Over the past 500 years, the perception has been that the old world had all the answers: the science, technology, and advanced ways of living. Can that still be said? Or perceived as truth?
We are facing a monumental moral crisis. Consider these observations:
• The United States is deeply divided politically
• Income inequality is at an all-time high; poverty and homelessness are on the rise
• Pollution of the air, water, and land is contributing to climate change
• Rainforests are being destroyed each day, contributing to global warming, and thousands of native people in South America are being killed for trying to protect the earth
• More and more animal species are becoming extinct
• Violence is glorified on TV—guns are becoming a national pastime—some sports have become barbaric (UFC, WWA)—while mental health is in decline
Apostolic hazing. I know. Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Unfortunately in many cases the term is warranted. There are too many stories of aspirants and ordinands coming out of the discernment/ordination process feeling emotionally scarred, financially strained, depressed, angry, discarded, blackballed, humiliated, along with not being able to fully trust others. Some of the hurdles that are put before people seeking Holy Orders are downright cruel. Here are some of the things you’ve might have heard, experienced, witnessed, or actively participated in:
● Constantly moving targets for them to meet, only for the target to be changed up again
● Making people go to seminaries that the bishop is fond of, without considering the life circumstances of the aspirant (job, housing, passport, family, finances, distance, etc.).
In my role as a capital campaign consultant for the Episcopal Church Foundation, it’s not unusual to hear Vestry leaders hoping for grants to help pay for building improvement projects because…
“We serve our city in unique ways.”
“Our building is historically significant.”
“Our feeding ministry serves the broader community.”
Yes, but, in the world of grant-giving, the stark reality is that your congregation may not be all that special. When you identify a granting organization that will allow a church to apply (many don’t), expect the competition to be steep from established not-for-profit organizations. Agencies that provide food, clothing, health care, or other services as their main mission have honed their compelling “case statements.” A church that serves a community meal once a week or a free clinic once a month may be deemed to have a weaker case.
In the wake of the recent overt racist actions by hate groups in Charlottesville, Virginia and other continued acts of injustice, for example, the killing of unarmed minorities by the police, targeting of Muslim worshippers, separation of families by deportation, the Church is obligated to live out its mission by speaking and acting to address justice issues within our communities. The question is what (or what more) can the Church do?
Many within our churches are concerned and willing to do something but do not have a history of activism so are unsure where to start. As a result there is dissonance between what is going on within our churches and the society as a whole, these justice issues are sometimes never mentioned.
One reason why justice issues go unmentioned is that we have not made a clear distinction between partisan political vs. social justice issues and are therefore afraid of polarization among our members.
Like most of the country, I had never heard of Bean Blossom (also spelled Beanblossom) Indiana, before this weekend. It’s honestly the kind of name someone on the blue parts of the coasts might make up to mock the perceived backwardness or hokey-ness of the center of the country. Bean Blossom.
Last Sunday, the members of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Bean Blossom arrived at their church to find it painted with a swastika, the phrase “Heil Trump” and the phrase “Fag Church.”
I want to be like Bean Blossom.
I planned to be a gracious winner the week after the election.
I wasn’t going to rub it in the faces of folks who had been Donald Trump supporters. My social media presence would be demure, and while I expected to dance a little jig inside, my public persona would call for unity and broad arms to encircle the disenfranchised.
I didn’t expect to be the one needing the arms.
Most of us have been taught to avoid triangulation in communication, but it can be a valuable tool for promoting peace and justice. Triangulating by asking Jesus to “re-speak,” through the power of the Holy Spirit, words we are unable to receive is good triangulation. The gift of learning at our Lord’s feet is always available to us through scripture and prayer, and daily life becomes a dialogue of faith when we give ourselves to God in this way. These dialogues of faith often become the foundation for raising voices of advocacy.
The diocesan Commission on Peace, Justice, and Racial Reconciliation is working to organize voices of advocacy that promote reconciliation, restoration, and healing, and I am grateful to be a part of this work. Seeking to better understand human systems that produce dysfunction and despair has been part of my training as an anthropologist. Now, as a priest, I understand that Jesus calls us to faith that sees beyond the landscapes our brokenness and sin have created. Christian advocacy is about seeing a horizon of hope through the eyes of our faith and asking Jesus to use us as his ears and heart and hands.
“Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States 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.”
- For an Election, Book of Common Prayer p.822
Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. Our Episcopal Church has done a fine job to remind us of the awesome privilege and responsibility of voting. The resources available online, the Election Engagment Toolkit from Episcopal Public Policy Network, as well as the prayers in the Prayer Book itself, including the collect quoted above, have been useful tools in my own prayer life as I get ready.
The 67 members of Bishops United Against Gun Violence understand that lobbying legislators and writing letters to the editor are not everyone’s strong suit. But this fall they are joining an effort that makes it possible for Episcopalians to raise their voices—literally—on behalf of gun violence prevention by doing something that church folks do all the time: sing.
The Concert Across America on Sunday, September 25 is a series of musical events, large and small, dedicated to remembering victims of gun violence and “raising the volume on the national effort to save lives,” according to organizers at Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, which is one of the event’s sponsors.
Lacy Broemel’s post, Church Participation in the Political Process, outlined the guidelines for engaging the electoral process in a nonpartisan way. Now it’s time to start thinking about the opportunities you have for local engagement ahead of the November 8 election. Here are some ideas:
Host a nonpartisan voter registration drive at your church. It can be as simple as setting up a table during coffee hour or a stand-alone event to which you invite the wider community. An ideal date to hold this event is Sunday, September 25, which is the Sunday just before National Voter Registration Day, Tuesday, September 27. To prepare, you will need voter registration forms or, if your state allows it, a computer for people to register online. Rock The Vote has a step-by-step guide to assist you in your voter registration drive. You will also want to check the voter registration deadline for your state. In many states, voter registration closes up to 30 days before the election.
This fall, Episcopalians have a unique opportunity to do the holy work of building the Kingdom of God here on earth by engaging in the electoral process. Engaging in the election is an opportunity to be with and speak out with people who are oppressed, hungry, and/or an outcast, and to insert compassion and justice into our country’s guiding systems and structures. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry reminds us,
“If we who are Christians participate in the political process and in the public discourse as we are called to do — the New Testament tells us that we are to participate in the life of the polis, in the life of our society — the principle on which Christians must vote is the principle, Does this look like love of neighbor?"
Since deadlines don't respect vacations, I've filed the August edition of my In Good Faith column from an undisclosed coffee shop somewhere in the world. I write about that thing that's on many of our minds this week -- the Olympics in Rio. Enjoy. If you can pull yourself away from the TV long enough to read it...
Let the Games Begin
As I write this, the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio are in full swing. Like much of the world, I have tuned in to a few events so far — some biking and swimming and a touch of women’s soccer. Also, like much of the world, I lounged on the couch and stuffed my face with food as I watched these world-class athletes put their bodies to the test.
Maybe it comes with the job. I couldn’t help but notice the ways people prayed at both political conventions. There was a good deal of what I call horizontal praying going on. What do I mean by horizontal praying? Though the message is bracketed with a “Dear God” and an “Amen,” it’s really meant to make a point with those hearing the prayer, for example, the prayer at the dinner table: “Dear God, help my sibling, spouse, parent, child to stop being such a jerk. Amen.”
In the past two weeks at the conventions, I heard some beautiful prayers. I also heard some prayers I thought were really political speeches. Some seemed manipulative. A few seemed heretical. After a long time of trying to sort through the nexus of faith and politics, I am finding this election cycle distinctively vexing and perplexing. How about you?
People warned us not to go. With the Euro soccer tournament and the wounds still fresh from last November’s terror attack in Paris, France was on high alert. Belgium was reeling from the bombing at the Brussels airport. Germany is flooded with refugees. Maybe, concerned friends and family members suggested, we should postpone our trip to Europe.
But we forged ahead, two decades of saving and dreaming unwilling to be daunted by possible threats. Eight days after our flight home to Cincinnati from Paris, a man turned celebration into terror. He transformed a truck into a weapon to mow over crowds of people who had just finished watching fireworks in honor of Bastille Day — akin to our Fourth of July.
If our trip was tomorrow instead of a month ago, I wonder if we would go. Among the 84 dead are a father and 11-year-old boy from Texas. Our son is 11. Although we didn’t visit Nice and the south of France, we ascended the Eiffel Tower, explored the city center of Munich, walked cobblestone streets in Belgium, and put miles on our pedometers in London. I can’t imagine the whiplash of emotions, from a longed-for family vacation to murder on the street. As I mourn with this family and with all of those killed in the attack, I turn inward, wanting to create a safe space for all those I love and to push away all the unknowns, to fear the stranger.
And yet there is Dean.
Oh beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years
On a downtown sidewalk in Plock, Poland, a small city about 70 miles from Warsaw, my husband and I were approached by a woman who motioned to us to stop. The year was 1992, just two years since Lech Walesa became Poland’s president following the country’s first semi-free elections in 1989. In November 1989, the Berlin Wall had fallen at the hands of Germans yearning for a united and free nation.
The woman in Plock eagerly asked, “Are you Americans?”
I simultaneously wondered, is it that obvious? And, Oh boy, where is this leading?
She gazed at us with an intensity in her eyes I will never forget, then simply stated, “Thank you for my freedom.”
Stunned, we stammered, “God bless you,” as she stepped around us to continue on her way. I think I also said, “You’re welcome,” as if I had anything to do with it. But, in retrospect, I suppose I did, as much as any American who pays taxes and votes.
“When will we ever learn? When will we ever learn?”
Peter, Paul, and Mary sang these words in protest against the war in Vietnam. Today, in the aftermath of the terrible hate crime in Orlando, leaving too many dead and tragically affecting so many more, I find myself again asking, “what can I do?”
My answer: “More.”
To start, I’ll share this Vital Post Jeremiah Sierra published in December 2012. He reminds us of the importance of facing our failures and asking ourselves what might we do differently going forward:
The church has failed.
A few weeks ago I listened to Joan Chittister give the keynote address at Trinity Institute. Evolution, she said, teaches us that we are all participants in an ongoing creation. It shows us both that we have tremendous responsibility as participants in creation, and that failure is a natural part of growth.
In a time when we are reeling from tragedy, when we are facing problems as large as climate change and increasing economic inequality, and as our communities are shrinking, it’s time to embrace and face our failures. They are staring us in the face from the pages of the newspaper and the empty pews.
We should talk about the 400-pound gorilla in the room. That and a four-year-old boy.
In case you’ve been in silent retreat on a desert island without wifi, newspapers, or a message in a bottle, here’s the recap: Last weekend, a four-year-old boy climbed into an enclosure at the Cincinnati Zoo and came face-to-face with a 400-pound gorilla. Zoo officials decided they had no choice but to shoot and kill the gorilla to save the life of the child.
Protestors took to the streets, and frenzy descended in social media. Horrible, vicious memes have been posted. I’ve read eviscerating criticism of the mother, the child, the zoo, and gorillas. I heard today that the mother has received death threats. Seriously. Death threats.
The whole situation is sad. I mourn the death of Harambe, the endangered gorilla. I feel badly for the zoo employees who faced an untenable decision. I pray that the boy recovers completely. And I empathize with the mother. (I know how easily children can escape a watchful eye. I’ve lost a toddler in a discount store and watched in slow-motion horror as my son pulled a bookcase on top of him. Thankfully, they were safe.)
3rd in a series of 4 posts - see below for the previous articles.
Like many people at this time of year, I find myself reflecting on the great and not-so-great things that have happened over the past year. Among the things that fall into the obviously 'great' category: that day in August when I officiated at a good friend's wedding. In the not-so-great category: that time my backpack, suitcase, and laptop were stolen in a smash and grab while I was visiting my family in Texas.
Of course, there's another, subtler category and that's what this series of blog posts is all about -- namely, the great things that somehow got overlooked. It is oftentimes only in looking back that we can fully recognize their obvious greatness, and it is only now, many months later, that we can champion and share those things with others. There are a number of things that the Episcopal Church Foundation produced over the course of this past year that fall into this third, subtler category, and I'm happy to share my short list as a sort of Christmas "gift".
1st in a series of 4 posts.
Long ago I gave up any expectation that people would read everything I wrote or posted. Not everything shared on ECF Vital Practices’ reaches thousands of eyeballs, despite the more than 100,000 unique visitors to the site again this year.
Lest you think I’m complaining, please know I’m not. I frequently see posts or articles I want to read – later, when I have more time. In reality, I often lose track of what I wanted to get back to.
For Christmas, members of our editorial team will each share three ECF Vital Practices pieces we really like and you may have missed. We’re calling it our Christmas Special – all with no expiration date and no commercials – just click:
This Sunday we began Advent with the usual apocalyptic lectionary readings. Jesus says, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.”
I never know quite what to make of these words. They're a little unsettling and I’d rather pretend that Jesus didn’t say them. In this respect, Advent is a little like an invitation to a party you’re not sure you want to attend. You're happy to be invited but you don't know what to expect. What kind of people are you going to encounter? How late are you going to have to stay up? Wouldn’t it be nice just to stay home and watch a movie instead? But you can’t just ignore an invitation like that.
Some of these readings make me think of our current reality. The seas are roaring and nations are in distress. The temperature or our planet is rising because of climate change and many live in fear of terrorism or racist violence or war. Advent asks us to consider all of that. To look at the difficult and uncomfortable truths and ask us how we will respond. It might be easier to ignore them, to stay home, but you keep thinking about that invitation.
On the first Sunday of Advent I joined a climate march. Not because it’s how I wanted to spend a Sunday afternoon (especially after traveling back from the Thanksgiving weekend on a train with a very unhappy dog), but because the reality of climate change is constantly breaking into my life no matter how much I try to ignore it, forcing me to respond.