know it.  I honestly sympathize with those who cannot trust in God being good and because they find the problem of such evil too great to overcome.

It's easier for me to sympathize with them, after all, than with so-called spiritual authority figures who blithely tell us that God sends hurricanes and other disasters to punish the people they wish they had the power to punish.  I don't need to tell you who these people are; they get press enough from time to time.  May God have mercy on them and turn their hearts from such foolishness.

The revelation of God in the face of Jesus Christ is that of one who suffers the violence of crucifixion, after all.  That crucifixion came at the hands of human beings whose hearts were closed to compassion, whose values flew in the face of Jesus' Beatitudes.  God in Christ, to me, is the God who is present in the excruciatingly painful places of life, the lost places.  God in Christ, as the ancient creed says, descended to the dead and preaches liberty to those held captive. 

As Kristin Kinkel would go on to demonstrate, God loves even the worst sinner.  She found a way to love someone whose actions devastated her life, whose actions deeply offended her and a whole community.  She found life in the midst of death and laid hold of it, for the sake of her brother, in whose tortured countenance she could still apparently see the person that God loved.

Where was God that day at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs?  God was in those who wept, who embraced, who rescued, who cared, who helped, who offered themselves to the grieving and the wounded.  God is in the faithful remnant who this coming Sunday will meet for worship as First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, defiant against the forces of evil that invaded them.

My hope is in God, present in the pit of hell, having embraced fully the human condition out of compassion for us and having suffered a violent death at our hands.

So much for my theological ruminations.  Now, for my musings on our ethical responsibility before God.

Where is God in us?  Are we to be counted on to be with God in the way God is with us in suffering?  Are we to be counted on to be with the suffering in justifiable anger at their suffering and with insistence that justice be done?  I raise here the question of human moral agency.  We are created by God with the ability to act for a better world.

Can we be counted on to raise our voices against the madness of our times, in which the slaughter of elementary school students at Sandy Hook so clearly demonstrated our national propensity to shrug our shoulders and claim to have no power in the situation?

Can we be counted on to come together in serious deliberation toward actions that stem the tide of violence, which is only growing worse and worse?

Can we be counted on to put our actions behind our voices in asking for commonsense restrictions on the availability of guns?  Can we stand up to those who seek to prevent us from even studying gun violence as a threat to public health?  I grew up in rural Oregon among hunters, and family members own and use guns for hunting.  I'm not against that at all.  But can we not object to the wide availability of guns that are based on military designs intended for rapid killing of human beings?  Must we treat our interpretations of the Second Amendment to the Constitution with seemingly more reverence than we treat the New Testament's Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount?

God is patient.  God is kind.  God is waiting for us to exercise the moral agency God has given us.

Where is God?  Our crucified God is with the outcasts, the sinners, the grieving, the offended-against, the suffering.  Our God in the person of Jesus Christ stepped out into the void where humans put him, and lives to redeem us from our bondage to violence and fear.

Where are we?

 

From the heart...

Thank you to all of you who, knowing I was experiencing a health challenge, have prayed for me and to those who have sent me messages of encouragement and hope during this last month and upon my return to preach last Sunday, All Saints' Sunday.

I've been diagnosed with a heart condition known as cardiomyopathy.  This means that my heart muscle is weakened and needs support to function well.  I'm presently taking three medications plus a dose of magnesium and wearing a portable defibrillator for the next three months while my cardiologist monitors my progress.  How did this situation come about?  We can't be certain, but the physicians who've treated me and heard my family medical history strongly suspect that I've inherited this situation.

I felt short of breath during the last weekend of September and sought medical attention at a weekend clinic and then at the ER at St. Joseph's on the following Monday.  Since that time I've taken an array of diagnostic tests, been hospitalized for observation and more tests and to begin medication, and been back to work.  As I write this, I'm feeling like I'm back to some semblance of normalcy again in my routine.  Barring a miracle, I will be living with this situation the rest of my life.  The good news is that there is terrific medical treatment to help strengthen me, and we live in a community with a terrific group of cardiologists in practice.

I'm extremely grateful to Dr. Rex Liu and his staff and to the other cardiologists who've had a hand in my care.  I'm grateful to the nursing staff and medical technologists at St. Joseph's Hospital.  I'm grateful to Sharon, my spouse and partner and friend of 37 years, and to my daughters Josie and Olivia, who've been calling their dad to ask how I'm doing.   I'm grateful to the people of St. Paul's and to the terrific clergy and staff members with whom I'm privileged to work, and to the lay leaders who make St. Paul's such a wonderful church community.  I'm grateful to God for the gift of life, and suddenly more aware of the precious gift of life each day.

Some of you have urged me to take good care of myself.  I hear you, and I'm doing that.  I'm taking care for my hydration, nutrition, exercise, and rest.  I'm setting reasonable limits for what I'll do in a day and what I'll worry about.  Thanks, friends, for your caring reminders to keep that up!

As I said on Sunday, I've been with many of you after you've received news you didn't want to hear about your health.  I now have had my own news I didn't want to hear, and I'm adjusting to that, just as I've seen so many of you adjust to new realities with courage, faith, and humor.

In all of this, I'm glad to be involved with St. Paul's.  I sat amid the congregation last Sunday and came up to the pulpit to preach and then took my seat again.  It felt good to be sitting in the congregation experiencing Sunday morning from a different perspective.  If I were visiting St. Paul's, I'd want to stick around!

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

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

Here's the collect:

25. For Labor Day (BCP p. 261)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Christmas Menorahs met hate with love in Billings

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

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

The Billings Gazette wrote up the story this way.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Feast of St. Mary the Virgin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Song of Mary    Magnificat 

Luke 1:46-55 

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

Charlottesville

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Love requires truth-telling, among other things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fired farmworkers at Sumas farm: a onsite report

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will pass on information as I find it out.

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

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

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

Bobby and Scotty Sires home burned down last night

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

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

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

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

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

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Pray for them in this time of loss and sadness.

Independence Day 2017

Prayer Resources from the Book of Common Prayer 1979

Independence Day    July 4

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

17. For the Nation

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

18. For our Country

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

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


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

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

Hymnal 1982, # 591

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

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

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

 

 

Interrupted for hospitality

Proper 8 July 2 2017       near Independence Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Let us pray:

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

Amen.

Pride in Bellingham

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

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

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

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

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

Fr. Dale Johnson: an Update

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mor Gabriel Monastery

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

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