An appeal to Christians in the United States

I just signed an online "Appeal to Christians in the United States."

The following is a description of the appeal by those who wrote it:

This appeal was written for Christians by Christians. Those who wrote it came from different parts of the country and from different denominations. As of this date over 3000 Christian leaders have signed the Appeal. They include small-town pastors and pastors of large-city churches; lay leaders; bishops and theologians – some of them more evangelical, some more “mainline.”"

I signed it because I'm deeply concerned and troubled by the currents of hatred and division I see being fostered in our country. That's why I joined Christian leaders from Protestant and Catholic and Evangelical and Pentecostal affiliations in signing on to this statement.

Follow this link to read the text.

Follow this link to sign the appeal.

St. Paul's Church Architecture as Spiritual Journey

In my last post I spoke of the Rood Screen and of how that symbol has been interpreted to me by some who view it for the first time.

I've had three written responses to my post. One person expressed appreciation for the beauty of the screen and a positive approach to it. Another person suggest the screen be removed and retired to a special place for it outside in the garden. Another person indicated that my post encouraged them in some writing they were doing on Christian spiritual life.

These varied responses reinforce my understanding that all language and symbols are multivalent1. The mistake of the fundamentalism around which I was raised is to assume that Scripture or theological language can be nailed down to one meaning, and one only, which is always, of course, the one being advanced to you by its advocate.

So it's not surprising to me that a symbol like the rood screen means different things to different people.

Now I want to set the rood screen in larger context, which is the whole interior architecture of our church building.

Norma Marrs, a member of St. Paul's with a background as a Christian educator in the Episcopal Church, shared her thoughts with me about this subject when I first arrived here. What I write here is essentially what she told me about her perceptions of our spaces.

One enters from Walnut Street through the narthex, which is that entrance on Walnut street under the tower and steeple. Doors open from the narthex to the nave, and to the left as one enters the nave is the baptistery, containing the marble eight-sided font. To the right one enters the nave with its rows of pews. From the nave one enters the chancel through the gate of the rood screen. From the chancel one goes beyond the communion rail to the altar.

So let's take this little walk through these spaces as a narrative of the progress of the spiritual development of the Christian people, shall we?

When one enters through the narthex door, one is entering the realm where the Christian story of who we are is told. This represents the time where we find ourselves drawn into the story of the Gospel as having some claim on our imagination, our desire.

The baptistery is near the entrance because baptism represents the initiatory sacrament of Christian life. In baptism we figuratively die and are born again into a knowledge that we are children of God and united with Christ, in whom we discover what our humanity is really about.

Baptism is administered once, but the nave to our right is a space to which we return again and again to be renewed in the understanding of the identity that was conferred on us in our baptism. The nave is the place where we repeatedly return to hear the story of Christ told to us throughout the stages of our life, so that our identity with Christ's work of forgiveness and reconciliation and mission can more and more be essential to our being.

Norma Marrs described the nave to me as being that place where we are the “church militant.” Now, that phrase may seem strange to you, inappropriately warlike. So let me explain. The phrase “church militant”, which belongs to earlier versions of the Book of Common Prayer, describes the present moment of our Christian life in which we are involved in a struggle with what our baptismal vows describe as the “powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God.” The roots of this understanding are to be found in the New Testament's Letter to the Ephesians, which describes spiritual life as a struggle 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.”

The nave, then, represents that part of our spiritual journey when we are alive in this world, learning to resist all sorts of forces in this world which make for misery for human life and for the degradation of the earth. The nave represents our struggle in life to live into the promise of God's kingdom. The nave is the place where God's people come for strength for this struggle, and to claim the promise of God's love in Christ and the promise of a New Creation. We are the “church militant” in this spiritual wrestling while we are alive in this world.

Norma described for me the chancel, that place where the clergy and choir sits beyond the rood screen, as representing the “church triumphant.” This phrase represents that phase in our spiritual journey beyond our death, when freed from the struggles of this present world, we are in the nearer presence of the God of life. We all have the promise of going there.

Beyond the chancel lies the communion rail, and beyond that the sanctuary around the altar. As Norma describes this space, it represents for us the ultimate goal of all our spiritual journey, which is total union with God. This represents that phase in our journey where there will be no sense of distance, no memory of estrangement from God. There is just perfect Love. This is a phase of our journey that we can only now evoke in poetry, in metaphor, in music, in art, in forms of ecstatic prayer.

Every liturgy which involves the High Altar up against the East Wall has us for awhile in the nave for the liturgy of the Word, and then streaming up through the chancel to the altar to receive bread and wine as the very presence of Christ feeding us with himself, with the end being that we are totally united with Christ, and in Christ in total union with God.  So, you see, we rehearse this spiritual journey.  We practice it.

Now, like any theological language or symbol system, our church architecture at St. Paul's didn't drop out of heaven.  It is not there to be idolized. The Church of Jesus Christ does not depend for its life on medieval or renaissance church architectural schemes. All one really needs to worship God in the tradition of Christian faith is to me a pretty simple list. One needs water for baptism along with the invocation of the Holy Trinity. One needs a place to gather, with a place for the proclamation of the Word. For that, one needs the texts of the Holy Scripture. One needs a table or altar. One needs bread and wine. And most of all, one needs the assembly. Personally, I find music essential. All the rest is ornamentation. It sure helps if the place is made beautiful.

We have the church building that we have. My point in these posts is simply to offer for your reflection a way to interpret the spaces we have bequeathed to us by our predecessors at St. Paul's.  Perhaps we'll have a deeper appreciation as to how some people can see the space differently from us.

The main thing, I hope, is the main thing. That is that we have a story to inhabit, a story to tell, a story that tells us who we are. It is the Christian story. It is true, and it is beautiful, and it is there for us to receive and to let change us.

That font which initiates us into Christ has eight sides. It took seven days for God to create the world, says Genesis. Well, that eighth side is for the eighth day of Creation, which is the day we are born with Jesus Christ into a new life meant for service to the redeeming and loving of a broken Creation. Lent is here, and it's a good time, through prayer, study, self-denial, and works of mercy, to grow in our ability to manifest that eighth day.

1having many values, meanings, or appeals

Of Lent and Church Architecture

Lent is coming, so let's talk about church architecture.

What?

What's the connection, you ask?

Well, Lent is a time to prepare for the renewal of baptismal vows at Easter. And Holy Baptism is the sacrament of our union with Jesus Christ in his life, death, and resurrection.

Baptism tells us that we're all members of Christ. Baptism tells us we belong to God's loving purposes, that God has plans for us in the world. God tells us this. So this should mean we believe it, right? Well, as the old song goes, “It ain't necessarily so.”

It ain't necessarily so because there are all kinds of reasons that we tend to doubt this truth.

Sometimes, our reasons for doubting this truth are encouraged by a perception of church architecture.

In the last month, two newer members of St. Paul's have expressed to me their impression that the rood screen is a forbidding barrier to them.

What's a rood screen, you ask? It's that big ornate decorated iron screen that you see when you sit in the church looking forward to the altar. It's called a “rood screen” because of the cross on top of it. The word “rood” derives from the Saxon word rode or rood, which means “cross”.

These two people told me the rood screen seems to them a barrier which suggests to them that there is a special part of the church building that they are not really welcome to enter. These members have doubt in their minds that the church thinks they are “worthy” to enter. This isn't the first time I've heard this.

I sympathize with these people. I am always aware from where I preside of the dense wrought-iron screen that blocks my vision of the congregation. Sometimes I wonder how newcomers see that screen. Like any symbol, it can mean more than one thing, depending on who is viewing it. And if you've traveled much around the Episcopal Church, you know that to even have a rood screen is unusual, especially here on the West Coast of the United States.

Some years ago here at St. Paul's someone who is very fond of that screen was apparently afraid that I would have it removed, and so told me: “That rood screen will be removed over my dead body.” Yes, those words exactly.

Others have told me that they don't really care for it, but they've learned to accept it. One late member of the church told me made his peace with it, however, while up on a ladder dusting it off for the Easter celebrations.

The 9:00 am Sunday Eucharist was instituted in part to give people another option for celebration, with the use of a freestanding altar placed at the crossing.

Rood screens belong to the architecture of the medieval and renaissance period of church history. They are part of a more comprehensive vision of church architecture from that period, and I'll describe that in another post to come.

But here, let me just lay down something basic.

Baptism makes us members of Christ. Baptism names us as worthy of being co-workers with God's purposes.

No rood screen can come in the way of that.

And during every Eucharist that uses the high altar, people stream right through that gate in the rood screen right to the altar to receive the bread of life and cup of salvation.

MusiciansAtEaster.jpg

Now, Lent is almost upon us. I invite us to Ash Wednesday to Eucharist to pray the Litany of Penitence together and receive the sign of ashes to remember that our mortal lives belong to God. I invite us to a Lent of prayer, fasting, and self-denial, of good works for the poor and powerless.  We'll worship at 6:30 am, 12:00 noon, and 7:00 pm on Ash Wednesday, February 10.

We're all in this together

Photo of Oklahoma City Bombing Memorial by Tabitha Kaylee Hawk [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This morning I'm feeling the pain of disunity in the Body of Christ. I'm sensing in myself where that disunity comes from. It comes when I get angry and just want to shut off the other party in conflict. It comes from pain that I feel.

 

There's pain out there. The pain of gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgendered people in our church who find themselves once again at the center of our conflict. The pain of people far away in our Anglican Communion for whom being honest about their sexuality can get them imprisoned or even killed. And we must stand with these brothers and sisters.

 

And I'm feeling again that only a deep grounding in God can keep me growing toward my full humanity.


And today I'm helped by writings from two scholars: one who is a personal acquaintance and friend, and one whose books I've read. They both are Episcopalians.

 

In a very thoughtful post, Bill Countryman, who has been deeply involved in the intellectual work of supporting a church that could be more honest about sexuality and embracing of all its members, reflects on the Primates' Meeting and the message it sent. I commend the entire post to you, and I give you this excerpt for your thought and prayer. In it, Professor Countryman is placing great value on the efforts to seek and to preserve unity in the church:

 

...the fact that the task is difficult does not mean that it can or should be lightly abandoned. The unity of the church is more than an institutional convenience, more than a theological premise, and more than a concern of professional ecumenists. It is a matter of deep spiritual value. God’s creation of humanity in God’s image and likeness, implies, as I have said elsewhere on this weblog, God’s search for friends. And since God has created so many of us and of such different temperament, experience, and culture, it seems reasonable to infer that our very multiplicity is part of what we bring to God as God’s friends. The great danger of Christians in any one place or time is that we shall begin to identify the gospel with the practices and prejudices of our particular time and place. Only a community of discourse that is large and varied enough to disrupt that kind of fossilization is ultimately adequate to the needs of our growing friendship with God, this friendship for which God created us and to which we are learning to respond through God’s grace.

 

I was moved to read the other day what my seminary classmate and friend Professor James Farwell wrote on his Facebook page, and I'm going to share the entire post.

 

Today I attended the funeral of a man I did not know. I was there because I know his son, who was one of my students when I taught on the faculty of the once great General Theological Seminary – someone who is a colleague now, and whom I consider a friend.

 

In a sermon that was a master class in preaching the burial of the dead, the preacher evoked the memorial inscription for Sir Christopher Wren who is buried in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. You know, perhaps, that memorial inscription: “Here in its foundations lies the architect of this church and city…who lived beyond ninety years, not for his own profit, but for the public good. Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.” The preacher went on to note that the 'living monument' of the deceased was the people who packed the church to its walls, who had felt the effect of his service, his leadership, his humanity, and his faith and – in the case of his family – his love and his pride in them.

 

As I said: I did not know the man. Yet there I was, sitting in church, because I was connected to his son – so, I suppose, one degree of separation. I was struck through this gathering by the extent of our illusory sense of isolation, our belief that we are connected as human beings only to those with whom we are the very closest; and to all others we are strangers. But this is wrong. We are all connected, just barely separated by generations or distance or happenstance, but deeply enmeshed in one another’s lives as our choices, our practices, our influence, touching those closest to us, radiate outward, ripples in a great sea, through our connection with those we touch, through those that THEY touch – for good or for ill.

 

Buddhists know that we are thus connected – all interdependently arising and passing away together. Advaita Vedantists of the school of Ramanuja know this too, acknowledging the distinctions among us and among all things of the earth, but knowing simultaneously that these are all just manifestations of the One who is, unconditioned and ineffable. And Christians know this, that we are all connected in the ground of Being by whom we are made and by whom we are blessed in our flesh by the Incarnation of Christ, whose presence we shared today at the Eucharistic table – we, both wonderful and terrifying in our capacities to touch one another through the lives we build over our span of years. For this reason we are wise, as John Donne saw, when the bell rings for the dead, not to ask “for whom the bell tolls,” for it tolls always for all of us, as each and all “go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” “Alleluia” indeed, for at every fresh loss we are consoled to know that nothing, in the end, is truly lost; that nothing that is good slips through the fingers of God; that we belong to one another; and that we are not alone.

 

I was grateful to understand this again, as I forget it from time to time; and so I am grateful that I could be present at the burial of a man I did not know, to support a friend.”

 

We are in the midst of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity; the octave between the feast of the Confession of St. Peter and the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. In both stories we find that unity is the gift of God. That unity is vast and wide and deep, but we don't see it so much of the time.

 

So that's why I have to pray personally after the fashion of this excerpt from Prayer D of our Book of Common Prayer 1979:

 

Remember, Lord, your one, holy catholic and apostolic Church, redeemed by the blood of your Christ. Reveal its unity, guard its faith, and preserve it in peace.

In the aftermath of the Primates' Meeting

In the aftermath of the widely publicized decision of the Anglican Primates statement censuring the Episcopal Church for changing our doctrine of marriage at our General Convention 2015 to provide for the solemnizing of the vows of same-gender couples, I have some comments.

 

What was actually said in this communiqué was this:

 

“...given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years The Episcopal Church no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.”

 

This was interpreted in the press as the Episcopal Church being “suspended” from the Anglican Communion. This erroneous notion has been countered by our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, in his video from Canterbury, and ably dispatched by Dean Andrew McGowan of the Berkeley Divinity School at Yale. McGowan's post is lucid,making a clear explanation of a complicated subject.

 

Now, a scholar of Anglican canon law, writing in the Church Times, has called into question the authority of the Primates to make this requirement. Norman Doe of the Center for Law and Religion at Cardiff University today writes: “No instrument exists conferring upon the Primates' Meeting the jurisdiction to 'require' these things...Whatever they require is unenforceable.”

 

And Jonathan Merritt, writing in the Atlantic Monthly, asks why the Primates of the Anglican Communion don't treat the issue of the criminalization of homosexual people in some countries with the same seriousness with which they have treated the issue of gay marriage.

 

“Christians of mutual goodwill can and should have full-throated debates over whether same-sex unions constitute a violation of Christian doctrine and practice. But there is no moral equivalency between marrying a gay couple and sentencing them to rot in jail.”

 

That's an excellent point.


Integrity USA, a group within the Episcopal Church long advocating for equal treatment in the church for gay and lesbian people, is on record in their response to the communique as calling for the Archbishop's soon-to-be-formed Task Group in the Anglican Communion to “address the injustices, torture, imprisonment and killing of LGBTQ people taking place in several provinces of the Anglican Communion. Their statement also calls attention to human trafficking, hunger, poverty, and illness as deserving the attention of the Church.

 

The Episcopal Church is on record as standing for what many of us have come to believe, which is that same-gender couples in the Christian community are just as capable to shine the light of God's love through their relationships as opposite-gender couples. I see this. I recognize this. This isn't going to change because of the Primates' Communique.

 

What constitutes unity is another whole discussion which I won't develop here, but the short version is that our unity comes as a gift from God. When Peter confessed in the presence of Jesus that “You are the Christ,” Jesus responded to Peter saying “flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father in heaven.”

 

But in closing I call your attention to the pain of this decision for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered Christians. Bishop Curry acknowledged this pain. I acknowledge it.

 

I call our attention to those in some countries where our Anglican Communion is present in which gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people are subject to imprisonment, various persecutions, and even death. This is intolerable. We as a church must in some way share this burden until the stigma is removed.

Of Halloween, the saints, death, and the hope of being manifested as God's children.

A prayer from The Committal in the Book of Common Prayer, page 501.

A prayer from The Committal in the Book of Common Prayer, page 501.

As I write it's the third day of three days of traditional Christian festival. We began with Halloween, a name derived from “All Hallows' Eve,” which names the eve of All Saints' Day. All Saints' Day is the day when we celebate the intercommunion between the living and the dead, a communion forged in the action of God in Christ for humanity.

 

On this third day we celebrate All Faithful Departed, or All Souls' Day. Since the 10th Century today, the day after All Saints' Day, is set apart to remember what Lesser Feasts and Fasts calls “that vast body of the faithful who, though no less members of the company of the redeemed, are unknown in the wider fellowship of the Church.” It's also a day on which we remember family members and friends who have died.

 

This morning St. Paul's had a Eucharist in the Mary Chapel in which we read the necrology for the last year and had a chance to name loved ones of our own and light candles for them.  I lit candles for my father, my mother, my brother, and a friend who died young.  Sharon lit candles for her dad and mom, her sister, and a dear friend.  Others followed suit.  We then celebrated the sacrament of Christ's presence in bread and wine to strengthen us for service to Christ in "unity, constancy, and peace."

 

The morning's celebration reminded me of the Guardian editorial that appeared Friday, and reflected approvingly on the fact that Halloween, which began as the celebration of the Eve of the Festival of All Saints, is in Britain now disconnected from religious observance and thus belongs to everyone in that society as a way to have fun with fear. Halloween, says the editorial, is now “disorganized and irreligious and all the better for it.”

 

And yet the editorial recognizes the loss of something in this secularization of Halloween, or All Hallows' Eve. The writers refer to “what is gone now, and won't come back,” by which they mean the Christian backdrop for Halloween, which they acknowledge as having been “for centuries...a framework that everyone knew and only the eccentric needed to consciously believe.” The editorial continues:

 

“With the end of that certainty, and with the loss of All Hallows’ Eve as a religiously celebrated festival, we have lost something profound, too. The slow accretion of meaning and tradition brings something to the observation of Christian solemnities that nothing quite consciously arranged can match, and which commercial Halloween does not even try to....Behind the plastic skulls of today’s Halloween lurks something much more frightening. The lines of comic shambling zombies cannot entirely conceal Auden’s view that we are 'lost in a haunted wood, children afraid of the night who have never been happy or good'.”

 

I read the editorial with some sympathy to their overall view, although I wonder where the writers ever got the idea that Christian faith was ever for many of us a matter of “certainty.” Well, I suppose they got it from those Christians who trumpet their supposed certainties. I've known and lived among such people, and believe I've seen past the bravado of their supposed certainty to the underlying fear that energizes them. I've never been comfortable as one of that company, just as I wonder how anyone can trumpet the certainties that some brands of atheists trumpet. To me following Jesus is about asking deeper questions, about a growing trust that God is a mystery that is Good.

 

My sympathy with the editor's view is based on my observation that some people need to declare independence of some forms of Christian cultural attitudes to Halloween. These are people like the Guardian writer Sarah Galo, who grew up in a fundamentalism that banned the celebration of Halloween, and now opines that the banning of Halloween “caused ignorance, and not salvation.”

 

I'm one of those people. As a youngster, I was denied the pleasures of Christmas and of Halloween, based on the premise that these were somehow linked with pagan practices that made God mad and put us in danger of God's retribution in the form of eternal punishment in hell. To this day, I carry within me an awkwardness when it comes to participating in these celebrations. My father – may he rest in peace – held these views, and so our household went along with them. At my age, I don't hold it against him. He was trying to be faithful, and I wish he were still around to talk with about such things.

 

At the root of this negativity to Halloween was fear; fear that God – like us – was obsessed with retribution. This portrayal of God is particularly strong in American fundamentalism and far from dead, as another recent Guardian story about a “Hell House” in Texas demonstrates. I read this story with feelings of disgust and horror and then sadness in the realization that there are people who in the name of Christ put time and effort into producing these execrable horrors. I find the whole thing nauseating. It's spiritual abuse, and is destined to create many ex-Christians; the walking wounded. If this is taken to be Christianity, then Christianity is of no benefit to anyone. Ugh!

 

But unlike the Guardian editorial writers who have dismissed Christianity as certainties taken seriously only by the eccentric, I remain a Christian, and I find in the celebration of All Saints' and All Souls' reminders of deep mysteries that cannot be plumbed by merely putting on the masks and strange outfits of Halloween. I wish I were a little more comfortable with that kind of merry-making than I am, but nobody's perfect. That kind of merry-making has to begin early in life to really become part of you.

Those editorial writers are on to something when they lament the loss of something deep with the loss of the connection of the celebration of Halloween with Christianity.

 

In my view, this is because Christianity is not about “certainties” at all, as some count certainties. Christianity is about diving into mystery. It's about diving into the mystery presented by the Gospels, who tell us of a man who was rooted in Israel's God and showed us deep things of the nature of this God. Jesus showed us a God who is fathomless love, who is suffering-with-humanity love. Jesus showed us the God referenced in the collect for the feast of All Faithful Departed, in which we are led to ask that we might receive “the unsearchable benefits of the passion of your Son” to the end that we be “manifested as [God's] children.” First among those benefits is the forgiveness of sins, the key that unlocks the future for a world in which the future depends on the ability of human beings to practice forgiveness and seek reconciliation, all of which is necessary if we are to have the future that God intended.

 

Halloween is ok with me.

Halloween is ok with me.

I'm happy now to be part of a Christian community that can offer what we offered last Saturday: a “Fall Festival” open to all neighbors and community members at which children and their adults-in-tow could enjoy costumes and games and general merriment, sans religious proselytizing activities. We saw scads of children and their parents and guardians. It was all offered for free, and staffed by church people. To me, it's an expression of generosity made possible by the fact that we do not worship a god of retribution, but the God who in Jesus loves everybody and never coerces people into a relationship.


I hope that some of these people draw nearer and hear of God's love in Jesus, and begin to consciously enjoy some of those “unsearchable benefits” of the passion of Jesus and know themselves as God's children. That starts with us, the members of St. Paul's. I hope we all go after that in a serious way ourselves.

You can't end violence with violence

"The belief that violence ” saves” is so successful because it doesn’t seem to be mythic in the least. Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It’s what works. It seems inevitable, the last and, often, the first resort in conflicts. If a god is what you turn to when all else fails, violence certainly functions as a god. What people overlook, then, is the religious character of violence. It demands from its devotees an absolute obedience- unto-death."

-Walter Wink

For the rest of this essay, see http://www2.goshen.edu/~joannab/women/wink99.pdf.  If you want to read more, pick up a copy of his book The Powers that Be: Theology for a New Millenium.

Walter Wink

Walter Wink

Of the sacrifice of our young: Is this Molech all over again?

“They built the high places of Baal in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter my mind that they should do this abomination....” -Jeremiah 32:35

Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon

Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon

I couldn't sleep once I woke up early on this day after the shootings at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. I kept thinking about this passage from the Bible's Book of the Prophet Jeremiah, in which the prophet laments the practice of child sacrifice.

 

The passage was fresh in my mind because it is alluded to in last Sunday's Gospel reading from Mark chapter 9, in which Jesus refers to Gehenna, which is another name for the Valley of the son of Hinnom, which is the site on which these residents of Judah, to Jeremiah's horror, had adopted the practice of putting children to death to try to curry favor with Molech.


Who is Molech? Molech is first identified in the Biblei as a god whose devotees practiced child sacrifice. The Jewish Encyclopedia has this to say about the motive for such sacrifices:

 

“The motive for these sacrifices is not far to seek. It is given in Micah vi. 7: "Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" In the midst of the disasters which were befalling the nation men felt that if the favor of Yhwh could be regained it was worth any price they could pay. Their Semitic kindred worshiped their gods with offerings of their children, and in their desperation the Israelites did the same. For some reason, perhaps because not all the priestly and prophetic circles approved of the movement, they made the offerings, not in the Temple, but at an altar or pyre called "Tapheth" (LXX.), erected in the valley of Hinnom (comp. W. R. Smith, "Rel. of Sem." 2d ed., p. 372). "Tapheth," also, was later pointed "Topheth," after the analogy of "bosheth." In connection with these extraordinary offerings the worshipers continued the regular Temple sacrifices toYhwh (Ezek. xxiii. 39).+

 

America is a violent country, as this data published by Forbes Magazine, The Atlantic, and Kieran Healy demonstrate. In this regard, we are truly exceptional.

Yesterday, in response to Umpqua tragedy, the satirical magazine The Onion published an article titled 'No Way to Prevent This,' Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens. In it we read:

 

“This was a terrible tragedy, but sometimes these things just happen and there’s nothing anyone can do to stop them,” said Ohio resident Lindsay Bennett, echoing sentiments expressed by tens of millions of individuals who reside in a nation where over half of the world’s deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the past 50 years and whose citizens are 20 times more likely to die of gun violence than those of other developed nations. “It’s a shame, but what can we do? There really wasn’t anything that was going to keep this guy from snapping and killing a lot of people if that’s what he really wanted.” At press time, residents of the only economically advanced nation in the world where roughly two mass shootings have occurred every month for the past six years were referring to themselves and their situation as “helpless.”

 

Sheriff John Hanlin of Douglas County, Oregon is now handling the investigation into the murders and casualties inflicted by the 26-year-old man on Umpqua CC's campus. Two years ago, when the massacre of elementary school children in Newtown was still a fresh wound, Sheriff Hanlin wrote a letter to Vice-President Joe Biden firmly opposing any gun control measures. In his letter, he wrote:

 

“We are Americans. We must not allow, nor shall we we tolerate, the actions of criminals, no matter how heinous the crimes, to prompt politicians to enact laws that will infringe upon the liberties of responsible citizens who have broken no laws.”

 

Something deep is at work here in the American way of life. What is it? I think it has something to do with our belief in the myth of the redemptive power of violence, a myth the late Walter Wink exposed. We believe that only violence can stop violence. That appears to be our article of faith, to which we cling closely as a kind of security blanket. Like closely held articles of faith, we find it very difficult to question this article of faith.

In Jeremiah's time, there were those who clung to the idea that a way out of the insecurities and dangers of the time was to try to appease the god Molech. If you could just get Molech on your side, perhaps the nation would be freed from insecurity and danger. If it meant the sacrifice of children, then well, so be it. Jeremiah was horrified. Jeremiah spoke up. Jeremiah called people back to faith in the God of justice and righteousness.

In our time, we as a nation seem quite prepared to go on sacrificing our children. It isn't the god Molech, but it might as well be.

We've got problems. We have problems with many out-of-balance young men. We've got a surfeit of guns for them to use. We have the obvious problem of copy-cat behavior on the part of violent men. And we have a culture in which gratuitous violence in entertainment is taken for granted.

And we think we're better than those who offered their children to Molech? I'm not so sure.

Lord, have mercy, and wake us up from our torpor!

 

 

 

iLeviticus 18:21

Jesus, Hell, Refugees, Flannery O'Connor, and Isaac of Nineveh

I preached a sermon last Sunday which is now posted on our St. Paul's website.  It's important that we Christians get this matter of heaven and hell right, and I hope that I'm at least partly right in this sermon.  As my professor of Systematic Theology Jim Carpenter once wrote in a blurb on the jacket of one of Robert Capon's books:  "being half-right is a very good score for a theologian."

Just click on this link for audio of the sermon.

I don't think you can go wrong banking on God's infinite mercy.  "Jesus, thou art all compassion; pure, unbounded love thou art," we sing.  God is not a God of retribution, if the ministry and mission of Jesus is to be counted upon.  But we humans are full of capacity for retribution.  We create hell for one another.  God in Christ crashed the gates of hell with a mission of mercy headed straight for the gates of hell, as Chris Hoke memorably reminded us in a sermon last year.

East to Dyarbakir

East to Dyarbakir

Our flight arrived on a hazy and hot day in Dyarbakir, set in the dry plains of the southeast of Turkey.  There we met a driver who took us by van to the Caravanserai Hotel, a historic landmark in the old city of this ancient easternmost outpost of the Roman Empire. We took a break to find our rooms, and then some of the group followed Fr. Dale to the nearby shopping district to purchase a supply of seeds. Back at the hotel, we packaged several varieties of seed into a few hundred sample packets to be given out in our efforts to find situations where refugees with access to land could plant them and grow a garden.

Caravanserai Hotel courtyard

Caravanserai Hotel courtyard

The next morning we breakfasted early and then walked briskly through a warren of back alleys and narrow streets in the old city to the Syriac Orthodox Church of St. Mary, whose building dates back to the third century.  The priest, Fr. Joseph, is one of only two remaining Christian priests in Dyarbakir. The priest is at the St Giragos Armenian Church. Most of Fr. Joseph's flock have fled Turkey; his family and two other families remain as the church's only parishioners.

Fr. Joseph, a courageous Christian priest, serves a remnant flock at the Church of St. Mary in Dyarbakir.  His family and two other families remain as parishioners.  The rest have fled to other continents in search of a safer and more secure future than they would have in Turkey.

Fr. Joseph, a courageous Christian priest, serves a remnant flock at the Church of St. Mary in Dyarbakir.  His family and two other families remain as parishioners.  The rest have fled to other continents in search of a safer and more secure future than they would have in Turkey.

On our tour of the building, we viewed the gravestones of teachers and saints of the Syriac Church, and while viewing the baptismal font were told that this was the church in which Ephrem the Syrian, the most prolific poet-hymnwriter-theologian of the Syriac Church was baptized. Fr. Dale told us that Ephrem was himself a refugee in his day, having had to flee his home city of Nisibis to Edessa in 363 when the Roman army lost to Persian forces and had to retreat toward Constantinople.

The altar at the Syrian Orthodox Church of St. Mary, Dyarbakir

The altar at the Syrian Orthodox Church of St. Mary, Dyarbakir

We left Dyarbakir that morning in a van headed for Mardin with one more person in our company; Adem. Adem, a former student of Fr. Dale's at Mor Gabriel Monastery and a native of the village of Beth Kustan in the Turabdin region we would be entering, is now a journalist, and he would act as our facilitator and “fixer” for the rest of our travels in Turkey.  His presence with us and his fluency in Turoyan, Turkish, and Arabic made all the difference for us.

We took off headed southeast in our van, and in about an hour reached Mardin, another major city in this region of Turkey. There, in the courtyard of the 4th century Church of the Forty Martyrs, we we met in person our first refugee, a dignified, silver-haired 88 year-old Syrian with a ready smile and what seemed to me a spirit of serenity. Over cups of chai tea, as Fr. Dale and Adam conversed with him and as Fr. Dale translated, we discovered that this man comes from a family that includes Christian bishops and priests, and that he is the last of his family to leave Syria. I've learned since our visit from Fr. Dale that this man's family has suffered persecution over a century, coming to live in the Mardin region at the beginning of the 20th century, where they were swept up, as so many Christians were, in the Armenian genocide. They fled to Syria, and now with the rise of ISIS, they are having to flee again, this time for Europe and North America.

We met this man in the courtyard of the Church of the Forty Martyrs in Mardin, where he is a refugee living with a number of other families who have fled the chaos and violence in Syria.   Photo Credit: Greg Rhodes

We met this man in the courtyard of the Church of the Forty Martyrs in Mardin, where he is a refugee living with a number of other families who have fled the chaos and violence in Syria.  

Photo Credit: Greg Rhodes

Fr. Dale explained that 120 refugee families from Syria were living in the church facilities and in other lodgings in the area.

After the visit, we went to lunch at a nearby restaurant, where during lunch we were approached by a woman speaking German-accented English.  Perhaps because we seemed cautious about being approached by strangers, she left after exchanging pleasantries.  However, later she returned, and as it turns out we found she represented a German NGO seeking to provide relief to refugees, focused on food and nutrition issues.  When she found out from Fr. Dale the aims of our project, she showed great interest.  Fr. Dale left with her business card and the possibility that we'd just made a potentially helpful contact.

The next stop before leaving on this hot afternoon was a Turk Cell mobile phone outlet, where Fr. Dale got outfitted with a device that allows him to access the internet through a satellite link.  I was glad for a cool place to sit while I waited, because I felt the cold that I thought I left behind in Bellingham coming on strongly.  I was feeling disheartened by this, and hoping that this evening would provide an opportunity to get to bed early.

Seeds of Hope: Beginnings

"Until the suffering God concept is understood and assimilated, not many people are going to enjoy passionate love affairs with God or live worldly lives of prayer."

-William McNamara, OCSO, from "Mystical Passion: spirituality for a bored society." (New York: Paulist Press, 1977).

I guess I was ready for the invitation that came my way to take a trip with an able guide to the front lines of the scene of some of the world's most acute agony. Like many of us, I read the news with a sense of helplessness; news of violence and suffering half a world away, on top of the suffering that is to be found right around us here at home. To paraphrase a poem by Walter Brueggeman, I'd been feeling “moved by the mumbles of the gospel” amid the noise of the world's politics “even while tenured in [my] privilege.”i

At Diocesan Council meeting in late June, Bishop Rickel spoke to us about a man he'd just met - a Syriac Orthodox priest with roots in the Skagit Valley – who had come to his attention through the good people of Christ Episcopal Church in Anacortes. Bishop Rickel said: “A lot of times people will say to me, 'You just have to meet this person,' and in this case, it was really true.” He showed us a video that his staff had quickly made on the day Fr. Dale Johnson came to the Diocesan House. The video introduced Fr. Dale and his mission, called "Seeds of Hope", and the story behind it. I was intrigued by the invitation in it to join Fr. Dale on a mission to Southeast Turkey to meet refugees and help him develop his plan – made in response to a request from a refugee woman – to bring garden seeds to those refugees.

A little later Fr. Dale was the featured speaker at the Mt. Baker Regional Meeting in the Diocese. He told his story, which held us transfixed. At the end of the meeting I felt a stronger tug to accept the general invitation to join him on the trip.

After consultation with my wife and with my senior warden and some others, I found myself with a green light to follow this call. Then followed a meeting with Fr. Dale and three others from our diocese, and the planning was on.

Our “Seeds of Hope” delegation departed Seattle early the morning of September 8. With Fr. Dale were myself, Deacon Eric Johnson of Christ Church, Anacortes, Dale Ramerman of Christ Church, and Greg Rhodes of Church of the Good Shepherd, Vancouver, Washington. Alice Kapka of Christ Church, now living in Hungary as teacher, would join us in Istanbul.

The "Seeds of Hope" delegation in Istanbul

The "Seeds of Hope" delegation in Istanbul

Upon arrival in Istanbul by way of Toronto, we checked into our hotel, met Alice, just arrived from Budapest, and had dinner together down the street in the courtyard restaurant just outside St. Helena Chapel, the first English chapel to be built in Istanbul after the Reformation, and dedicated to the mother of Emperor Constantine, who was herself a Christian. Our table sat immediately beneath the stained glass window depicting her likeness. During dinner a band of young protestors processed loudly past. Fr. Dale explained that these protesters were Kurds protesting their oppression by the Turkish government.

We retired for the night. For some of us at least, it was not a restful night, as a disco beat from a nearby club steadily pulsed until 4 am from the alley below and voices of revelers pierced the night. The Hotel Londres is in the midst of an area known for shopping, restaurants, and nightlife.

looking west from Hotel Londres

looking west from Hotel Londres

In the morning I went to the fifth-floor rooftop cafe of the Hotel for some quiet time in the morning light which illumined the Bosphorus and the spread of Istanbul to the west. After a breakfast we made our way again to the airport to catch a 9:20 am 2-hour flight to Dyarbakir (the ancient city of Amida), a regional capital city in Southeast Turkey.

ihttp://www.journeywithjesus.net/PoemsAndPrayers/Walter_Brueggemann_The_Noise_Of_Politics.shtml

The lessons are struggle and love

Richard Beck reviews this book in the blog posts I'm recommending.

I wrote in a previous post of my belief that white folk – especially those of us living in areas where whites predominate in the population – need to listen carefully to the voices coming to us from those African-Americans who are bringing to our attention the work that still has to be done to heal the wounds of our legacy of racism. This is my strong conviction. I believe this is especially true when those voices upset us, or inspire in us a defensive reaction.

So it's wonderful to see a white Christian doing just that: listening. Richard Beck, a psychology professor from Abilene Christian University, is a devoted Christian believer from the Churches of Christ tradition who uses the Book of Common Prayer in his private prayers. He studies the Bible with prisoners. He has a wide-ranging curiosity about everything, and he likes to write on his blog, Experimental Theology, as well as to write books.

Lately, Beck has been reading Ta-Nehisi Coates's book Between the World and Me and blogging about it. In six posts, he gives evidence of reading closely, critically, and with compassion and empathy.

I recommend reading all six posts. Beck's writing is non-defensive, reflective, and both appreciative and critical. He's titled his posts “The Gospel According to Ta-Nehisi Coates”, while acknowledging that Coates is a self-confessed atheist. What Beck is saying by this title is that he finds in Coates' writing much that informs him as a believer in God.

In his final post, Beck appeals to the example of our Lord Jesus to explain his point of view on this:

Jesus...created communities centered around giving care to the most vulnerable in his society. Jesus carved out of Empire space that protected and cared for the most fragile bodies. That's what Jesus did as he moved from town to town, he created a community where the most oppressed and marginalized were welcomed and cared for. Communities of care that were open to agents of Empire, tax collectors and Roman soldiers, who were willing to work to buffer fragile bodies.

And this is what the early church did as well. The church carved out of Empire communities of care. Imperial Rome knew Christianity to be religion popular with women and slaves because of how these communities buffered their fragile bodies from the ravages of Empire.

To my eye, these communities of care carved out of Empire are what Jesus meant when he said "the kingdom of God is in your midst."

The kingdom of God is found in communities of care who struggle to carve out space in the midst of Empire to embrace, care for and protect the most fragile bodies.
  
And if there is such a thing as "the gospel according to Ta-Nehisi Coates" to be found in Between the World and Me here is where I think we might find it.

I'm going to read these posts again.  They inspire me to listen to voices coming from across the distance; across the barriers of culture.  Overhearing Beck's conversation with Coates's was to hear one human being say to another, "I care about you."  Coates cares enough to write his book.  Beck cares enough to read with attention, and to respond.  The lessons of his reading of Coates, says Beck in his last post, are "struggle and love."

We eat and drink mindfulness

Last Sunday we heard Josh Hosler urge us to come to the Eucharist ready to "chow down."  He was faithfully rendering the strong meaning of a word Jesus uses in the Bread of Life discourse in the Gospel According to John.

This morning in my reading I came across this passage about the Eucharist:

"When we look around, we see many people in whom the Holy Spirit does not appear to dwell.  They look dead, as though they were dragging around a corpse, their own body.  The practice of the Eucharist is to help resurrect these people so they can touch the Kingdom of Life. In the church, the Eucharist is received at every mass.  Representatives of the church read from the biblical passage about the Last Supper of Jesus with His twelve disciples, and a special kind of bread called the Host is shared.  Everyone partakes as a way to receive the life of Christ into his or her own body.  When a priest performs the Eucharistic rite, his role is to bring life to the community.  The miracle happens not because he says the words correctly, but because we eat and drink in mindfulness.  Holy Communion is a strong bell of mindfulness.  We eat and drink all the time, but we usually ingest only our ideas, projects, worries, and anxieties.  We do not really eat our bread or drink our beverage.  If we allow ourselves to touch our bread deeply, we become reborn, because our bread is life itself.  Eating it deeply, we touch the sun, the clouds, the earth, and everything in the cosmos.  We touch life, and we touch the Kingdom of God.  When I asked Cardinal Jean Danielou if the Eucharist can be described in this way, he said yes."

The author of this quote is Thich Nhat Hanh, the famed Vietnamese Buddhist monk.  It is from his book Living Buddha, Living Christ.  The emphasis is mine.

Shoe box lunches for the Journey

On Sundays right now we're hearing several installments of Jesus' “Bread of Life” discourse from the Gospel according to John.

So it was timely to read Lauren Winner's essay “Bread” in the Spring 2015 Issue of Image. In it she tells us of her reading of Psyche A. Williams-Forson's Building Houses out of Chicken Legs: Black Women, Food, and Power. I found compelling her recounting what Williams-Forson writes about black women packing shoe box lunches for family members who were setting off on a trip. We read of the Darden sisters, who recall staying up late the night before a trip to help their mother pack box lunches:

“which contained a bounty of goodies: fried chicken, peanut butter and jelly, deviled eggs, chocolate layer cake, nuts, raisins, and cheese. Except for the thermos of lemonade, 'everything was neatly wrapped in wax paper' and tucked into shoe boxes, 'with the name of the passenger Scotch-taped on so that special requests were not confused.' Even as young girls, the Dardens knew these lunches were about traversing dangerous terrain.”

Here Winner gives us an extended quote from the Darden sisters to explain why these box lunches were necessary:

“These trips took place during the fifties, and one never knew what dangers or insults would be encountered along the way. Racist policies loomed like unidentified monsters in our childish imagination and in reality. After the New Jersey Turnpike ended, we would have to be on the alert for the unexpected. So, as we approached that last Howard Johnson's before Delaware, our father would make his inevitable announcement that we had to get out, stretch our legs, and go to the bathroom, whether we wanted to or not. This was a ritualized part of the trip, for, although there would be many restaurants along the route, this was the last one that didn't offer segregated facilities. From this point on, we pulled out our trusty shoe box lunches.”

We also are told about the experience of Gail Milissa Grant, who grew up in St. Louis in the 1940's, who has similar recollections. We read that her parents:

“...often went to the Union Station not to pick up anyone but to feed their friends. My mother would prepare a meal and carefully select the menu for its shelf life since it would have to last for hours without spoiling. Negroes could not “receive service” on trains until later in the 1950s, so they had to travel with their own food. The Negro Pullman porters couldn't even serve other Negroes....On long journeys, my mother's would be one in a string of meals, with other friends doing the same thing along the route.”

Winner writes:

Mrs. Darden and Mrs. Grant's food preparation is the best picture I have found for understanding God as a provider of food. Here is God preparing food for the Israelites journeying in the wilderness: God is not just abstractly raining coriander flakes down from the heavens. God is staying up late to prepare shoe box lunches for people on a perilous journey.

And this is the bread with which Jesus most explicitly identified—manna, journeying bread. Jesus as manna: fried chicken, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, deviled eggs, chocolate layer cake, all carefully packed into a small box. Jesus, a traveler's lemonade in a thermos. Jesus as manna, the bread that sustains oppressed people on a journey through an unwelcoming land.”

Ill think of this the next time I come to the Eucharist, in which the Church remembers Christ under the form of food and drink. My experience is not like that of the Darden sisters or Gail Milissa Grant. I don't have their experience of oppression in memory.

Nonetheless, taking the body and blood of Jesus under the forms of bread and wine puts us in company with all people who have journeyed through dangerous lands, as he journeyed through a dangerous land. Communion with Jesus means becoming one with everyone; with the concerns of all God's people, and knowing ourselves to be on a journey toward the kingdom of heaven, where reconciliation is in store for all creation. I can't help but think of the hymn text by William Williams:

“Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,

pilgrim through this barren land;

I am weak, but thou art mighty;

hold me with thy powerful hand;

bread of heaven, bread of heaven,

feed me now and evermore,

feed me now and evermore.”

A vision of the gathered church

Over at Emmanuel Church, Mercer Island, I found this excerpt from a novel I read some years ago by Wendell Berry.  I share it with you because it's good.

From Jayber Crow: A Novel, by Wendell Berry

My vision of the gathered church that had come to me… had been replaced by a vision of the gathered community. What I saw now was the community imperfect and irresolute but held together by the frayed and always fraying, incomplete and yet ever-holding bonds of the various sorts of affection. There had maybe never been anybody who had not been loved by somebody, who had been loved by somebody else, and so on and on… My vision gathered the community as it never has been and never will be gathered in this world of time, for the community must always be marred by members who are indifferent to it or against it, who are nonetheless its members and maybe nonetheless essential to it. And yet I saw them all as somehow perfected, beyond time, by one another’s love, compassion, and forgiveness, as it is said we may be perfected by grace.– Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow: A Novel (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 2000, p. 205).

W

Wendell Berry

Novelist, poet, essayist and farmer

On the Anniversary of Ferguson: some personal reflections

Luncheonette sign, circa 1943, Portland, OR.  Source: Oregon Historical Society.

Luncheonette sign, circa 1943, Portland, OR.  Source: Oregon Historical Society.

In view of what seems to me the obvious fact that our country still has a long way to go to heal the wounds of 400 years of racial discrimination against black people, I wish to weigh in with a personal account that will let you know how I see things at this time.

As I write, I'm recalling a conversation I had a year or so ago with a relative who maintained at the time that our country no longer had a problem with racism. I disagree. I write aware that the phrases “white privilege” and “Black Lives Matter” are full of electricity when used in the public sphere, inspiring defensive reactions among at least some of us white people. I write while in progress in reading Michelle Alexander's book “The New Jim Crow.” I write believing that we've made progress – a lot of progress – since the Civil War, but that we're not yet where we need to be. I write accepting the notion that while race is in anthropological and sociological terms a “social construct”, it is nonetheless a social construct which has had a powerful destructive effect on the lives of black people in this country.

I grew up in Oregon. My story with race relations begins there.

Oregon journalist Jon Tuttle's 1991 documentary Local Color features former Oregon Governor and US Senator Mark Hatfield telling of the day in 1953 when he carried to passage a bill in the Oregon Legislature to give access to hotels, motels, and restaurants to non-white citizens of Oregon. With a smile on his face, Hatfield recalls the “smiling, joyful” African-Americans who came through the open doors of the legislative chamber to celebrate with him and other politicians their hard-won victory. There was hugging and kissing and the shedding of tears. These African-American citizens of Oregon had lobbied for years for this day to arrive, and Hatfield acknowledges them as “powerful motivators.”

Oregon's Legislature had passed a law in 1949 prohibiting discrimination in hiring practices. In 1957 and 1959 the Legislature would act to prohibit discrimination in housing.

I was born in Portland in 1954, in the midst of this time of great change in Oregon. I was a first-grader before it would be possible for a black or other minority person to have legal recourse if denied a place to rent or the right to take out a mortgage on a property.

I was an adult in mid-life before I was made aware of these facts about Oregon's history of racial discrimination.

Growing up as I did in the Portland suburb of Tigard, then in Newberg, a little farther out, then in the mountains of Coos County, then in the town of Ashland in the Rogue Valley, I didn't see black people around. I can't remember any black classmates in any of the public schools I attended. I can't remember Asian classmates, either.

My first memories of meeting African-American people up close were when my father and I took the pre-Amtrak passenger trains, where the porters and dining car staff were black men. Then there was the African pastor from Kenya who visited our church and stayed in our home. It wouldn't be until college at the University of Oregon that I met black folks as classmates and acquaintances, and there were few of those.

I suppose if you would have asked me back in my youth whether Oregon had a problem with racism, I would have said no. I would have thought that was a problem in the South, but not in our state. I now know that such an answer would be simply out of ignorance; ignorance of the trials and tribulations encountered by black people living in Oregon and ignorance of the way racist attitudes had long been embedded in the structures of Oregon's political and social fabric.

The fact is, Oregon's constitution, adopted in 1857 and made effective in 1859, included a clause prohibiting black people from owning property in the state. Slavery was banned in that constitution, but blacks could not own real estate, make contracts, vote, or use the legal system. Oregon's was the only state constitution so to do.

The historical record in Oregon shows that a series of exclusionary laws passed in the days of the Oregon Territory. Clearly, the exclusionary aspects of the 1857 constitution were part of a pattern by which the leaders of Oregon were setting up a their idea of a whites-only society. Later on in the 1920's, the Ku Klux Klan surged in popularity in Oregon. Robed and hooded Klan members gathered in Portland, and a photograph published in the Portland Telegram in August of 1921 indicates how bold Klan leadership was in trying to influence public opinion and gain the ear of politicians. By the end of that decade the KKK in Oregon was practically defunct, but white supremacist and anti-Catholic attitudes would persist in Oregon.

It would be 1927 before the Oregon State Constitution was amended to give black citizens the right to vote and eliminate restrictions against both black and Chinese voters. It would be 1959 before Oregon would ratify the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, which provides that a citizen may not be prevented from voting based on that citizen's “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

Jon Tuttle's documentary film features multiple interviews with elder black citizens of Oregon recounting incidents of discrimination in employment and accommodation in the state. They tell of “whites-only” signs on restaurants and other accommodations in Portland and statewide as late as the 40's and 50's, and of being denied jobs commensurate with their educational background.

In Tuttle's documentary, Mark Hatfield – who would later become Governor, then U.S. Senator from Oregon – recalls a visit by Paul Robeson to Willamette University in Salem sometime in the years 1942-1943 while Hatfield was an undergraduate. Robeson, a great singer known to audiences across the world, was denied hotel accommodation that night in Salem, Oregon's Capitol City, so Hatfield offered to drive Robeson to Portland to get a room for the night.

Remarkably, Tuttle – a veteran Portland television journalist – admits on camera in his documentary that he was born and raised and educated through college in Portland, but that he'd served 20 years reporting in Portland before he ran across the story he tells. “By then, it was almost too late to tell,” he ruefully remarks. His first interviewee, Otto Rutherford, voices his agreement with this, remarking that “all of those who really could contribute; they're dead now, and I'm almost dead, so when I'm gone, I don't know who you're gonna...talk to.”

Growing up in Oregon, I didn't hear this story, either. It wasn't a story I heard at school or at church, or around the dinner table at home. Why? Well, it's pretty obvious to me that as a white family living in a white neighborhood, going to church with whites, going to school with whites, we didn't have to talk about it unless we wanted to talk about it, which apparently we didn't.

Oregon remains a pretty monochrome place. Current census figures indicate that while the African-American population of the US is at 13.2%, Oregon has a mere 2% population of blacks, and most of those are in Portland, where they comprise 6.3% of the population. I once shared an apartment with a black friend in Salem in the 1970's, and I know that he stood out in the culture of that town.

The reasons for Oregon's continuing lack of racial diversity are no doubt complex, involving many social, geographic, and economic realities. World War II brought the greatest influx of African-Americans west to Oregon to work in the shipyards, where they were denied union membership and had to live in now defunct Vanport's segregated housing. The war's aftermath put front and center for Portland citizens and their political leaders the issue of what to do with all these relative newcomers after the demand for ships for the war effort dried up, and after Vanport was destroyed in a cataclysmic flood in 1948. Perhaps spurred by this urgency, the activists of the next decades would continue the struggle for racial equality play out in the political arena in Portland and Salem, the state's Capitol.

Where is Oregon now with respect to race relations? On April 30 of this year the Portland Tribune reported on a survey of 400 Oregonians conducted in mid-April of this year for Oregon Public Broadcasting. The results show a society that is conflicted about race relations. According to the director of research,

“Oregonians expressed conflicting opinions about race relations in the state. On the one hand, they believe that racism is still a problem and that most people hold some racist attitudes, while on the other hand most think we talk too much about race relations. As Oregon’s population becomes more diverse, how we collectively address — and talk about — these tensions will be one of the key challenges over the coming years.”

Like it or not, it isn't just Oregon's population that is becoming more diverse. The whole nation is becoming more diverse in population, with whites headed for minority status. We need to be anticipating this reality. We need to find ways to talk about race relations in constructive ways.

It's hard to get a conversation going about race relations. One reason for that is obvious: the latest census figures for Whatcom County indicate that our population is 87.6 white. Our church community is overwhelmingly white. That's just a reality, but this reality makes obvious this fact: we don't have many opportunities to be in the same room and have conversation with people whose experience may be different from us.

If we did have those conversations, we might have to experience some discomfort, because a conversation about race relations is liable to be both dis-orienting and re-orienting. No one likes to be dis-oriented, but that's a necessary thing for intellectual, spiritual, and moral growth, is it not? A follower of Jesus who sits in church listening to the Gospels and also to the Scripture that formed Jesus is being exposed to a tradition in which dis-orientation and re-orientation are the pattern of spiritual growth. When Jesus calls us, he calls us to dis-orientation to old patterns that keep us enslaved and re-orientation to the values and vision of the Kingdom of God.

It has been dis-orienting to me to realize in my adulthood how racist were the foundations of the society in which I grew up, how walled-off we were in my family and church and schools and neighborhood and city and state to the plight of people who were being discriminated against in our very area because of the color of their skin. My early years were in a de facto Jim Crow state, and I'm not proud of that aspect of my heritage as an Oregonian and a Christian. I'm glad things are changing there, but it's way to early to declare a victory for what is just and right.

As I mentioned earlier, I've been reading Michele Alexander's The New Jim Crow, which I started after Bishop Rickel recommended it to the clergy of our diocese. I don't find that I can read what is presented in this book about the realities of mass incarceration and at the same time deny that racial issues divide Americans and keep many black Americans living with insecurity. I cannot read of the findings of the Department of Justice investigation of the Ferguson Police Department and not be concerned about how corruption can infiltrate a system that is supposed to be dedicated to public safety and the maintenance of justice for all citizens.

I'd like to think that I don't have a racist bone in my body. I wasn't taught to hate, after all, and I was told that we should never use those hateful words. As a youngster, I was taught a song that goes “Jesus loves the little children/ All the children of the world/ Red and yellow, black and white/ they are precious in God's sight/ Jesus loves the little children of the world.” I'm glad I was taught that song.

However, I cannot deny that I grew up within a structure which fostered racism, that was slow to change, that is still slow to change, and that system shaped me, for good or ill. And I will probably continue to encounter aspects of myself that were formed in ignorance and in unconscious prejudice. After all, if Jon Tuttle has the courage to admit that he grew up in Portland, Oregon and was educated there and worked twenty years there as a journalist before taking up the story he tells about racism in Oregon, then I can admit that part of the racism that shaped me was just the attitude of not listening, not caring, not wanting to know.

I believe that for church folk – especially us white folk – the call now is to do a lot of listening to the voices that come to us across the distance, across the racial differences, across the grain of the way we've always thought of things. I need to listen to what the “Black Lives Matter” movement is saying to us. Frankly, I get the phrase “Black Lives Matter.” One may retort: “but all lives matter,” but I think that retort misses the point these activists are trying to make. Of course “all lives matter.” But the point is, let's see to it that we take a look at structures – whether judicial or law enforcement structures or what-have-you - that have diminished and still diminish the value of the lives of people who are black, that cause people to wonder if their lives really do matter.

When we in our baptismal vows “renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God,” we're reflecting the language of the New Testament's “Letter to the Ephesians”, where the apostle asserts 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.” Those powers are still at work in the world. Those powers were at work when human beings captured, bought, and sold human beings for slave labor in the Americas. Those powers co-opted many in the church, and they can still co-opt us if we let ourselves in any way lose sight of the “dignity and freedom of every human person” our baptismal vows bind us to respect.

As a believer, I've promised myself to serve Christ and his kingdom, which stands in judgment on all these earthly powers, and can reform and redeem these powers. All judgment, says John's Gospel, is given over to Jesus. Let us remember that his use of that power of judgment is to convict us, forgive us, and empower us for the work of reconciliation.

Above all I must listen. Listen for what God is saying. Realize that God speaks through unexpected situations and through what I might consider to be unlikely emissaries. Be willing to be dis-oriented, so that I can be re-oriented.

What I hope for, and what we can all hope for, is the joy of discovery. Senator Hatfield describes his the joy he shared with neighbors and citizens whom he had helped to find new dignity and freedom. At the other end of hard work to achieve a more genuinely free America, we can anticipate joy.

Glen East Day 3

Abbey Chapel at Mount Holyoke College, which is providing me a place for silent meditation this week.

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/haz-caf/4812193152/

Walking with a companion at Glen East back from this evening's showing of slides of his work by the artist Tim Lowly, I heard her say "my cup brims over".  We were both awed by what we had seen, and didn't have many words to express it.

I know that in seeing a large body of his work, much of it with his profoundly disabled daughter Temma as subject, we were led to ponder the image of God in ways that are normally hidden from our view.  I was left silent, wondering, and thankful after the presentation.  He's presented Temma with great respect and awe of his subject, and both his canvases and his comments let us know how she has opened doors of perception for him and for his wife - a Methodist minister - and for a good number of artists who have collaborated with him and a great many viewers who have seen his work.

Temma is the kind of person who attracts attention out in public.  Because of her profound disability she is the sort of person who we look at, and then are tempted to look away.  Tim told us a great story about a great  moment in his life.  He got a phone message from the Temma's day care giver, who had taken Temma in her wheelchair to wander.  While in a park, suddenly the caregiver heard a very childish voice call out: "Hi Temma!"  Suddenly a gaggle of children ran over to Temma's wheelchair to greet her, which involved putting a hand on Temma's arm, since they know she is blind.  He said the moment of exultation for him was in realizing that these little children were able to see in Temma another human being, where many would simply see someone who was odd and made them feel uncomfortable.  Tim wants us to see all profoundly disabled persons and showing the image of God.  Tonight he did that for me, and with luminous and mysterious beauty.

Earlier in the day, I heard Paul Mariani read poems from his new book Epitaphs for the Journey.  Hearing a poet read their work out loud is a gift, and hearing Paul Mariani today was a joyful experience for me.

I'm in a community of people for this week who are gathered at the place where art, faith, and mystery meet.   I'm with a community of people who set very high standards for art, and for whom faith and doubt coexist in a mutually beneficial relationship.  That's why I came to my second Glen conference.

In our film seminar we are being challenged to ask ourselves what stories we would tell about our world, and on film we are seeing characters play out various kinds of stories.  Our first film, Wayne Wang's Smoke, proved to be about what happens when people tell stories that create community and the possibility of redemption and growth.  Our second film, The Swimmer, taken from a John Cheever story, was a contrast, because the people in it are acting out of a very different narrative of what it means to be an adult in the world.  As Gareth put it, these people seem to him to be "uninitiated into adult emotional life."  Today we watched Ridley Scott's The Duellist, with two kinds of narratives in tension throughout the film.

Throughout this experience, we are being encouraged to think about the story we believe about our lives, and how that story is shaping our lives in the present, and whether that story is true.  Gareth spoke to us of how The Work has helped him work with his own story line, helping him to disengage from the false stories he's believed; stories which impede his ability to love and to receive love, as his Christian profession would indicate is his path.

When I was in the Centering Prayer Immersion, we learned about how Centering Prayer is a method of putting aside for at least 20 minutes the thoughts, emotions, and ideas that we so often mistake for being our true selves, for better or worse.  We make ourselves available to increasingly consent to the story that God tells about us; which is that God loves us and will never leave us.

The film seminar and Gareth's emphasis are a nice follow-up to the experience in Snowmass in this regard.  In both contexts, I am being encouraged to internalize the best possible story about who I am.

I see how some things are coming together in my understanding during this sabbatical.  I began my sabbatical considering how we tell the story of Jesus' death on the cross as being the source of our salvation.  However we tell that story, it needs to be a redemptive story for the world; a story that points beyond the kind of hatred and violence that led to his death to a resurrected life for all of us and for the world God created.  Our story of Christ's death needs to raise up before our eyes the stories of those who suffer now, with whom Christ identifies even now, and make it less and less probable that this kind of suffering should be inflicted on others in this world. 

There are false stories that human beings believe; stories about ourselves and our lives which lead to death and despair.  The story of the cross and resurrection needs to point all to a love which transcends it all, and gathers in the despairing and dying.

In Centering Prayer, I strengthened a practice that is meant to lead my own conversion into a bearer of peace and Good news.  In this week at the Glen, I'm being addressed by truly great artists in a way that calls upon me to continue making myself available for conversion into the sort of human being who actually believes and acts on God's love for me and everyone else.

I do believe a lot of false stories about myself and the world.  Those false stories can isolate; they militate against community and communion with God.  They become destructive. 

I thought about that as I read with sadness about what transpired at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon yesterday.  There are many issues related to school shootings, but one of them has to be this issue: what kind of story are some young men - and school shooters are young men - being lead to believe?  Is there anything we can do to change the story line for them?  What in our culture is leading many to believe a story that can see no way out for us all but to be armed to the teeth?  What kind of story is believed by those who - like Wayne LaPierre, profess to imagine no greater freedom than to be able to have "all the rifles, shotguns, and handguns we want."  Tell that to the church-going Mormon parents of the young Mormon man who took an AR15 and a semiautomatic pistol into Reynolds High School yesterday, and will never come home to them again!  Tell that to the parents and friends of Emilio Hoffman!  On the other hand, never mind.  Let's not inflict more suffering on them!

There's one story to be grasped and received and internalized.  That's the story of God's love for all; a love that is indefatigable, not to be turned aside.  I have to do that work of believing that story and being transformed by it.  I'm the only one that can really help myself believe that story and act from it.

The artists with whom I am consorting this week are those who believe that their art should help us all be more truly human; more truly who we are in God's eyes.  They do their work with honesty, bluntness, great technical skill and rigor.   I'm thankful to be among them.