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

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

Dear President-Elect Trump,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To place your signature on this letter, go here.

Being Awake

 William Stafford (1914 - 1993)

William Stafford (1914 - 1993)

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

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


For it is important that awake people be awake,

or a breaking line may discourage them back to


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

should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.





Advent is Here. No Shame, No Fear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours for a blessed Advent:


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


A Statement after the Presidential Election of 2016

Dear friends in Christ.

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

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

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

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


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

  • We will stand with our neighbors of diverse sexuality.

  • We will support the dignity of women.

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

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

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

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

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

Please pray these prayers!

Almighty God, who created us in your own image: Grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil and to make no peace with oppression; and, that we may reverently use our freedom, help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice in our communities and among the nations, to the glory of your holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (Collect for Social Justice, Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 260)


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

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

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

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

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

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

And from Holy Scripture:

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

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

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

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

And from American contrarian and prophet Wendell Berry:

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

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

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

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

My soul doth magnify the Lord,

and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior.

For he hath regarded

the lowliness of his handmaiden.

For behold, from henceforth

all generations will call me blessed.

For he that is mighty hath magnified me,

and holy is his Name.

And his mercy is on them that fear him

throughout all generations.

He hath showed strength with his arm;

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

He hath put down the mighty from their seat,

and hath exalted the humble and meek.

He hath filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he hath sent empty away.

He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel,

as he promised to our forefathers,

Abraham and his seed forever.



A Homily for a Burial Eucharist

Marcia Coutant Averre

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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

After this election It's hard Work ahead

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

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

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

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

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


And this:

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

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

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

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

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

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


We need more of that kind of thing.

I'll let Auden have the final word:

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


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



Election Eve 2016

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

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

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

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

“O God of earth and altar,

bow down and hear our cry,

our earthly rulers falter,

our people drift and die;

the walls of gold entomb us,

the swords of scorn divide…”

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

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

“Restore us, O God of hosts;

Show the light of your countenance,

and we shall be saved.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“…take not thy thunder from us,

but take away our pride.”

Amen to that.

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

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

Insights from Richard Hooker as Election Day approaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now to politics.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let us pray:

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

(The Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 822)


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

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

Report from the 106th Convention of the Diocese of Olympia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning about Islam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Jesus breaks the cycle of scapegoating

Proper 16 Year C    August 14, 2016

Luke 12:51 Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!

I know what it sounds like to hear this text alone.  It doesn’t sound good. It doesn’t sound like the loving Jesus you want to hear.

So I want to say this clearly right at the beginning.  Read in context, we will see that Jesus did not come to bring the kind of division we’re seeing in this world.  Jesus is describing our divisions.  Jesus came to bring love, forgiveness, understanding.  But that’s an enormous challenge for us.

Somebody showed me their little Orthodox icon this week.  It depicts the Holy Family in the Temple in Jerusalem, a meeting recorded in Luke’s Gospel.  There are Joseph and Mary.  There is Anna, a prophet.  There is Simeon, also a prophet, who holds the baby Jesus in his arms.  I remembered what Simeon said on that occasion, as the Gospel According to Luke tells us:

“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the thoughts of many will be revealed.” (Luke 2)

Opposition.  The coming of the Prince of Peace brings a division.  Some try, at least, to follow.  Others oppose.

I remembered what Luke tells us about Jesus’ first sermon in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth when he read from the prophet Isaiah and then said he was here to fulfill Isaiah’s vision of Good News for the poor, release to captives, recovery of sight to the blind.  After the sermon, he got everybody enraged at him when he reminded them from their own Scripture that sometimes foreigners and people of other religions are more responsive to God than they are.  I remember they tried to shove him off a cliff on that occasion.  Do you remember that?

Opposition.  The message of Jesus brings about opposition, division.

“Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man,” Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Plain.

“The Most High is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked, so be merciful, just as your Father is merciful,” he’s said in that same sermon.

We wish it were so easy, a world of mercy, of peace and love and understanding.  Would that it were easy; that all Jesus would have to do would be to tell us to forgive, to show mercy, to seek understanding, and we would just do it. But Jesus knows it isn’t so easy.

It seems clear to me that by the time we get to the point in Luke’s Gospel where we read today, Jesus is more and more aware of the opposition he’s stirring up with preaching like his.  And thus this passionate outburst.  Jesus wants the world to embrace the kingdom of God; a kingdom of love and forgiveness and understanding, and he wishes it were already accomplished!

I’ve been thinking a lot about violence in the world, and about how the Gospel story of Jesus speaks to this, and I’ve been influenced, as others have, by insights from a man named Rene Girard and by others who’ve studied his brilliant insights.

Girard points out the ancient roots of our habit of defining ourselves over against one another in societies, nations, tribes, families.  Our desires come into conflict, and when they do, conflict arises, which repeatedly erupts into violence.  When the level of violence becomes unbearable societies and families tend to find scapegoats upon which to place the blame for their conflict and division.  They find someone to blame, and to sacrifice, and peace is at least temporarily restored.

This scapegoating mechanism produced human sacrifice in ancient societies the world over.  The ancient Hebrew people of the Bible came into their identity amid the practice of human sacrifice in societies around them.

The ancient Hebrews were led to replace human sacrifice with animal sacrifices, and this lasted until the final destruction of their Temple, which occurred after Jesus’ day.  In short, the Bible is record of God trying to call people out of this violence, and it’s a slow process.

The event of Jesus Christ in the world represents the unmasking of this violent scapegoating process.  Jesus himself is made a scapegoat in the conflict around him.  You can see his growing awareness that this will happen as you read Luke’s Gospel.  He’s already told his followers that if they want to go with him, they’ll have to take up their cross.  And in today’s Gospel lesson I hear the looming awareness that this division that Jesus is witnessing for and against his message is a division that will eventually catch up with him.

And it does, of course.  He becomes the innocent scapegoat for the conflicts around him, and he is given up to death, as many humans were sacrificed before him to pacify a conflicted society.

Only this time the victim returns in Resurrection glory to forgive and to seek reconciliation, and commission his followers to preach repentance and reconciliation to all nations.  He is revealed as innocent.  Most important of all, he is revealed, not as the victim who is resentful, but as forgiving.   He is the victim who forgives.

Today I hear Jesus calling us to desire the same thing he desires.  He looks around him and sees us imitating one another in ways that hurt and destroy.  Today I hear the urgency of this calling, in a very small world that cannot abide more of this scapegoating, this Us versus Them and the violence that goes with it.

The God of Jesus is the God of love.  He He desires for us God’s kingdom of love, and that desire burns within him like a fire, and he wishes that fire would consume the world.

And as I think of that fire, I think of these words from Charles Wesley:

O thou who camest from above

The fire celestial to impart,

Kindle a flame of sacred love

Upon the altar of my heart.


There let it for thy glory burn

With ever bright, undying blaze,

And trembling to its source return

In humble prayer and fervent praise.


Jesus, confirm my heart’s desire

To work, and speak, and think for thee;

Still let me guard the sacred fire

And still stir up the gift in me.    (Hymnal 1982, #704)



A Prayer for all in Law Enforcement

I was horrified to read of the recent killings and woundings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge.  These were evil, despicable acts.

Our hearts break with the thought of spouses and children and families and loved ones and friends whose lives are struck with pain.

I'm grateful for those who serve us in law enforcement, who put their lives on the line every day to serve us, who act as guardians of public safety.

I offer this prayer for us to pray, with thanks to Grace Episcopal Church in Holland, Michigan. The prayer itself is an adaptation of the prayer for those in the Armed Forces of our Country found in the Book of Common Prayer 1979 (BCP) on page 823.

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women in law enforcement in our neighborhoods, cities, and on our highways. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; protect their families; strengthen them in their trials; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And this prayer:

Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP p. 823.)


Gladly accept the disciplines of freedom

I'm taking a moment from the midst of some vacation time to reflect on this day on which we celebrate our nation's independence.

With independence our founders engaged a great project to work out what a democratic republic might look like in real life.  They did so boldly and with vision, but imperfectly, of course, since slavery would endure for a long time to come, but that's another story.  We're part of that project in our own time; a project which brings to each of us the responsibility of citizenship.

A few weeks back on Memorial Day weekend I led a prayer of thanksgiving for Heroic Service during our Sunday Eucharists. It is from our Book of Common Prayer. After thanking God for those “who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy, we are led to pray “that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines.”

So, according to this prayer, a key aspect of citizenship is a restlessness until all of us together live in right relationship with one another, and a commitment to learn and practice the disciplines that make for our participation in and responsibility for a strong democratic republic. As we feel our patriotism, let's remember that as people baptized into Christ to be citizens of God's kingdom we are called to participate in making America more of what it can be and aspires to be. To borrow a phrase I've seen on bumper stickers, “Freedom isn't Free.”

A case in point is the struggle of Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Trans-gendered and Queer people to share in that freedom.

Over the last week or so Gay Pride celebrations and parades have been held in major cities across the nation, and this coming weekend in Bellingham that celebration takes place.

The genesis of this celebration is the 1969 police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village in New York City, and the protest movement that took root there. That raid was the last straw for a portion of our population who decided then and there that they were tired of living a lie and of being forced to hide, and would no longer meekly suffer harrassment or even worse. In reality, there were those there that in that day of decision who were heroes, who ventured much for the cause of liberty, and many have come after them.

This movement has made great strides, but the recent mass shooting in Orlando at a gay bar is a reminder of the stress that GLBTQ people still live with each day, wondering if the environments in which they find themselves are completely safe for them. There are stories of love and courage and hope coming out of Orlando in the aftermath of this atrocity which have as their common theme that hate does not win, but love wins. There are people in the GLBTQ community who show us this truth, and as they do so, I'm struck by how much Jesus must love them, as he himself went outside the gate of the city of Jerusalem among the outcasts of his day to empty himself for them and for all of us, taking the form of a servant.

So on this Fourth of July, may God make us grateful for the liberties we now enjoy, and restless until all share them. May God make us grateful for those whose who have ventured much for our liberties. May God sustain us in a commitment to the disciplines necessary to gain the benefits of freedom to more and more people.

And to all GLBTQ people who celebrate this weekend, know that God loves you, and that you are precious in Jesus' sight.

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.


Todd Foster ordained priest and St. Paul's is well represented

Last night at St. Mark's in Seattle the Episcopal Church in Western Washington gained three new priests to serve the Church: Alice W. Bower, Nancy Ross, and Todd Foster.

St. Paul's was well represented at St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle.  I don't have an exact count, but we estimated 50 people.  Pat Weitnauer and Kate Brigham organized van transportation, and Kate and her husband Steve Brigham piloted two 15-passenger vans full of people there and back.

Ron Weitnauer, our webmaster, was there with his camera.  Laurie Parrish brought a car loaded with cookies provided by St. Paul's parishioners, thanks to St. Anne's Guild.  Rocky and Kristi Champagne served as Eucharistic Ministers, Raynell Wurtz and Laurie as acolytes.  Teresa Flodin carried the diocesan banner in the procession.  Aviva Foster read the first lesson.  Becky Foster and Aviva and Elisha assisted Todd when it came time to don the vestments of a priest.  Sharon and I had the privilege of being among those who presented Todd to the bishop, along with representatives of St Paul's, Mt. Vernon and Epiphany, Seattle, where Todd now serves as a priest on staff.

After the service was over we got pretty much the whole gang of St. Paul's people together for a photograph with Fr. Foster.  Also present in the photo was The Rev. Michael Carroccino, who was ordained three years ago from St. Paul's and now serves as priest-in-charge of St. John the Baptist Church in West Seattle.

The liturgy itself was movingly and sensitively led by our bishop, with wonderful pauses for silent prayer and great hymns and spiritual songs.  A holy space and time was created in that place.

I was able to stop and savor the way in which God has blessed and is blessing St. Paul's with faithful people pursuing their relationship with Christ in prayer, worship, learning, and service to the world.  The raising up of clergy is something that happens in congregations where the Body of Christ is healthy.  That's St. Paul's.

In the midst of last night's liturgy we all renewed our baptismal vows.  That's so important.  The basic commitment of a clergy person is to their baptismal vows.  All else is founded upon that commitment.   As a sign of that, the ordinands and the bishop conducted the rite of asperges, sprinkling all of us liberally with water.

Please say a prayer for Todd and Alice and Nancy when you read this.  And remember your baptismal vows which make you a member of Jesus Christ, and be thankful.

Click here to see photos of the evening.


Being neighbors with Muslims

The month of Ramadan- a month of fasting for Muslims – has begun.  During Ramadan the faithful fast during the daylight hours and break their fast at night.  The observance of Ramadan is from the new moon to the next new moon.  This year the fast began June 5 and will conclude July 5.


As an expression of goodwill to our Muslim neighbors, I wrote the following letter, which quite a few St. Paul’s people signed along with me yesterday at church.  I will deliver it this week to the Whatcom Islamic Center, where I had a warm welcome to Friday prayers last year.


The letter reads:


Dear friends and neighbors of the Whatcom Islamic Society:

As this holy month of Ramadan has begun, we say to you, “Ramadan Mubarak!”


May you all know the deepest blessings of this month of fasting.


Sincerely yours,


The Rev. Jonathan Weldon, Rector

                and the undersigned members of St. Paul’s


If you want to know more about Ramadan, or Islam in general, I can recommend as a starting point this website from The MacDonald Center at Hartford Seminary, as well as their list of other resources which provide a wide array of information about Islam and the relationship of Christianity to Islam.


In his book Why Did Jesus, Moses, Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Brian McLaren argues for a “strong-benevolent” Christian faith in our approach to the followers of other religious faiths. I commend this book to you all.  I’ve read it and am re-reading it, finding it timely, and a worthy follow-up to having read Rabbi Jonathan Sacks’ Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence. Both of these books would make a wonderful read for your book group, your Cursillo Reunion Group, or any group of friends.  I led a discussion on this book at St. Paul’s in Epiphany and Lent.  Mary Hynes of CBC Radio’s Tapestry interviewed Rabbi Sacks about his book.  You can hear that podcast here.


I have set a goal for myself to read through the Q’uran.  I’ve been reading it on Kindle.  This way I will know for myself what it says.


If we’re going to love our neighbors as ourselves, we can start by knowing who they are and being neighborly.  Blessings to you in whatever you can do to show love and neighborliness in a time when so many want us to hate and fear our neighbor.

A sermon for June 12, 2016, Proper 6, Year C.



I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  -Galatians 2:20 (NRSV)


I have this verse from the letter to the Galatians in calligraphy framed on my wall in my study at home.  It’s a profound affirmation of the deepest mystery of Christian faith, which is that God in Christ seeks to live in and through us.


The backdrop to the letter to the Galatians is a conflict between Paul the Apostle and Peter the Apostle, both Jewish believers in Christ.  They have earlier agreed that the movement that follows Jesus is big enough to embrace both Jews and Gentiles, and that the Gentiles do not need to adopt distinct Jewish practices such as circumcision to be part of the movement.   They have agreed that what God is doing in Jesus is a move to gather all peoples into one.


But now Paul is in conflict with Peter.  He has become aware that Peter, influenced by some Jewish believers from Jerusalem, has taken a step back from this earlier position, refraining even from eating with Gentiles.  Paul, writing to Gentile followers in Galatia, argues and pleads with them not to be misled by Peter and others who might influence them to think that they must be circumcised in order to receive the benefits of a relationship with God through Christ.


What Paul is arguing in this letter is that a single, apocalyptic, frame-shattering, world-changing thing has happened.  The crucifixion of the Son of God has happened, and through this event the whole picture is changed forever.


In the cross, God has overcome all hostility.  In the cross, God breaks down barriers that divide us from one another; whether those barriers are religious, or political, or cultural, or historical.  In the cross, God in Christ reaches into a world of divisions to prove God’s love for all across all divisions.  We acknowledge these divisions in the Eucharistic Prayer we pray today:


From the primal elements you brought forth the human race,

and blessed us with memory, reason, and skill. You made us

the rulers of creation. But we turned against you, and betrayed

your trust; and we turned against one another.


Paul was once someone whose identity was wrapped up in being against those who followed Jesus.  He was once so misguided in his religious zeal that he actively persecuted others whose different religious orientation – an orientation toward Jesus of Nazareth – threatened him.  He hurt people.


But for Paul things are different now.  Having had an encounter with the Christ whose followers he was persecuting, he now knows personally and deeply that he hurt not only people, but God’s own heart.  And now he knows the reconciling love of Christ.  Everything has changed.  Old rules that kept Jews and Gentiles separate no longer apply after the cross.  He now knows very personally the truth we affirm in our Eucharistic Prayer:


By his blood, he reconciled us.

By his wounds, we are healed.


Because of the cross, we know for sure that God is a reconciler and healer, because God in Jesus Christ was willing to be wounded by our violence and yet to forgive us.  And do we ever need reconciliation and healing!


The conflict between Peter and Paul was a division in the Church, and divisions continue still.  Religion is powerful in terms of identity formation, and within those identities we can become a force for division rather than a force for uniting.  It’s very easy to develop within religious identity an “us” versus “them” attitude.  Jesus knew this.  Paul knew it.  They both addressed it.


This is true as well in a pluralistic world in which those who identify with Judaism and Christianity and Islam and the religions of the East meet and mingle in complex circumstances where religion is a factor in human relations along with economic and social and military and political circumstances.  When this happens, there is always the possibility that religion can unite, but sadly, there is the possibility that religion becomes a source of division.


Since 9/11/2001 in particular our nation – in which so many identify with Christianity - has had a troubled relationship with the followers of Islam worldwide.  I don’t need to remind you of the suspicion and mistrust that has been sown after that date, and how easily the battle lines are drawn in this environment, and how we are in a moment of national crisis in our relationship to the segment of our population who are of the Islamic faith.


Last year in Southeast Turkey I met Syriac Orthodox Christians who have been and are being persecuted as a Christian minority within a Muslim majority.  This has been going on for a long time, and now it is going on with the Turkish government turning a blind eye.


And yet, as you heard from Fr. Dale Johnson, when the bishop at the Mor Gabriel Monastery heard back in 1991 of refugees fleeing over the border from Iraq in the first Gulf War, he ordered that hospitality be shown to all refugees, regardless of religion, regardless of whether they be Muslim, or Yazidi, or Christian.  And even now, “Seeds of Hope” and the “Seeds of Justice” project reach out to all refugees, regardless of religion.


I remember last September meeting the Christian mayor of the Christian town of Deir Aboun in Northern Iraq, a town who after his leadership has opened the doors to Muslims and Christians and Yazidis for refuge in a world in which these groups are normally segregated into separate towns.  This mayor and his town, to my way of thinking, represent a reconciling work consistent with the cross of Jesus.


St. Paul lived long before the rise of Islam.  The frontier between Jew and Gentile was the frontier he crossed as he realized his identity in Jesus Christ.  I wonder what he would be telling us about the frontier between Christian and Muslim?  What do you think?


I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  -Galatians 2:20 (NRSV)


What would it mean for us to accept that our baptism means we have died with Christ?  What would it mean to accept that our baptism means our only life is the one Christ wants to live through us?  What would it mean for us to acknowledge that any other life really is no life at all?  What would this mean for relationships with Muslims?  With all those we sometimes perceive as “other”, not like us?


Could we live as Jesus did, bridging divides?  Could we be reconcilers in the midst of a culture of so much divisiveness and hostility?  Could we live the life of Jesus, who loved God with heart, soul, strength and mind, and his neighbor as himself?


One of our great preachers, Barbara Brown Taylor, lets us know what this entails:


The hardest work in the world

is to love the neighbor as the self -

to encounter another human being

not as someone you can use, change,

fix, help, save, enroll, convince or control,

but simply as someone who can spring you

from the prison of your self, if you allow it.   -Barbara Brown Taylor


Let us pray:


3.  For the Human Family    from the Book of Common Prayer, 1979, page 815.


O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us

through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole

human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which

infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us;

unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and

confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that, in

your good time, all nations and races may serve you in

harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ

our Lord.  Amen.

A sermon for Ascensiontide and Mother's Day

Seventh Sunday of Easter 2016 RCL Proper John 17:20-26 Jonathan Weldon, preacher

As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe believe that you sent me.”

Last week I sat transfixed for two hours viewing Wim Wender's film “Salt of the Earth, “ featuring the transcendant art of Brazilian photographer Sebastio Salgado.

I cite as unforgettable one image. Amid the squalor and death of a camp housing refugees from Rwanda's genocide in the mid-1990's Mr. Salgado captured the image of a child sitting on the outstretched legs of a mother, rapt in attention to the mother's face, totally trusting.

The scene of this mother and child brought to my mind words from poet Wendell Berry:

So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?1

Today in popular culture it is Mother's Day, of course. It is in liturgical time the Seventh Sunday of Easter, the Sunday after the Feast of the Ascension. Ascension is that major feast of the Church year which is celebrated on a weekday and thus gets little attention in the church. But it's an important feast, because it celebrates a central mystery of Christianity, which is that the humble and suffering Christ now is seated at the right hand of God. Ascension's mystery is that love rules, that love wins in the deepest and the highest places where the decisions really count. Thus to know God we come to know God as suffering love in the midst of the world. It's an affirmation that isn't easy to make, and it's one many in the world would scoff at, but it's an affirmation all Christians are called to make, and to live accordingly.

So I return to that image given to us by Mr. Salgado of the child sitting on the mother's lap with starvation and death all around.

In my mind Salgado's image is next to that of a pregnant woman I met in a refugee camp last year in Iraq. In my mind Salgado's image is next to that of a memory of a young couple caring for their newborn in temporary shelter. In my mind, Salgado's image is next to the image of a mother and three daughters and her husband and a son who are Yazidis, who fled to the refuge of a Christian village from what would have been certain death or even worse in nearby ISIS-controlled areas.

In my mind are images of Christians I met in nearby Turkey, oppressed and being driven out of their own native lands where Christian faith has been practiced since the time of the apostles.

So many are in flight, and in so many places there is a growing resistance to efforts to welcome them. In Europe, anti-immigrant political pressure is mounting, and leaders are beleaguered.

And in my own country, a great many are restless and angry. Our social contract is frayed; many distrust our leaders and institutions. Many feel left behind in terms of the American dream. Into such a situation many are receptive to the invitation to find someone to blame; to find a group of people we are urged to see as a threat, be they from south of our border, or our neighbors of the Islamic faith. We are faced with naked appeals to dehumanize whole groups of people based on the actions of some people. Next comes demonization of those people, and what follows in this pattern is the destruction of those people.

I remember after my return having a conversation with a man whose life is dedicated to helping refugees resettle in Washington State. If within all nations we were to follow the temptation to turn against one another and dehumanize and demonize groups of people, he asked, where will refugees be able to find a home?

I was born not long after a period of time in which the terrible atrocities visited on Jews were uncovered in a highly educated country of Western Europe, and my parents lived through that period. At nineteen years old I visited the site of Dachau concentration camp. It frightens me to know that according to a recent global survey, only 54% of respondents knew that the Holocaust happened.2 “Never forget” is the watchword of Holocaust history, and now we're seeming to forget. That's ominous.

Are we living in the prelude to such times? I have hope that we aren't, but it pays to be aware of what can come when demagoguery is rewarded. We forget such times at our peril. What is in store, and how will are we as Christians responding, and how would we respond in the face of a rise of fascist power that victimizes whole segments of the population? In 1930's Europe, the churches as a whole were largely silent as a genocidal ideology of antisemitic hate took over power. A Confessing movement in the church took form under the leadership of brave pastors like Martin Niemoller3 and Dietrich Bonhoeffer4. The Catholic Church had it's saints too, like Maximilian Kolbe.5 It is sobering to consider how few stood against the tide.

If – as the mystery of Christ's ascension affirms – the suffering and wounded and now risen and glorified Christ now sits at the right hand of God, there is in my mind no way for Christians to avoid the challenge of Mr. Berry's poem, which I here repeat:

Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

I wonder these days at what may be required of us Christians if the forces of hatred and division get the upper hand among us. I wonder how our commitment to Christ may be tested. I wonder if we're about to find out just how committed we are to be the disciples of Christ, and not merely admirers. As a priest, I wonder: what sacrifices may I be required to make for the sake of Christ?

We just heard Jesus praying for us. Here's more of what he prayed:

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

What was between the Father and the Son was a shared love for the world, a love that didn't shrink from suffering for us.

And God is asking us to take the path of love. God is asking us to believe in a different story than the story of hatred and division. God is asking us to live by Jesus' story.

Not long ago I sat in a diverse crowd of community members at Francis Place for the blessing of that wonderful facility to house and support previously homeless people. The crowd represented both major political parties and an array of community groups and representatives of various church and government organizations.

It was such a blessing to see how people committed to doing good could come together, despite resistance, to create something beautiful and of service. That morning gave me hope; tangible hope. That morning refreshed my vision of what can happen among us when we respect the dignity and freedom of every human being.

This is the vision of Christian faith, and here it is through the words of one of our great mystics and visionaries, Dom Bede Griffiths, a Christian monk who lived in India and was a careful student of the religious traditions around him:

Love is invisible, but it is the most powerful force in human nature. Jesus spoke of the Spirit which he would send as Truth but also as Love. “If anyone loves me, my Father will love him and we will come to him and make our abode with him.” This is the love, the prema and bhakti, which was proclaimed in the Bhagavad Gita, the compassion (karuna) of Buddha, the rapturous love of the Sufi saints.

Ultimately a religion is tested by its capacity to waken love in its followers, and, what is perhaps more difficult, to extend that love to all humanity. In the past religions have tended to confine their love to their own followers, but always there has been a movement to break through these barriers and attain to a universal love.6

Let us pray:

O God,we thank you that you have showed us your loving heart in the person of Jesus your Son. Thank you for the invitation by your Spirit to have that same love abide in us. Have your way with us. Make in us your home, for the sake of the world you love and for which your Son gave his life. Amen.

1Wendell Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front. http://www.journeywithjesus.net/PoemsAndPrayers/Wendell_Berry_Manifesto.shtml

2 http://global100.adl.org/public/ADL-Global-100-Executive-Summary.pdf#page=11




6-Bede Griffiths 1906-1993 Universal Wisdom quoted from Pathways to Peace http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/easter7c.html