The Day After and the Day After That …

November 9, 2016

Dear Cathedral Community and Friends,

As many of you know my undergraduate education was as an economist. Statistics are no stranger to me. As I write this, statistics indicate that nationally, and as a state, I am writing to an audience equally divided over the outcome of the presidential election. If I were to consider solely Wayne County, or Detroit, the city where the Cathedral is located, I am writing to a people who are statistically more disappointed with the outcome. The thing is, I’m not writing to or about statistics, I am writing to you.

As I have reflected, through sleepless hours of the night, I have come to a place of understanding this election as a referendum on fear. Three elements, which I hold as truths, emerge from this for me. First, the source of fear for one person, or community, is not necessarily the source of another’s. Second, I do not get to define the fear a person or community is experiencing, nor do I get to discount, dismiss, or judge it. Third, your fears, my fears, the community’s fears, may have been heightened or lessened by any number of the recent electoral decisions.

As light began to overcome the mist of the morning today, I became aware of other truths that existed yesterday, exist today, and will exist tomorrow. I, along with my sisters and brothers who are marked as Christ’s own forever, have vowed to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as self. That vow is not dependent upon, or conditional on, anything else. The work that we had to do yesterday: to minister to the hurting, hungry, marginalized, broken, terrified, and disenfranchised, along with the healed, hopeful, joyful and loved; and to share the loving, liberating, life-giving way of Jesus, is still the work we have to do today and tomorrow. (And, there is plenty of it to do.)

To our sisters and brothers who are feeling lost, dismayed, and dismissed, whatever the genesis, our holy writings offer this invitation from Jesus, “Come to me all you who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” (Matthew 11:28)

As I conclude, I take counsel from an almost lost verse that concludes Luke’s telling of the healing of the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19): “… your faith has made you well.” It will not be any government, any society, or any societal decision, that makes us well. That comes from the increasing awareness that God is our constant companion through Eden-like gardens and through valleys of shadow. Emergent from these journeys, we claim, even cling to, faith that sees us through; that makes us well.

Your priest and your brother,
Scott+

After Orlando … and Newtown … and Aurora … and San Bernardino … and ….

Many people have had many things to say in the wake of yet another horrific episode of mass murder and psychological violence; this time in the early hours of Sunday morning, June 12, in a nightclub named Pulse in Orlando, Florida. Cold statistics on a page add up, they say, it is the worst such event in United States history: fifty dead, more than fifty more wounded. (I doubt that, because I’d bet money I cannot afford to lose that to begin with Native Americans were slaughtered in the late 1700s and 1800s in groups far larger than 50 – but that’s another reflection for another day.)

It is a misleading set of figures in another way: there is no way to calculate the grievous and mortal wounds to the psyche and spirit of family members, friends, staff, survivors, responders, and people of the Orlando community and the world. Parents of the innocents of Sandy Hook (Newtown) and other similar events have written open letters to this newly devastated community in an effort to offer some sliver of hope while dealing with the white-hot flashbacks of their own living hell.

This has to change. We’ve rapidly legislated and considerably funded a greater response to the prevention of the transmission of the Zeka virus, than to the prevention of death by automatic and semi-automatic weaponry.

People, lots of them, will tell you that I don’t know much, but here is what I do know:

Hearts and lives are shattered and broken, and the wounds, physical, emotional, spiritual, will continue to ravage many every waking moment, and many sleeping moments, for the rest of their lives.

I know that my sisters and brothers live in fear daily – some are LGBTQ; some are Muslim; ALL are created in the image and likeness of God.

I know that far too many have become numb to the news of such violence and tragedy. I know that the Houses of our Congress sold its collective soul to the devil, with an approving wink from the NRA, when it looked the other way after the massacre of children at Sandy Hook (Newtown) and failed to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines and clips.

I know that that there is no need for ordinary citizenry to possess automatic and semi-automatic weaponry or high capacity clips and magazines. I know that purchasing a firearm and can be done at a legitimate gun shop or sketchy and unregulated gun show as easily, and more frequently, than purchasing a decongestant (pseudoephedrine) from the pharmacy. I know that military and law enforcement personnel have to be qualified (tested) on the possession and use of even their standard issue pistol every year and often multiple times a year, but we require nothing, or next to nothing, of the general population.

I know that pistols were designed for self-defense; rifles and shotguns for self-defense and hunting; and any AR -, AK-, or other automatic or semi-automatic rifle or carbine was designed with the single purpose of killing people, lots of them, as quickly and lethally as possible. I know that I have yet to hear, via a single news or statistical report, that such a weapon has been used to legitimately defend a home from invasion. They have to go.

I know this: “weeping spends the night…” (Ps 30:5) – and this night is too damn long

I know that rage, bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, poverty, drugs, evil, and religion are blamed for Orlando, Newtown, and last night’s murder in “your town.” I know that they are the fertilizers of fear. I know that blame is wasted time. Blame does nothing: nothing to help, nothing to comfort, nothing to heal, and nothing to change

I know that change… is… possible, and that certain changes are proven, proven, to have a big effect. Australia and several countries in northern Europe have enacted laws that have done nothing to impair hunting, but effectively reduced/eliminated mass killings.

I know that the only change I can absolutely insure is in me. I cannot change anyone else. Further, my teachers, Rabbi Edwin Friedman and Pastor Peter Steinke, have taught me two things: 1) that when I change the systems of which I am a part will experience change, and 2) systems resist change, so be prepared for them be resist/fight back with all their force.

Here is my change: It was a “Jesus come to me” moment a few days ago in the quiet of my morning routine.  I had to face the fact that I’m not usually a single-element litmus test kind of person. I like decisions, and I don’t like putting them off.  But, as those who know me best will tell you, I try to examine all the moves on the chess board, and several layers on down as well. Life is intricate, and I like its intricacies. I have to change that now. This is simple.

This is the change. To every candidate for any office with the power to legislate, if you want my vote, you will have to pledge to do all in your power

  • to ban automatic and semi-automatic weapons and high capacity clips and magazines
  • to ban all sale and transfer of firearms except through licensed dealers
  • require universal background checks from a common database
  • strive to insure quality, accessible, affordable mental health care for everyone

If you do not commit to do this (or more of this than any other candidate), regardless of your other positions, you will not get my vote.

I’m committing, with God’s help, to make this change in myself. The real-world evidence is that this will make a difference; it will save lives. And I will continue to ask my God to continue to show me other way I am to change.

Now I use this “pulpit” to invite, challenge, and implore you to change. Yes, weeping spends the night; but joy comes in the morning. It comes, in the words of Desmond Tutu, because, “Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death.”  Yes, “joy comes in the morning” (Ps 30:5), but when the morning comes will actually be determined by us.

Shalom, salaam, peace,
Scott+

[This post derives, in part, from a challenge to change I made at Shalom, Salaam, Peace: An Ecumenical and Interfaith Service of Prayer and Remembrance held at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul on June 17, and a sermon I preached on at services on June 19.]

Resurrections

Our mother (mine and my sister’s) died on a Saturday morning. Her life changed: not ended.

Thomas, the one called the twin, was no doubter. (John 20:24ff) He believed; so profoundly that he was totally devastated. He was living the psalmist’s words, “Weeping spends the night…. (Ps 30:5)” Entombed by his grief, only the most unimaginable extreme, touching the wounds of hand and side, held the faintest chance of reaching his brokenness. Peter, too, grieving both the loss and his own denial, is in that place where he doesn’t don’t know what to do, so he does what he knows. (John 21:3ff)  “I’m going fishing.” It’s what he could do. He didn’t do it well, but ….  He is us: “I’m going to work.” “…going for a long walk.”

Jesus meets them both. Gently he comes. No anger. No disappointment. (Make no mistake, this is no sanguine love – this love is stronger than death; fiercer than the grave.) Thomas, peace.  Thomas, touch. Peter, eat. I’ve got you. I’ll restore you. I’ll raise you to new life.

From the dead this Jesus rose, savior and redeemer, that at the end of our earthly days, life is changed, not ended. Too, he comes to us when we are dead in our grief, our sadness, our loss, and offers us a patient and prolonged presence, that in time we may have new life in this life – a resurrection.  The psalmist’s verse is made complete – “Weeping spends the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Our mother died on a Saturday morning, when we exited the place of her last days, the rain was over and gone, and voice of birds, perhaps turtledoves, was heard around us. Dogwoods in bloom; azaleas just come forth. It was Saturday … in Easter Week … a good day for life to change, not end.

Scott+

From Fear to Peace – An Invitation to Holy Week & Easter

In the wake of the bombings in Turkey and Belgium, and also the chilling refrains of daily news cycles, I am aware of a rising fear that appears systemic. I suppose in large measure it is systemic, but I am of the mind that the origins of such systemic or societal fear are actually individual. John Cassian, a monk and theologian of the early fifth century wrote, “It is not an external enemy we dread. Our foe is shut up within ourselves. An internal warfare is daily waged by us.” If I were to name that enemy, most days its name would be Fear. Fear of not enough. Fear of danger. Fear of violence. Fear of loss. Fear of uncertainty. Fear of different from ourselves.

Fear, it seems to me, is the absence of peace. That’s easy to say, and it implies that the act of turning off the fear and turning on peace is akin to flipping a light switch.  Seriously, claiming peace is more difficult than flipping a switch or adjusting a phrase to speak of its presence. Finding peace, embracing peace, committing to peace, is hard. It is contrary to the world around us, which embraces, encourages, and propagates fear.

If you long for peace, I invite you to come take a walk. There will be dinner. There will be time in a garden. There will be moments where we witness the fruits of fear in form of injustice and violence. There will be death, but it will be revealed to us that the death we will witness will not be for naught. It will lead to life. The truth is, we all have to call out the tens or hundreds or thousands of small deaths at the hands of fear that dwell within us.

Come take a walk with me and find the place where Christ shatters the shackles of fear, and the bonds of death are cast aside so that we may find peace and daily increase in its life-giving, life-changing light. Come walk with me, and with the Cathedral Community, along the path of the Great Three Days of Holy Week.  Maundy Thursday our walk starts with something new(at 7:00 pm), and it continues with a garden vigil. On Good Friday (at noon) the darkness of fear, our own and that of all humanity, confronts us – it is not fun, but it is necessary of fear’s bonds are to be broken. And on Easter Eve (at 8:00 pm) the New Fire is kindled, and the light of Christ shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. A new path, the one that leads us out of the valley of the shadow of death and fear, and into the way peace, is illumined.

Come. Join us in love’s labor of leaving fear for peace this Holy Week and Easter.

Pax Christi,
Scott+

2016 Annual Meeting Address

Almighty Savior, who at noonday called your servant Saint Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles: We pray you to illumine the world with the radiance of your glory, that all nations may come and worship you; for you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.  (BCP p. 107)

As is our custom, we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, as our patronal feast. In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of his Damascus Road conversion. In the Letter to the Galatians we hear of his mission to the Gentiles. In the Gospel we are told by Jesus what Paul himself would learn firsthand: That living a converted life that bears witness to Jesus’ love will open us up to the scorn and brutality of the world. Charming little dose of reality, don’t you think; and just the thing to encourage new folk to join in.

It is equally “delightful” (I put that in quotes in my text because my tongue is firmly in my cheek) that these are always the lessons for the occasion of our Annual Meeting. That means that amongst the business of electing vestry and hearing of the year past, it is also that time when the dean gives to the people of the congregation information on the state of the parish and recommends to their consideration such measures as he or she shall judge necessary and expedient.

If you take a look at the carving of St. Paul on the reredos behind the altar, you’ll see that he is holding a sword.  It is, according to Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, the sword of the Spirit. It is, I pray, with the guidance of that Spirit that I come to you today, and through which I offer you this small piece of Paul’s writing from the Letter to the Philippians to frame today’s considerations.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:1-5)

The beginning of this passage can be confusing, and lead to some misdirection. “If then there is any encouragement…” sounds like a conditional clause, not unlike if it is raining I’ll carry an umbrella. That’s not its intent, it is a form of argument that is really declarative, like saying: “If I am your friend, and I am ….  So we can hear it this way: If then there is any encouragement in Christ (and there is), any consolation from love (and there is), any sharing in the Spirit (and there is), any compassion and sympathy (and there is), make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love

For this reason, I will use the declarations of this passage, Encouragement, Consolation, Sharing, Compassion and Sympathy, Joy and Love to share some glimpses of our journey. These create, by the way, a worthy outline for each of us to use, at the close of our day as we reflect back upon it, asking of ourselves, where have I manifested these things in my life to the benefit of others in witness to Jesus?

Encouragement – The Cathedral has not been the easiest place to reach throughout much of the year.  The M-1 Rail project has made getting here a challenge, and the “perception of getting here” an even greater challenge. Still, you have persevered, and to you I say thee, well done! The work will continue for about another year, so I will seize this moment to encourage your continued effort.  Because our side of Woodward is done, it won’t be as challenging as the year past; keep coming and keep encouraging others to come and see.

By the way, more people are coming and seeing what is happening here. This year we’ve had the highest number of transfers in since I became your dean. What we do, in worship, in service to others, in education, in being a community presence, and in promoting and enhancing the arts is making a witness.

Consolation – This year, perhaps more than any other, we have commended into God’s loving arms many who have journeyed with us. Some rather new to the family, others of many venerable years; we will pray for them by name before the end of the day. Life has been celebrated even as we have, and continue to, grieve. Each of them now are part of that wonderful communion of saints – loved, missed, embraced, and healed. We are richer for having known them, but we miss them deeply.

Sharing – We are sharing our gifts. A practical example is found as we concluded 2015 in a financially healthy way.  We proposed to you a budget last year that was essentially balanced (around a $1000 budgeted surplus). We finished the year about $15,000 to the good.  The overall number of pledges has increased 12+%.  The number of new pledges are the highest they have ever been in any single year. That’s great, but as you will hear from our Treasurer later, there are challenges and opportunities ahead of us.

1500 scarves, mittens, and hats; meals – The Breakfast, the Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day festivities; evening classes, and more; contributions to Mariners Inn, Crossroads, the Mayson Foundation, and Veterans’ Organizations all manifest Christ’s sharing in the Spirit. The hosting of Citizen Detroit and their efforts to raise awareness of community issues and empower informed citizenry is an exciting part of this sharing as well.

There’s another way also: Our sharing of the Spirit has increased with our Sundays at 4:00. Only half a year into a two year commitment, there is no doubt that our Evensongs, both choral and congregational, are providing new ways to new people and the cathedral community to worship, pray, and share in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Compassion and sympathy – The students and faculty of the CHIPS clinic, our program in concert with Wayne State University Medical School, the Schools of Pharmacy, Nursing, and Allied Health has been recognized in to two very high profile ways, including the Arthur Johnson award for impact in the community.  Waller Health Center on Cathedral Green has expanded to include dental and pediatric care. Our Lay Healing Ministry, every week, seeks to meet people in their most vulnerable and tender moments. Listening ears and hearts in pastoral visits and Eucharistic visits extend the altar rail.

A shout out to our Deacon is in order here as well. His work with a very unique pastoral situation over a number of months, coupled with his weekly grief work at Mariners Inn, and a new aspect of his diaconal ministry through the board of St. Anne’s Mead broaden and bear witness to this part of our life in Christ.

Joy – We celebrate well at the Cathedral. The New Year’s Feast, the Cathedral Foundations work with Williams Pavilion – summer picnic, and the Christmas celebration; a festive Newcomers Tea, something new with more to come, we hope; coffee hour chatter, the Concert Series, Lessons and Carols, ordinations, Noel Night, Veterans’ Day, and more.

Love – Love starts us and ends us, if we look at the Philippians text carefully. This year we have taken steps to seek the mind of Christ that it may be in us, that we might draw the circle of love larger to include a bigger understanding of loving relationships. For many it has been a very long time coming, for others, there is still a struggle to understand or embrace. Our call is to live Christ’s love to all. It was, as we know, a bumpy road for him, time and again it appears to be that way for us.

Allow me a moment to express my love and appreciation to my colleagues in leadership: Canon Alltop, Deacon Shaffer, Canon Tarrant, Susan, Charles, Kit, Robin; Emery and Bob, or wardens; the vestry, the Chapter members and staff, and our volunteers. It is a privilege to walk with you, serve with you, and I am blessed by each of you.

These elements that Paul presents to us can be, and often are, challenging. We have some other challenges as well, so I want to depart from his elements for a moment to speak of them.  As I do, I want us all to recognize that every challenge is also an opportunity.

The stock market was not, shall we say, our friend toward the end of the year, and that means that funds available to us to support mission and ministry from the Green Trust are down. We remain profoundly thankful for Leslie Green’s vision, but later our Treasurer will show you that for the first time in a number of years, we are showing you a deficit budget. When you see it, please help out where you can.

In addition to that, our beautiful cathedral needs some important care. Care that, if we defer it, will double in cost pretty much each year. Care that we have not done over about thirty years of those wonderful Michigan winter freeze-thaw cycles.  The stone and windows need to be tended to – tuckpointing, resetting coping and finials, removing the protective glazing on the stained glass and replacing it.  This will be about a $125,000 expense.  The Cathedral Foundation is willing to generously assist, but we will have to raise our share. More on that to come.

Some opportunities are a challenge, as well. We have been working with a sculptor, Tim Schmaltz, to try to bring a stunning work of art to the Woodward lawn of the cathedral. It would be a permanent installation of his work, “When I was a Stranger.” This piece of art would create a new way to witness to and invite the community in, as we look to the increased exposure that the M-1 Rail, and growth of midtown and the city will present. A small maquette will be in Barth Hall today, and I will say more about this there.

As I work to conclude this part of our time together today, I have to reflect on the world around us. Chaos seems to reign: the racism, the sexism, the injustice of the justice systems, gun violence, violence and mayhem in the name of God, the failure of government to honor the public trust and be a force for good, discrimination of all kinds – minority, religious, sexual orientation. People say they’ve never seen it like this before.  That’s part of the problem – these things seek to live and thrive in the shadows. They don’t want to be seen, but it does not mean they were not, and are not present.  They have been, and they are. The lid, the shroud, the veil, they are all being torn away.  That’s a good thing.

As people of faith and conscience, we must acknowledge our collective and individual roles. People of privilege don’t have to apologize for how and where they were born, but we do have the obligation, along with institutions of privilege, to dismantle anything that thwarts our oneness in Christ and that compromises the dignity of any, any, human being; for we are to be neither slave nor free, male nor female, Jew nor Greek, as scripture tells us, but one in Christ. That examination of conscience, along with repentance, and amendment of life are never easy or comfortable – but all things are possible through Christ who strengthens us. As I said earlier, those six elements from Paul’s letter can serve as a good starting place for reflection and change: Encouragement, Consolation, Sharing, Compassion and Sympathy, Joy, and Love.

The prayer with which I started, prays that God illumine the world with the radiance of [the Divine] glory. We are the lamps of that illumination, so I pray you to continue to let your little lights shine – brighter, bigger, and bolder.  Amen.

On Marriage Equality

Thursday in All Saintstide
November 5, 2015

Dear Members and Friends of the Cathedral Community,

I will begin this letter by asking you to find a quiet and peaceful place for the reading of it. I am bold enough to ask for your undistracted attention for a few minutes because what I am sharing with you is important. (If you do not care to read what follows, you can skip to page four for the conclusion.)

Many of you know, but some will not, that the General Convention of the Episcopal Church made several decisions about individuals and their place in the sacramental life of this Church.  Far from hasty or popular-trend actions, these decisions are the result of careful and prayerful conversations that at least date to General Convention 1973.

So what decisions did General Convention make, you ask? Specifically, the Episcopal Church revised its Canons and marriage rites to include gay and lesbian couples in those jurisdictions of our Church where this is legal.  Please remember that The Episcopal Church includes some sixteen sovereign nations, not just the United States.

What does that mean in the Diocese of Michigan and for the Cathedral? Many, if not all, of you know that our bishop, the Right Reverend Wendell N. Gibbs, Jr., has been a leading proponent of marriage equality. Our bishop, in his wisdom recognizes that the people of this diocese will be of different minds on this matter, so upon his return he outlined to his clergy the policies and practices to be followed. I will not list them all here, but they include:

  • The expectation that all the Canons of the Church will be followed
  • No member of the clergy is required to preside at any marriage – this is not new in canon law
  • No deviation from the approved liturgies is allowed
  • If previously married in a civil ceremony, provision is made for the marriage to be blessed
  • In accordance with the actions of General Convention, these things become effective the First Sunday of Advent 2015
  • He took great care to state that the dishonoring of opposing viewpoints from either side of the conversation, including any form of harassment, would not be acceptable and should this happen he is to be informed

In his wisdom, our bishop also required the following: “For a priest to make use of these liturgies, the priest must be in conversation with their Vestry [in our case] and obtain their support for their use in the congregation.”

When I came to the Cathedral as your dean, I expected that I would be approached early on about the possibility of having a same-sex relationship blessed.  I already knew the Cathedral to be a rich and diverse place. Our leadership over the years has reflected that rich tapestry of diversity: women and men, dynamic and diverse in ethnic, sociological, and economic backgrounds and experiences, and in sexual orientation. Such a request would require the same conversation with the Vestry as well as their support.

Over my eight years as your dean, I have had lots of opportunities to discuss the topic with very faithful people – some profoundly hopeful that the Church would reach this day, and others profoundly concerned that it might reach this day.  In all of these conversations, there was never the request for such a blessing.

Now you can ask, rightly, why I chose not to pursue the conversation with the Vestry in advance of any such request? The matter at hand is one of sacramental equality, and speaks to our baptismal vow to strive for justice and peace and to respect the dignity of every human being.  It has been my experience that community discussions and decisions on matters of equality, equality of all kinds, take place best when they are not in the abstract.

I have come to that place through reflection on my own journey, and through my experience in another matter of sacramental equality: the ordination of women.  One was almost instantly clear to me, a sort of “of course” matter when I thought of it; the other a longer journey.  The “of course” for me was the ordination of women. An experience I was blessed to be part of, the leading and journeying with a congregation that did not embrace that ordination to a place of profound embrace for women in Holy Orders, has shaped me profoundly. It all became much more authentic when there was a person in their midst, whom they experienced as a part of their daily shared journey, who was honoring the call to ordained ministry.

The journey, for me, of coming to a place of embracing the idea and the practice of same-sex marriage in the Church took longer, but in parts. It never made sense to me that government would, itself, maintain discriminatory practices on how people domiciled, or passed assets from one partner to another and so on. If the goal of government is to enhance the common good and foster stability in community, then that discrimination did not help. From a governmental practice standpoint, the system was broken. It discriminated against individuals in ways both unfair and burdensome.

My coming to a place of seeing this fit in the Church was longer coming. Holy Matrimony has, for more than two thousand years, been understood as a blessed union between a man and a woman. In my deeply Anglican theological heart, how can I reconcile this with scripture, tradition, and reason?

What follows is all wrapped in reason, as were my thoughts on government. I will explore some issues with tradition, in what follows.  For almost all of the Judeo-Christian timeframe, marriage was seen as a property matter. It still is in some parts of the world. The bulk of the Ten Commandments are about property. In the Roman Empire, they gave not one wit about religious rites. Marriage contracts were just that, contracts that contained an exchange of property with compensation and consideration, and the property was the woman.  Even the word matrimony bespeaks that, for it really means “mother making.” Women are not property. Period. I get that. You get that.

Tradition, sacred as well as secular, has long structured itself to foster relationships between men and women. It was integral with survival because procreation was integral to survival.  But only in the past hundred and fifty to two hundred years has there been an understanding that women were a different sex than men.  To that point, women were considered biologically underdeveloped men.  That “recent” change on the continuum of history we accept as the way it has always been, but this “new” understanding was not instantly embraced, yet it represents a landmark in movement away from women as property.  We see this echoed in the even more recent understanding that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice.  God wonderfully allows us to continue to bask in the blessings of deeper and deeper understanding, but none of us should be surprised by the changes and challenges they present, after all, none of us makes something out of nothing and people out of dust.

Because none of you signed on to read a tome, I will move on to finding my peace with Scripture. Our tradition has long considered Scripture far too important to take literally. God’s revelation, whether through the prophets directly to a people in a specific time and setting, or through the longer life of Holy Writ, requires thought and reflection, and thus interpretation.  Jesus, on plenty of occasions asked reflexively, “what does this mean?” It is a question addressed every generation.

Slavery was normative throughout the course of both Old and New Testaments.  For us, today, that practice is about as un-Godly a thing as we can possibly imagine.  In my lifetime, we have reconciled that relationship grace can return to our lives even after human brokenness eroded a prior marriage, and that God’s hand is in it.  In the places in Scripture that it seems to speak harshly of same-sex encounters, I have been challenged to closer examination, asking how did the original audience hear this?  Always, ancient property codes come into play, as do other norms of their day that would make no sense to us today (e.g. the previous observations on two different sexes).  Turning the other cheek and walking the extra mile are other such examples.

Romans 1 is often used as a sword against any expanded understanding of human relationships. In a close reading, how can Paul, a learned rabbi, possibly mean what is often imputed to him? Further, how could he possibly mean that; then go on to write what he has written in Romans 13:8-10.

Now, I have built this conversation in, what I hope has been a reasoned and structured approach.  I hope it has been useful to some of you. Some will not have needed it. Others will find it completely unhelpful or useless. My door is open to all.

Remember I said that conversations on such matters are best not abstract?  All of this is my pastoral attempt to share with each of you some of what I shared with our vestry in its meetings of September and October, because…. Just after General Convention closed, my phone rang.  William and Robert had just gotten their Michigan Marriage license and wanted to be married. They have been together for over thirty-five years. Bill, in particular, had a long history of the Cathedral as his church home. He was also in poor health, as he has been for a decade or more. In short, I knew I could not do anything until at least Advent I, but they were honored to be the couple at the heart of this conversation.  Bill’s health was getting worse, in July when he came to mass, few would have known he had a feeding tube under his shirt and tie.

I counseled Bill and Rob to consider getting married civilly so legal structures were in place. We would begin to move forward in order that we could bless the marriage soon after Advent I, and I held my breath due to Bill’s health.  I was glad they took my counsel to heart. They were together faithfully for thirty-five years. They were married by a judge on August 7. Bill died August 22.

At the October 2015 meeting of the Cathedral Vestry, they offered their overwhelming, but not unanimous, support to the clergy of the Cathedral to use the liturgies put forth by General Convention.  The conversations over the course of two meetings were a witness to God’s grace, and reflected honestly the Cathedral community. We were not all of one mind, but the room was overflowing with profound respect on all sides.

As we move forward, here is my final thought for you. Nothing that has taken place, at General Convention or at the Cathedral has done anything to detract from the honor Scripture affords a man and a woman in a blessing. It does echo the words of the prophet Isaiah, that the kingdom of God is big enough for anyone who loves the name of the Lord.

Thank you for your time and prayerful listening.

Your Dean and your brother,
Scott+

The Sunday after Charleston

[This article is, subtaintially, the text of the sermon I preached on Sunday, June 21, 2015 to those worshipping at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan. I offer it to you prayerfully and humbly.  SSH+] 

The audio version can be heard here or it can be downloaded from the Cathedral’s Website .

Early in the week, when I began looking at the proper (the collection of readings) appointed for this Sunday, the readings from 1 Samuel and the Gospel from Mark seemed to come together with the precision fit of one of Glenn Miller’s (a parishioner and craftsman) dovetail joints.

The disciples are freaking out over the storm on the lake, and the Israelites are freaking out over the Philistines and their giant warrior Goliath. In similar but different ways, the Divine Presence enters in:  To the disciples in the boat. Jesus says, effectively, “I got this” and he calms the water. David, a youth, judged to be inexperienced at best, and laughably incapable by many of the Israelite leaders, particularly those who didn’t look into his experience with lions and bears, says “I got this” and armed only with a few smooth stones and faith, he steps up.

Then comes the news that I first heard on Thursday morning: Nine people murdered at their church, at a Bible Study, by a person they welcomed into their midst and who spent time with them.  We need to hear their names.  I have no doubt they will, in due course, enter the Church Calendar as the Martyrs of Charleston:

Cynthia Hurd – 54, a librarian
Susie Jackson – 87, a longtime church member
Ethel Lance – 70, a 30 year employee of the church
The Rev’d DePayne Middleton-Doctor – 49, admission counselor of a local university
The Hon. Rev’d Clementa Pinkney – 41, SC state senator, pastor of Emanuel AME Church
Tywanza Sanders – 26, recently earned a business admin degree
The Rev’d Daniel Simmons, Sr. – 74, a retired pastor
The Rev’d Sharonda Singleton – 45, track coach at a local high school
Myra Thompson – 59, church member

If you do nothing else today, if you remember nothing of what I say, of the lessons read, or the prayers prayed; if you do nothing else today remember these people, remember their family and friends who mourn, and remember our brothers and sisters of Mother Emanuel.

I have more to say:

Some have asked why I haven’t made a statement of some kind before now. In the immediate aftermath is there anything I could have said that you didn’t already know: Roof’s actions were disgusting, cowardly, racist, and hate-filled. You already know that. Those who died, those present who survived physically, but whose emotional and spiritual wounds may still be unidentified, and those of Emanuel Church did not deserve this – no one does, ever. You already know that.

I have a complicated relationship with Charleston. Many of you, know that I am a native son of South Carolina. I grew up in what is called the Upstate. Upstaters know that Charleston believes it alone was the first colony, and the rest of the area around it, meaning all of North America, is an afterthought – and a poor one at that.

This place, with the remains of a slave market in the midst of the old town, is called the Holy City. Really?  It is not that Charleston is any holier than anywhere else, but as you approached from land or water you would see the many church steeples rising high above the city because no building in old Charleston was allowed to be higher than the highest steeple. The old slave market is now a street merchant market – every time I go into it my heart grieves.  It is a disturbing “Ellis Island” of sorts, as around half of the Africans that came to this country came through the port of Charleston.

Charleston is steeped in history and traditions: You probably don’t know that SOB means South of Broad (a street in the old town), and it means that other thing too.  If you are not from there, and you are curious, read some Pat Conroy novels to get a closer understanding.  From all this you may glean that there is an attitude to Charleston – plenty of good, humble, wonderful, and down-to-earth people mind you – but an attitude nonetheless. A good while back, an Episcopal bishop of the then Diocese of South Carolina shared with me that he found Charleston both a city and a religion.  It was, he added, a magnificent city and (I’ll clean it up and say) a piddling poor religion.

That same attitude can, in some ways, be found state wide.  The flag of the Confederacy still flies on the Capitol grounds.  It is needs to go. It belongs in a museum – and along with it the full story of slavery, including the greed of northern merchants and shippers made wealthy off of capturing and selling human beings.  The Confederate Battle flag, and even the Stars and Bars, communicate the same message to many that the red and black swastika-ed flag of 1940’s Germany communicates. I do not care if one looks upon it as a part of a heritage of independent spirit or state’s rights.  Our patron, St. Paul, was clear about engaging in things that could lead others astray – even if it means nothing to you, don’t do it (1 Cor. 8).  Jesus reminds us of the consequences of causing others to stumble in Matthew 18 and Mark 9.  We must read of these flags, their symbolism and history, and we must study that so we do not forget the human capacity for societal evil. But, we should not fly them or emblazon them on anything, anywhere, any time.  But you know that.

All the articles, postings, videos, and other communiques of the week, have been bereft of the acknowledgement of the presence of evil and sin.  They are not popular words, especially among the modern sophisticates of the early 21st century, but I know them to be real.  We see their effect writ large upon all our lives, and upon our world, in an event such as this.  This was murder. Yes.  This was an act of terror. Yes.  It was racism and a hate crime. Yes and yes. But, in June 2015, when we want to believe we are past such things, we have witnessed a lynching*. A lynching of nine beautiful faithful people – sinners all – but seeking salvation and trying to walk the walk.  (*def: a terrorist method of enforcing social domination)

And so, I return to words from today’s Gospel: “Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?”

Of course Jesus cares. And Charleston, the Holy City, speak of it. There is a famous 1987 photograph.  In it appears a Grand Dragon of the KKK.  There is a man reading him the stipulations of a parade permit that has been issued such that the KKK may parade that day in Charleston.  The Grand Dragon has an ill look on his face. The man reading the stipulations is the Chief of Police of Charleston. His name was Reuben Greenberg.  He was black, and he was Jewish.

Today, this week, Charleston surely must be embraced in Jesus’ words to the storm and to his disciples: “Peace! Be still!  It is not in flames. There have been no riots, no looting. Wide-ranging parts of the community have come together for vigil and prayer.

Too, there is some serious Christianity being lived, caught, taught, and shared at Mother Emanuel. At an initial bond hearing this week, survivors and family addressed Mr. Roof, the professed shooter. More than one forgave him. He was invited to repent, and confess, and give his life to Christ.  And one, in addition to offering forgiveness ended her words, “As we say at our Bible Study, We enjoyed you. May God have mercy on you.”

As I conclude, there are things I need to remind myself – perhaps these reminders may be helpful to you.

Forgiveness does not negate accountability. More than anything else it frees the forgiver from carrying around the millstones of hatred, malice, rage, and revenge.

We must change our language – many many writings have said we must “combat” racism, hatred, and such.  Other war and violence verbiage has been widely used.  It has to go.  A violent language to get rid of violence will never work.  We must choose a language of love and respect; we must be purveyors of peace – the kind that passes all understanding.

There are those who will point to this and other things, like the aforementioned Third Reich, as evidence that there is no God – or at least no loving God.  I do not believe that is true.  And, I know this to be true: For love to be love at all it must be a free choice – and for choice to exist there must be serious options, not just token ones.

I know for sure that Jesus wept on Wednesday night, and he still weeps now.  I am sure the greatest act of Divine Will must be to allow choice to continue so that love can be real.  The sad fact is that everyone some, and some completely, reject God’s love; and they choose the ways of the world and of the Evil One.  As we observed the Feast Day of Bernard Mizeki, a martyr for the faith in southern Africa, this past week, we were reminded in Luke 2 of Jesus’ words, “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”  God gives us choice because one has to choose love – sadly, tragically, there are those who do not.

Finally, it makes the disciples’ question in Mark today even more curious, don’t you think?  “Who is this that even the winds and the sea obey…” – I’ll add, and the hearts and minds of humankind do not.

In today’s readings, God steps up to do the stuff only God can – still the winds and the sea. God empowers and then expects us to do that which we can do, and we see David step up for his people.  They got this.  To that end, God knows, better than we seem to know, that we can love in a more profound way, and will not take back that which the Divine Self knows we can do: God refuses to say anything other than, “You, you got this.”

We do. I pray we will. And to us, to us in our moments of fear and tribulation, when the storms within us are at their worst, Jesus says, Peace!  Be still!

Amen.

Season of Love … Season to Love

The past couple of weeks leading up to the Feast of the Ascension could very well be labeled the “Season of Love.” That’s not to say that each Sunday celebration is not a celebration of the love God has shown to us, and poured out on us through Christ Jesus.  It is to say that it is particularly demonstrable in the lessons appointed (via the Revised Common Lectionary) for Easter V and Easter VI.  Just in case you’ve forgotten, or in the oft chance you missed worship on one of these Sundays, I invite you to read 1 John 4:7-21, 1 John 5:1-6, and John 15:9-17.  I’m asking you to do this because there seems to be some confusion about our roles as baptized followers of Jesus.  One does not have to hunt very hard for the evidence of our confusion, two things have happened over the past several days that make this an easy reality to observe.

The first is a neighborhood sort of thing.  A billboard, that appears to be part of a series of like-messaged billboards, has been posted in Dearborn – our neighbor community to the west. It claims homosexuality is a behavior not a (civil) right.  It appears that the funders of this campaign are unwilling or un-wanting to consider the vast body of scientific evidence to contrary.  In a bit of a new twist on this, they cite Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:5. In case you don’t recall them, the Genesis is that which says, and I paraphrase here, that a man shall leave his father and mother and woman leave her home and the two shall become one.  The Matthew citation echoes the Genesis.

Now let me be clear, I believe that. I’m a living example of that. No qualifications. The challenge to using these citations is that Scripture never indicates that this is the only faithful way to live the course of one’s life.  There is no indication that blessed Paul, an apostle, and the patron saint of our cathedral ever did this.  If you really want to raise a row, suggest, even vaguely, that Jesus might have.  It just is not there in the Scriptures.  Paul, pretty pointedly suggests that marriage is a distraction to one’s living wholly and completely for Christ.  But, if you have to marry in order to avoid being “aflame with passion” then Paul says go ahead.  You can find that in 1 Corinthians 7, along with lots more that I’m not planning on tackling today.

The second is in the larger garden of The Episcopal Church. Over the past week and a half or so, some things became clear (and others may still be foggy) regarding a scheduled baptism at the cathedral in Orlando, Florida. A couple went through all the required (by canon) preparation for the baptism of their young son, Jack. Just a couple of days before the baptism was to take place the parents were informed that it was being postponed. Not all the baptisms scheduled for that day, just Jack’s.  Jack’s dad Rich, and his other dad Eric, were left in a quandary.  Eventually, the bishop of the diocese gets involved, and, well, the whole thing just wasn’t, just isn’t, pretty, because it seems that the only presenting issue is that Jack has two dads.

I could go on for a number of pages about this, but let me try to summarize.  In last week’s reading from Acts (Acts 8:26 ff), Philip baptizes an Ethiopian eunuch in what amounts to standing water on the side of the road. A person such as our Ethiopian friend was as far outside the norm or the law of first century Judaism as possible, and due to his physical alterations could never be a Jewish convert.

This week, in Acts 10 (Acts 10:44 ff) Peter, speaking of the Gentiles, can find no reason to withhold the waters of baptism from those who have “received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”

Look, Moses killed a man, and though not baptized, God used him in significant ways in our salvation history. Ruth was a Moabite, a foreigner in every way to the people of Judah, who, because of her love and care for Naomi, ends up the great-grandmother of David. Saul of Tarsus (aka Paul the apostle) had a license to hunt down the followers of Jesus to put them in jail or worse. Every time we impose our constraints, God, by actions if not by words, says, “Look what I can do; look who I can use.”

In “Seasons of Love”, a song from Rent, we are reminded that there are 525,600 minutes in a year.  As Christians, as Christians walking the Episcopal path of the journey, as people of the community of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, each of these minutes represents an opportunity to love. As those who are sealed in by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever, our whole existence after that is to be a season of love. And we have to be committed to that, both inside the worshiping walls of our cathedral and, most especially outside them.

It is our season to love, as well as being a season of love.  Let me be clear  about a couple of things: First, it doesn’t matter your age, your gender, your relationship status, economic circumstances, ethnic or cultural heritage, sexual orientation, gender identification, etcetera, as long as you are a child of God (and you are!), willing and wanting to respect the dignity of others, you are welcome here. Second, if young Jack and his parents had a relationship with this community of faith, he would be baptized here.

Right now a very small but noisy part of Christianity is working hard to draw the circle of who is included in God’s love smaller and smaller so as to exclude. We must be more resolute than that – in the words of the poet:

He drew a circle that shut me out — Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in!
“Outwitted” by Edwin Markham (1852-1940)

Yours in Christ,
Scott+

 

 

Join the Journey – Holy Week & Easter 2015

Dear Sisters and Brother in Christ,

The days of Lent are waning, even as the chill air refuses to loosen its grip. We are about to step into the holiest of times for Christian people. Over this holy season of Lent I have journeyed with some of the writings of C.S. Lewis, and a couple of them resonate with me in profound ways.

As you read this, no doubt you will be keenly aware that we are beginning the Holy Week journey, and the narratives of the weeks are ripe with key elements of Lent – prayer, fasting, and self-denial. We have talked about it before, so you may well recall that I have long considered the journey of Lent to be one that is not very much about giving up this or that; nor is it about what I call “bad me syndrome;” nor are we to be maudlin about ourselves or the human condition. It is about changing, reshaping, whatever parts of ourselves impair our journey with and in God’s love. Such impairment seems to happen when each of us gets me-centric – when we lose true humility. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, gets quickly to the heart of the matter: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

The intentionality of our journey really requires that we go all the way from the palm parade, to the upper room, to the garden at Gethsemane, to Caiaphas’ palace, and, yes, the cross. For as much as we want the gift of the empty tomb and the everlasting life it offers, if we skip these moments, the gift given on the cross is lost, or deeply obscured and despair can hem us in on every side. Again, Lewis’ words remind us of that precious and tender gift: “We need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven.” It is Jesus’ perfect gift, and it is given to us all.

So we ache for Easter even before Holy Week begins. We can hardly hold back,  but we are not done yet. The cross and the empty tomb are the consummate gift of love – given unresisting and undeservedly. It is perfect, and it calls us to the perfection which is living in, and inviting others into, that love.

Your heart longs for it. So, for the love of God (literally), come join us for the journey.

In the love of Christ,
Scott+

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And to God what is God’s …

Lent is upon us!  The great giving-up-of-stuff starts tomorrow. Lots of chocolate will be foregone. Liters of diet soda, not-so-diet soda, vino, and brewski, will be shelved. Desserts, snacks, and more, will go on the list of things “given up for Lent” only to be rejoined the nanosecond after the first dismissal is given at an Easter service. Exercise, prayer, attendance at worship may be enjoined, only to be set free before the end of Easter Week.

For some people these elements, in part or in whole, may very will be important. They may be a possible “first step” to a greater or much needed change. If that is the case, many blessings be upon you and your undertaking, and even more beyond the closing days of Lent. Substantive long-term change is difficult.

Long has the conversation and debate droned about giving something up, or taking something on, for Lent. Likewise, long has the Church suggested that Lent is a time of renewal, and of self-examination, and of repentance (changing the direction of one’s life) fueled by prayer, fasting, self-denial, and the reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

A bit of that holy Word leapt out at me today. It came from the last verse of the Gospel appointed for today (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday). The Pharisees and Herodians are testing Jesus using a tax scenario. You know the conversation, and the final part of Jesus’ response is, “Give to the Emperor the things that are the Emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17).

That is the journey from Ash Wednesday to Resurrection!  We are God’s – created in the image and likeness of God … marked as Christ’s own forever. Lent, then, becomes not so much about what we give up, or take on, but about giving ourselves – more fully, more completely, to God.

If that means giving something up, or taking something on, well and good. If it means changing the direction of our lives, that’s fine, too. No doubt some self-examination will be involved, and reading and reflecting on God’s holy Word can help me, and you, … to give to God what is God’s.