Acknowledging ‘White Privilege’

privilege and racismThe words ‘white privilege’ have been bandied around by pundits, the media and in general conversation, and while many of us accept that it exists, we are not sure what it means. The best definition of ‘white privilege’ that I have found came from a class in women’s studies at the University of Massachusetts:

a set of advantages and/or immunities that white people benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. White privilege can exist without white people’s conscious knowledge of its presence and it helps to maintain the racial hierarchy in this country.

The biggest problem with white privilege is the invisibility it maintains to those who benefit from it most. The inability to recognize that many of the advantages whites hold are a direct result of the disadvantages of other people, contributes to the unwillingness of white people, even those who are not overtly racist, to recognize their part in maintaining and benefiting from white supremacy.

White privilege is about not having to worry about being followed in a department store while shopping. It’s about thinking that your clothes, manner of speech, and behavior in general, are racially neutral, when, in fact, they are white. It’s seeing your image on television daily and knowing that you’re being represented. It’s people assuming that you lead a constructive life free from crime and off welfare. It’s about not having to assume your daily interactions with people have racial overtones.

White privilege is having the freedom and luxury to fight racism one day and ignore it the next. White privilege exists on an individual, cultural, and institutional level”.[1]

To quote African -American author, James Baldwin, “Being white means never having to think about it.

Many of us at Saint John’s benefit every day from our ‘white privilege’. We don’t even acknowledge that we have it, and indeed, enjoy a life that people of color can only dream of, but do not often attain. Life’s path is smoothed for us; the entire world is set up to give us every advantage, allow us to come out on the top. Moreover, we don’t want to talk about the fact that we are privileged, or even think that our privilege directly affects the lives of millions of people of color. We do not have to worry about whether our children will return safely as they walk home from school, or if they are driving, will they be stopped for the most minor of offenses and jailed. I have an African-American friend who does not drive in Bexley because the police consider ‘driving while black’ a reason to stop him. We don’t have that worry. And even if we are stopped by the police, we don’t fear that we will be assaulted or shot. We don’t have to teach our sons how to avoid harassment when they are doing nothing wrong. People don’t cross to the other side when we walk down the street, or hold tight to their purses when we pass by.

Racism is about much more than our feelings toward one another, or about differences that we can fix with talk of tolerance or color blindness. The story of race is an ideology of difference that shapes our understanding of ourselves, the world we inhabit, and the communities in which we live. Racial thinking assigns value to human beings who are grouped within artificial categories. We do not need to embrace contrived notions of racial differences, in the name of inclusion, but to examine to the depth of our hearts how we really feel about people of color. Tolerance is not acceptable; we must search until we can truly look at any other person as equal to ourselves. By minimalizing another person, we are dehumanizing not only them but ourselves.

In light of the murders and shootings of people of all colors in the past few months and most recently, we, may be appalled or anguished, but may not see these events are directly related to the long-standing racism in our nation stemming from slavery. Progress for people of color has been slow, and halting; cultural attitudes and habits have changed at a glacial pace. We think we have made progress, but we have become so used to the ‘racial divide’ in our nation, that in many cases, we do not even realize it is there! The sad and shocking thing is, these killings will continue. Too much of white America doesn’t see the problem. Many subconsciously believe that the shooting victim(s) “deserved it”!

None of this means the situation can’t change. However, until the white people in America can see clearly this injustice occurring, and realize the freedoms and values that we as Americans believe in are not available to everyone, it will continue. Until it tugs at our own sense of fairness and justice, a lot of white people in America will remain unmoved to act. Denying the impact of white privilege on this country’s judicial system creates more injustice, more inflamed rhetoric, more grief, more rage. . . and more deaths!

I saw a sign held by protester at a rally that said: ‘White Silence is Violence’.

Truly, if you do not listen to others who are not like you, keep silent when disparaging words are spoken, don’t hold people accountable for their discriminatory conduct, you are just as complicit in racism as those who hold a gun or burn a cross or lynch a man.

White people are in a position of power in this country because of a long-standing power structure that they control. In the opinion of many, much of the political unrest that we are now experiencing stems from the fact that we fear we are losing that control. Are we brave enough to use our ‘white privilege’ to correct that system or power structure? Are we, as white people, willing to do what it takes to stop the systemic murder of young black men, the institutionalized school-to-prison pipeline, the deep, bleeding wound that is racism in America. It is a hard pill to swallow that, in many ways, white people are the source of the problem and only we can change it! People of color may yell, scream, cry, plead or demand justice, but until we are willing to get really uncomfortable with our own participation in a racist society, nothing will change.

Don’t delude yourself that you do not have the power. You may say ‘I’m not racist — I have black friends! I’m a good person!” You may not be rich and you may truly struggle with daily aspects of your life. You probably are a good person, and you may have black friends. BUT, you still benefit from institutionalized racism.

Andrew Rosenthal, a writer for The New York Times, stated:

“The point of the “Black Lives Matter” movement is not that the lives of African Americans matter more than those of White Americans, but that they matter equally, and that historically they have been treated as if they do not.[2]

Speak with people of color, listen, to learn — or perhaps more appropriately, unlearn the racism that has been instilled in us by our country. . . and our churches.

It’s time for white people in America — especially the white American church — to start putting action behind our prayerful social media memes. The unfortunate reality is that America has a really big race problem, and it is white people must take the leadership to fix it. We, who call ourselves followers of Jesus, should be leading the charge, not arguing about the semantics of whose lives’ matter’.

I call on ALL congregations, but especially white congregations, to unite in protest, to refuse to stand in silence, to speak out against racial injustice, to examine our individual lives and attitudes until we understand our participation in racism, and wipe it from our lives!

We must build a society where we no longer see people of color bloodied and broken. . . or dead, due to racial violence.

We must ensure that our children do not take on the racial attitudes and habits that we were so subtly taught.

Join me in acknowledging, understanding and shedding the mantle of our ‘white privilege’.
 
 
[1]      The Social Construction of Whiteness and Women, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, MA

[2]      Andrew Rosenthal, “The Real Story of Race and Police Killings“, The New York Times; September 4, 2015

 
Written for the Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 18 July 2016

Election 2020

We are just weeks away from the presidential election, and I know there are many out there who agree with me that I wish it was over. But it is not, and the rhetoric is only going to get worse until election day.

For many reasons, this is one of the most important elections in this century. The ensuring the continuation of the Affordable Care Act, ceasing of destruction of our natural resources, non-politicization of departments of government and effective treatment of the Coronavirus pandemic health are just a few issues that loom in the near future.

Mudslinging, scare tactics, name-calling, lies and promises that can’t be kept aren’t new in 2020. We are bombarded with ‘he said/he said’ and name calling twenty-four hours a day. Each side wants to make statements that will sway the direction we intend to vote. This happens in each U.S. presidential campaigns. Past campaigns show that, even when the political rhetoric gets outrageous, the checks and balances of our constitutional system support the democratic process.

Our nation is in a crisis; I believe we need a leader who can continue the existing progress and turn things around to provide security and justice and equality. In 2020, we will elect a president in what many are calling the most important election in our nation’s history.

But the question that is presented to us is how, as Christians, are we going to make a decision about who we will for. There are some basic tenets of the Christian faith that can help us make sound decisions.
 

Listen, Listen, Listen

Practice active listen skills; listen to hear what they say, not to have a return comment. Listen to all the candidates. Let them completely state their positions before commenting. Is their platform based on Christian principles of caring for the unfortunate, providing a leg up for those who are being oppressed? Are there defined plans of action to accomplish these goals, or only ‘lip service’ to economic equality and social justice?
 

Be Civil

Refuse to participate in the name-calling and nasty rhetoric. There can be no civil discussion when you engage in ‘trash-talking’. If someone starts being uncivil, quietly remove yourself from the discussion; there is no way information can be exchanged is one party is dominating the conversion. Defend the right of all people to speak their mind.
 

Be Aware of Bias

Much of this election campaigning has been consumed with bias, prejudice and racism. Carefully consider any rhetoric which demeans any group of people (women, LGBTs, disabled, immigrants). And remember that Jesus told us we will always have the poor (Matthew 26:11) and strangers (Leviticus 19:4) among us. Jesus taught us that everyone is a beloved child of God.
 

Consider What is Just and Right

Jesus’ consistent theme throughout His life was bringing love and justice to the world. . . justice and righteousness.

Do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.” (Jeremiah 22:3)

Do the candidates value inclusiveness, caring for the less fortunate, or do they espouse bias, exclusion, prejudice and injustice?
 
Do the candidates honors those who are different from themselves or treat them with disrespect?

And finally,
 
We must pray for all our leaders and the candidates – pray that they will consider the teachings of Jesus in their lives and their elected function.

And if you feel so compelled, get out in the streets and do God’s work, campaigning for your candidate. This is a right of democracy.

And no matter what, no matter who is your favorite (or ‘none of the above’) candidate

WE MUST ALL GO VOTE!

It is the one time that the ‘government for the people’ can actual be determined ‘by the people’.

A Time To Say ‘Good-Bye’

John 17:1-11

What I just read was part of the 17th chapter of John which is known as Jesus’ farewell discourse. Jesus is once again trying to prepare his disciples for what was going to happen, warning them about the future, and equipping them to carry on his ministry.

As we are in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are very much like those disciples that Jesus was instructing prior to his leaving. The world is in a mess – war, poverty and starvation, racial injustice, climate chaos, general discord, – all covered with a dangerous pandemic of disease pervade nearly every corner of the earth. But there are many people who are doing what needs to be done to try and stem the advance of the virus and keep everyone safe. However, there is also a faction of small and self-absorbed people who want everything to return to ‘normal’ NOW, regardless of the consequences to others. They have no regard for those who might be infected and conceivably die because of their cavalier attitude. I don’t know about you, but I am not ready to die so that everything can go back to someone else’s idea of ‘normal’.

But just like the disciples found after Jesus left, in our hearts, we know there is no going back to the way life was. There is now and will be in the future a new world – a new ‘normal’. And we are all going to have to learn to exist in that new ‘normal’, much like the disciples found as they tried to continue spreading the love of Jesus.

We now know that we live in a global world – what one country does has significant effects on the rest of the world. One of the things we need to work toward is unity in the care of God’s creation and its people. We need to pray not only for our own government and leaders, but for all people, all governments and God’s creation.

At a Promise Keepers Pastor’s Conference held in Atlanta a couple of years ago. Max Lucado reminded us that

“On the last night of his life our Master did not pray for the health of the disciples; for the success of the disciples; even for the happiness of the disciples. He prayed that they would get along with each other.”

We don’t seem to be doing a very good job of getting along, let alone cooperating with each other. In an environment of racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and lack of unity within people, churches, political parties, and governments, we need to remember a part of the Lord’s Prayer:

“on earth as it is in Heaven”.

So, how do we accomplish that? How do we bring about and work toward unity?

First, it has to start with us. We can’t wait for anyone else to start. We have to be proactive. We have to take the first steps. We have to stop doing and saying those things that lead to, cause, and perpetuate divisions amongst us. We have to be the first to act.

Second, we have to pull together. We must conduct our lives in ways that will not only benefit us, but protect and nurture others. We all enjoy the freedom of speech, but scaring people with vitriolic protests, calling people names, and assaulting those who don’t agree with us does not help us work toward unity in any cause, let alone in fighting and controlling this virus.

We also must begin to heal the earth; because of the lack of pollution resulting from sheltering-in-place, for the first time in thirty years you can actually see Mount Everest; photos from the Space Lab show the clear depths of the ocean without all the garbage we continually feed into it. Los Angeles, Beijing, and even Mumbai have clean skies and fresh air. Mother Nature has begun to heal this blue marble that we live on. It is up to us not to return to our old ‘normal’ and start spoiling it again.

The care of people and the planet must begin with all of us, working together for the good of all the people in the world – and for future generations to come.

Unity has to begin with us. Imagine the powerful force we could exert as a people, a congregation, and as the church in the world, if we all “pulled together as a team.” When we have a common purpose; a shared vision, a common goal, then we can do almost anything.

We have hope that this COVID-19 infection will soon subside, medical and pharmaceutical researchers will find a vaccine, and there will be therapeutics for those who are infected and prevent their deaths. But our hope must be accomplished by support of those working to find a vaccine or a cure.

As Jesus prayed for the unity of his followers and church, we must continue to pray; we must pray because we’re not called to do it alone. We’re called to pull together for a worldwide goal.

Unity isn’t easy. Most of us have never learned how to disagree in love. Or how to love those with whom we disagree. But Jesus not only prayed for it, He modeled it for us.

Remember when the disciples came to Him complaining about the people who were preaching and doing signs and wonders in Jesus’ name but weren’t part of the disciples. They were ready to run them out of town or call down lightning upon their heads. Jesus told the disciples not to stop them and said, “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit.”

In a Family Circus comic, little Billy was praying. He prayed, “Make me good. And if you don’t get through to me the first time, please keep tryin’ ’til I answer.”[1]  That should be our prayer.

We have to continue to work toward unity and understanding – between each other, between the races, between cultures, between governments, and between people.

It seems quite appropriate that I would be preaching on this Sunday, because it is my farewell sermon – also, this is my last Sunday at Saint Stephen’s. Beginning with Pentecost you will have a permanent Deacon.

As I take my leave, I certainly have met some wonderful people while serving here, although not as personally since a lot of our time has been electronically. But I can say that I am going to miss you all, and will always treasure my time here.

So, on this last Sunday for me at Saint Stephen’s, I leave you with the hope that everyone will pull together, love each other, and work for ‘heaven on earth’, just as Jesus showed us by his life, his teaching, his death and resurrection.

As we continue to destroy the earth and cause pandemics through our own actions, let us ask Mother Earth to direct us as we pray:

Our Mother,

You are hurting and suffering from the selfishness and irresponsibility of your children. We dig into your womb, poison your streams and seas, destroy your forests, and slowly kill you. You have been protecting and nurturing us for ages, and for that, we should be grateful and love you. So, I ask you, our common Mother, to pardon your children and help them find the light buried in their hearts.

Amen

[1]       May 15, 1996, Bill Keane
 
Delivered at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church and University Center, Columbus, OH; 24 May 2020

Jesus Conquered Death

Matthew 28:1-10

Today is the night of the Easter Vigil – an ‘in-between’ time during the Easter Triduum – the three most holy days between Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday. Horrible things had happened with Jesus’ death and the joy found in Jesus’ resurrection had not yet occurred.

The disciples were mourning, they didn’t know what to do, they had not understood the coming resurrection; instead they were sequestered in a little room afraid to come out, fearful that they may be killed, isolated as a pariahs from society (much like we are now). They thought they had seen their dream of eternal life dashed with Jesus’ death.

We can imagine how the disciples felt. They were in their ‘in-between time’: between the crucifixion of Jesus on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter morning. They had suffered in pain while Jesus was betrayed, arrested, tried, convicted, and hung on the cross on Good Friday. Like the veil of the temple, their world was torn apart at the moment of His death.

We also are existing an ‘in-between time’ – the time between when we started ‘sheltering-in-place’ during a worldwide pandemic and whenever that time comes when we are allowed to safely enter back into society without the fear of disease and death. We are all anxious about when that is going to be, and have no doubt about the joy we will feel when we will be able to have personal contact with others.

Probably, the most unnerving thing in all our lives is the fear of death – we don’t what is going to happen. It is a fear that we will go into ‘nothingness’, a big black hole. What we are now and will become will disappear like dust in the wind.

We dream about what it will be like Heaven, where we meet with our friends and family who have gone before us. A place where we will suffer no pain, have no disabilities, have no reason for weeping and mourning.

Fear of death is a morbid, abnormal or persistent fear of one’s own death or the process of dying; a “feeling of dread, apprehension or anxiety when one thinks of the process of dying, or ceasing to ‘be’”.[1] It’s a fear that some how we will die before we have reached our hopes and dreams. . . that we will leave things unfinished. It can be irrational and often debilitating, keeping us from achieving our hopes and dreams.

But by Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection He conquered the most fearful thing of all –

DEATH.

We have been promised by Jesus:

And after I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to myself, so that you will be where I am. (John 14:3)

Death can no longer hold us in constant fear!

Jesus came as a messenger from God – in fact HE was God made man. He came to tell us that God loves us – that life and death are NOT the whole story. The cross of suffering is bare, the tomb is empty.

The rest of the story is eternity – one message:

Like Jesus, we came from God

and will return to God.

God is with us each day of our lives, living in us and in the love of those we see.

As we find ourselves sheltered right now, we have the courage to stay in this place and invite Christ to meet us there. If you know anyone who is dealing with pain, disappointment, or loss—share hope with them – ask them how they’re doing – listen to them – be with them – pray for them. And when the time is right, point them toward the resurrected Jesus. Because life has a way of killing dreams, but Jesus has a way of bringing them,

and us,

back to life!

We are all part of God’s love, God’s eternity and we have nothing to fear – this is the message of Easter – indeed the most joyous season of all.

Let us love one another as He has loved us – and continues to love us throughout eternity.

Phillip Brook wrote his “Easter Carol” reminding us that death is no longer:

Tomb, You shall not hold Him longer,
Death is strong, but life is stronger
Stronger than the dark, the light;
Stronger than the wrong, the right
Faith and hope triumphant say;
Christ will rise on Easter Day.

While the patient earth lies waiting
Till the morning shall be breaking
Shuddering beneath the burden dread
Of her Master, cold and dead,
Hark! she hears the angels say;
Christ will rise on Easter Day.

And when sunrise smites the mountains
Pouring light from heavenly fountains
Then the earth blooms out to greet
>Once again the blessed feet;
And her countless voices say;
Christ has risen on Easter Day. [2]

Jesus Christ is the death of Death! 

Let me say this again:

Jesus Christ is the

Death

of

Death! 

Let us move through this ‘in-between time’ with confidence that through Jesus’ resurrection we will be assured of eternal life.

Let us rejoice and be glad!

Amen.

 
[1]      Farley G.: Death anxiety. National Health Service UK. 2010, found in: Peters L, Cant R, Payne S, O’Connor M, McDermott F, Hood K, Morphet J, Shimoinaba K. (2013).
[2]       Phillips Brook, “The Easter Carol”, Christmas Songs and Easter Carols, (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1903)
 

Delivered at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church & University Center, Columbus, OH; 11 April 2020

Our Charge

Today is Maundy Thursday, the least understood, probably least attended, and surely the most intimate of the Christian holy days.

It was the time of Passover, when all Jews commemorated their escape from the Angel of Death while captives in Egypt. As we partake in our Agape meal at our homes, we share with those Hebrews and Jesus and His disciples in that last meal. This meal is the foundation of the Eucharist we celebrate today; reminding us of Jesus’ suffering and our redemption through His body and blood.

Jesus was aware that His path would be to the cross, and he tried, once again, to get the disciples to understand what would be happening.

The disciples were a rag-tag collection of men who gave up everything – their families, their jobs – to follow this man from Nazareth. There had to have been intense love and respect for Jesus. He had spent almost three years with these men and women, preaching and teaching. Yet, the disciples really don’t understand and were in serious denial that He would be going away.

One last time, Jesus provided an example of how the disciples, and WE are to live in relationship with God.

After the meal, Jesus humbled himself, as a servant, to wash the feet of the disciples – a custom that was relegated to the lowest of the low in the Jewish community. He instructed the disciples to follow his example:

For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them (John 13:15)

This is to remind us that by following His example of humbling himself, we can be more Christ-like and live a more godly life.

Today is call ‘maundy’ from the Latin ‘mandatum’, meaning commandment or order, because of the command that Jesus gave to ALL of us.

Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. (John 13:34)

That is our charge, not only on this Maundy Thursday, but now and for the rest of our lives.

After Jesus had shared a meal with his disciples, He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray. We are told, that for Jesus the Garden of Gethsemane frequently served as a place of quite reflection, and especially for prayers with his heavenly father. He took with him Peter, James and John, to keep him company and possibly protect him.

Jesus prayed that this burden should be lifted from him, but he understood that he must do this alone – there is no  one who could bear the cross or share his pain and death. He alone was the Chosen One – and he accepted that. It was here that Judas came with the Roman soldiers and Jewish temple authorities and arrested him.
 

Delivered at Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church & University Center, Columbus, OH; 9 April 2020

“What Does All This Mean?”

John 11:1-45

Good morning to you, wherever you are.

You have just heard our long, well-known and beautiful Gospel reading from John about Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Hold that story in you mind as I read you today’s poem by Padraig O’ Tuama, an Irish poet and theologian, entitled “Staring Match”, because I want to suggest a lesson in both that is particularly timely as we deal with this strange disruption in our lives brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic of today.

Staring Match
I stare at the icon
the sacrament and
the sacred story.

I stare at the window
the bread and the
familiar words.

With only myself to blame
I repeat the questions that
restrain me:

What is all this for? and:
What will all this bring? and:
What should I do now?

And then there’s that
great silence
that greets me.

So I try to greet it
with a liturgy for the morning
a little vitamin, hoping that

opening the day with rhythm
might calm the encounter
with the selves I ignore.

Might help a life be lived
more generously.
Might help the eye see inside the icon.

Might help the story sound.
Might help the bread be found
by the place that’s hungry.

For both the poem and biblical story we must surely ask ourselves:

“What does it all mean?”

What is the mystical and prophetic Gospel of John telling us with this amazing story of a dead man brought back to life by Jesus?

And what is O’ Tuama trying to explain with this ‘Staring Match’ – a sort of stand-off between the nagging longing of our souls for meaning and solace as we busy ourselves in our daily routines, and the rather veiled rituals and symbols we have created over the years to try to explain and assuage these longings.

“What does it mean?”

“What is it for?”

And in modern pop phraseology:

“What’s it all about, Alfie?”

At least for me, the core truth in this long reading lies in the 25-26th verses:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”

There are numerous indications that the Lazarus story is a parable – it is the only occurrence in all of the gospels of this amazing story, and the only mention of Mary & Martha, well-known friends of Jesus, of having a brother. Jesus visited Mary and Martha often, and they appear in all the other gospels, but NEVER is a brother mentioned. Surely, if Jesus had raised a real person, who had been dead for 4 days to life again – and in front of a crowd of people made of synagogue Jews who saw Jesus as a threat – such an event surely would have appeared in every gospel.

So for this and other reasons, this story is surely meant to bring home to all that the way of Jesus is the way to eternal life – to follow the Christ is to never die! And if we can accept that meaning of this story, it is ‘good news’ indeed.

Our work is to ask:

“What does it mean for me?”

How shall I shape my life in light of this ‘good news’? It seems to me that O’ Tuama’s poem catches that moment we all surely feel: amidst the brushing of teeth, the making of coffee, opening the mail, putting on the socks –

“What is this life for?”

“What is MY life for?”

How do the bread and wine, the water and liturgy, the creeds and confessions, the Bible stories and theologies – how do they help ME make meaning of it all?

And now here we are – caught in the middle of a ‘war with an invisible enemy’; all our technology and riches have now been ground to a halt by a sub-microscopic villain. We do not understand, we cannot control it, and we know how ‘to fight the fight’ only by isolating ourselves from one another! And it is the same for all, world-wide – young and old, rich and poor, wise and foolish – it is, in fact, a ‘Great Leveler’ with power to harm and to kill, regardless of where or who we are!

“What is all this for?”

“What will all this bring?”

“What should I do now?”

“WHAT DOES IT MEAN?”

There are many possible answers which we will discuss for decades to come, but we can hope it brings an understanding that (as a banner on medical supplies to Ohio from China said) ‘we are truly all in this together’ – Arab and Jew, Christian and Muslim, the one percent and the homeless beggar, black, brown, yellow, white – we are on this same planet together. Not just one nation under God, but one humanity under our Creator, and we will survive only if we love and care for one another.

We may hope it is for reminding us that we are not in charge, and that we must care for and nourish our planet and all the life on it – that we must live with and learn from nature, as well as live with and learn from one another if we are to survive.

Most of all, perhaps it means, that the only way to live well now and for all eternity is to realize that the life example, the teachings, and the sacrifices of Jesus of Nazareth, of Jesus the man, and Jesus Christ the Son of Creation – to follow these, is the way that gives meaning to everything, to every event of our lives and to every breath we take.

Fear of one another – grasping for power and control and earthly riches will kill us for sure. Love of every living creature and doing to others as we would do for ourselves – this will save us now and forever.

Let us pray:

May we, who are merely inconvenienced, remember those whose lives are at stake. May we, who have no risk factors, remember those most vulnerable. May we, who have the luxury of working from home, remember those who must choose between preserving their health or making their rent. May we, who have the flexibility to care for our own children when their schools close, remember those who have no options. May we, who have to cancel our trips, remember those who have no safe place to go. May we, who settle in for a quarantine at home, remember those who have no home. As fear grips our country, let us choose to love. During this time when we cannot physically wrap our arms around one another, Let us find ways to be the loving embrace of God to our neighbors.[1]
 
 
[1] Adapted from “Prayer for a Pandemic”, +The God Life, Steven Jay Davis; http://www.squanlife.com

Rev deniray mueller, Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church and University Center, Columbus, OH; 29 March 2020

Civil Conversations ARE Possible with Someone from ‘The Other Side’

In today’s environment, it seems that name calling, personal attacks, and party polarization have led to a nearly unprecedented level of incivility between factions of various personal attitudes, and state and governmental policies.  Already, many months prior to the determination of the candidates, and in light of the potential impeachment of the President, the vitriolic rhetoric and general bad manners are likely only going to get worse. With the approach of the 2020 presidential election, we can expect a barrage of political advertisements on social media, the internet, and television, most of which will be negative. As political opinions grow ever more polarized and extreme rhetoric becomes commonplace, can we find a way to find effective ways in which all people, regardless of ideology, can seek compromise, work together, and listen to each other’s ideas?

Americans widely acknowledge that our political climate has dissolved into divisiveness over the past three years, and, so far, there’s no end in sight. Last year, 70 percent of Americans said our country was at least as politically divided as it was during the Vietnam War. Before the holidays, more than half of Americans said they were dreading the idea of even discussing politics with their friends and loved ones.

Civility & Civil Discourse
When we talk about the decline of civility in America, it’s important to explain what we mean by “civility”. Civility is showing mutual respect toward one another. Civil discourse is the free and respectful exchange of different ideas. It entails questioning and discussion, but doing so in a way that respects and affirms all persons, even while critiquing their arguments.

It’s important, when practicing civility and civil discourse, to not only share our viewpoints but to listen to others as well. It doesn’t mean we have to agree, but it does mean we can disagree respectfully. It is possible to be committed to social justice and still think differently about issues and solutions. In fact, it is not only possible – it is likely. Even if we are committed to a common goal, we may also disagree about the means to get there. We will need to have some difficult conversations. If we seek to develop relationships of solidarity across lines of differences, we must be able to engage in constructive and respectful civil discourse.

Employing “ I” and “We”
When we speak in the first person, we are able to express our personal beliefs, thoughts and opinions; often we erroneously use a nebulous “we” – lumping us with an undefined group who may or may not share our thoughts and beliefs. Using “I” helps remove the “us” or “we” and “them” approach which antagonizes and divides. However, there are problems with using “I” as well, especially if the implication is that ‘my thoughts are the only true ones’, as if to say “I am important and you are not; I am smart and you are not”.

A helpful way to use “I” is a way of communicating which allows a person to express how words and actions make them feel without casting any aspersions on the person to whom they are speaking. “When you say this, I feel that.” It works very well as a bridge to civil discourse as opposed to finger-pointing and increased anger. Using “I” statements rather than “we” statements is owning our own “stuff”, and not trying to either force our opinions on someone else or point to someone else as if they were personally an adversary. When personal attacks replace honest debate, no one wins. This kind of attack, no matter the reason, only serves to further divide our communities.

It is our duty and privilege to make room in our hearts for those with whom we disagree. When this underscores all our discussions, opportunities for misunderstanding and anger are decreased. Regardless of our opinions, a Christian is taught to see every other person as a beloved child of God, whose life, needs and opinions are valid.

A Time for Reflection, Prayer and Reconciliation
Now is the time to step away from partisanship and think anew about how we can go forward together. The coming months provide an opportunity for change as Americans seem hungry for a new tone of respect and compromise to emerge in our national conversations. We yearn for elected leaders at the federal, state, and local levels to govern across divides and towards solutions.

There are three things that each one of us can do to promote civil discourse:

  • Reflect on the divisions in the country and how we treat those who have different political views
  • Pray for the forgiveness, humility and wisdom we need to heal our divisions
  • Reach out to other people of faith who have different political views and explore ways to work together.

Guidelines for Civil Discourse
Prior to entering into civil conversation, there needs to be an agreement on guidelines between the parties involved:

  • Do not try to change each other’s views; the goal is to learn from each other and look for common ground
  • The primary emphasis in these conversations is ‘active listening’ – listen to what is being said instead of formulating in your mind how you will respond
  • Be respectful of the other and try not to judge their personal views.

We are told in Luke 6:37:

Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.

  • Take turns speaking and ensure that each person has equal time to express their ideas
  • Keep the discussion focused on the central question, and don’t get bogged down in irrelevant issues
  • Identify and note areas of agreement
  • Avoid binary thinking. All issues of today are too complex to fit into simplistic black-or-white categories. Dropping ideas into “either/or” thinking immediately defines one against “the other side”, which limits serious and open engagement; when possible consider ‘both/and’ solutions
  • Use language that engages and draws the other into a fruitful exchange of ideas. This requires monitoring and self-censoring the use of dismissive words (such as ‘you may not know about this’, ‘I doubt you will agree with me’).

Guidelines for Use of Social Media
Fewer and fewer people read books and unbiased newspapers, and increasingly people are looking to the internet and their Facebook feeds for information and analysis of social issues. Most people today receive their information through a number of social media instruments (Facebook, Insta-Gram, Twitter, blogs).

Developing a social justice community means that we need to be able to talk about difficult issues in respectful and constructive ways. The question is – can we do that on the internet? As we have already experienced, social media has become a monster that further alienates us from others and provides inaccurate. It is important to note that these sources can be hacked by foreign entities to seek to influence the American people.

Here are some tips of how to stay respectful on social media:

  • Check for accuracy – snopes.com and the “i” notation  on Facebook both provide means of checking the validity of the entry
  • Avoid insults and name calling
  • Seek information from other sources (see unbiased newspapers or television news programs, such as NPR or PBS)
  • DO NOT respond to a posting that upsets you – take a deep breath and come back to it a little later with a non-emotional response (You DO NOT have to respond to every posting!)
  • Remind people of the need for respect in promoting constructive discussions.

Moving Forward
While some may argue that a call for civility limits the bounds of free speech, such concerns create a false equivalence between hate speech and a desire for respectful discourse. Our government in Washington must once again become the place where our leaders convene to work together, debate issues, and solve problems for the American people. In order for this to happen, we have to acknowledge that we can disagree without being disagreeable.

Now is not the time to respond with more hate or violence. As Martin Luther King Jr. so aptly stated, and Barack Obama tweeted, “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

As soon as we resort to hate speech and violence, attention is taken away from the issue. Even though frustrations may be high, we must always consider the power of our words. We must pause, control our emotions, and resume the conversation only when we feel grounded.

So, let’s make a New Year’s resolution, to work together to revive civility in our lives. Let’s agree that we will let our political leaders know we expect them to live up to our expectations of civility and respect for our country, their constituents, and our institutions. Let us be sure they know that we will hold them accountable when they do not.

As Vocational Deacons, we are charged with ‘bringing the church to the world and the world to the church’. Hopefully, we know the pulse of our congregations, and we are directed to care for all our ‘flock’ equally. This places us in a unique position to facilitate civil discourse within our parishes and the wider community. Let us continue to ‘speak truth to power’ by encouraging all to employ respect, kindness, and accuracy as we go forward into this political season.

Let this be our prayer:

Lord Jesus Christ, grant us the gift of understanding. Help us to understand the feelings and desires and goals of others. At the same time, help us to understand ourselves in our actions and reactions. Widen our vision beyond our own small world to embrace with knowledge and love the worlds of others. Help us to guard the words of our mouths that may injure others. Bless us with insight, acceptance, and love that is tempered by you. Help us to understand. Amen.
 
 
Published in Diakoneo, Association of Episcopal Deacons; February 2020

What Do We Celebrate during Advent (Hope, Love, Joy Peace)?

Today we will enter into the Christian Season of Advent. ‘Advent’ comes from the Latin word meaning ‘coming’ or ‘arrival’. This is the time when Christians look forward to the birth of Jesus in that manger in Bethlehem. In the early days of the church, Advent was a time of prayer and confession. Today, Advent is more a time of preparation and expectation for the coming of the Lord.

Like many things in our world, there are symbols which represent bigger things

    • the Stars and Stripes standing for the United States,
    • fireworks for the Fourth of July,
    • turkey for Thanksgiving and
    • Santa Claus for the secular aspect of Christmas.

 
The Advent Wreath is the symbol of Advent. The circle of greenery reminds us that God is eternal. In Revelation 1:8, God says:

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty

The endless circle also reminds us of the hope we have in God, of newness, renewal and eternal life.

The candles symbolize the light of God entering the world through the birth of Jesus. The light from the candles reminds us that Jesus is the ‘light of the world’ that comes into our darkness. They also remind us that the prophet Isaiah called us to be the

light to the world (Isaiah 42:6)

as we reflect the light of God’s love and grace to others.

The Advent wreath usually sits where everyone can see it and is a constant reminder of this holy season.

The first blue candle is the Candle Of Hope, reminding us of the coming of the Messiah. And we can have hope because God is faithful and will keep the promises made to us.

The second blue candle is the Candle of Love. God kept his promise of a Savior who would be born in Bethlehem. It reminds us of our need to prepare our souls for his coming.

On the third Sunday the pink Candle of Joy is lit. This candle is sometimes known as the Mary Candle, reminding is of the Virgin Mary, remembering that she was soon to bear the Son of God in a lowly stable.

Finally on the fourth Sunday of Advent, just a few days before the birth of Christ, the final blue Candle Of Peace is lit. This candle reminds us God sent his only Son to earth to save us, because he loves us!

On Christmas Day, the Christ Candle is lit, celebrating the birth of Christ. The white candle reminds us that Jesus is the spotless lamb of God, sent to wash away our sins!

Here at In the Garden, we will be celebrating together the season of Advent by hearing a short scripture, being reminded of what we are thankful for, lighting each candle and saying a short prayer. You have been given a sheet which contains the service for each of the Sundays of Advent. I hope some of you will volunteer each Sunday to read the scripture, explain the purpose of the candle and then someone else light the appropriate candle.

Let us celebrate this season of Advent, awaiting with expectation the birth of the baby Jesus.

“So Come Let Us Adore Him” and Celebrate!

In preparing for the Advent season, I came across this poem written by Father Daniel Berrigan.

It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss—This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;

It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction— This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.

It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever—This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.

It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world—This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world.

It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers—This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.

It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history—This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.

So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ—the life of the world.

No -isms Here

Galatians 3:28

In this election year, we have constantly heard mean, nasty, degrading speeches as part of the Republican debates and primary election ads. We have heard:

  •  women reduced to human incubators by removing their ability to make decisions about their own bodies,
  • candidates accused of infanticide because they believe a woman should be able to make their own decisions,
  •  the poor defined as insignificant while bragging about driving two Cadillacs,
  • personal religious beliefs slandered.
  • a whole segment of society is prevented from having recognized loving relationships, and
  • code words used in place of the ‘N’ word to denigrate and demean anyone who is not like them.

In my sixty-some years, I have never heard such language and disrespect for other people. For a country that professes to be a ‘Christian’ nation, what I see is about as far away from acting in the way Jesus taught as you could possibly get. It makes me ashamed – and appalled that those who truly follow Jesus’ teachings are so silent.

Aren’t we sending a message to those non-religious or unchurched a message that we ‘Christians’ are hypocrites at the highest level!

And in my humble opinion, at the root of all this . . . what is really the unspoken issue . . . what no one wants to say

Is RACISM!

And BIGOTRY.

Those people who are fundamentally opposed to an African-American president are using code words like ‘Food Stamp President’ to display their own hidden prejudice and bigotry.

But as we heard in the Scripture reading, Jesus taught that no one is better than another. This was very revolutionary at the time, because society was based on the ‘haves and have-nots’. There were distinct class differences: the upper class did not associate with the poor, servants were not recognized by their masters, people with illness or disabilities were abandoned on the streets.

Jesus’ proclamation that we are all equal in the eyes of God upset all the cultural boundaries of the day. . . and still does today.

But he said again and again, that we are all one in Jesus – equal in the eyes of God. That means that each one of us, no matter whether

Upper class, middle class or poor
Homeless or housed
Healthy or disabled
Educated or illiterate
Black or white
Straight or gay

Are equal in the eyes of God. . . are to be loved and respected as each of our brothers and sisters.

Did everyone forget the Golden Rule:

do unto others as you would have them do unto you? (Matthew 7:12)

And I have to say, that as much as we see all this in the public arena, I have also seen it in our own community. Lately, there has been an undercurrent which disturbs me – people are taking snipes at each other and making racial and sexual slurs.

I will tell you that is NOT the place for that. This is a house of God – where everyone is equal. We, as a community, should not and will not allow it to continue!

We all have our good points and the not-so-good sides of our personalities. At any time, we may be having a bad day, but that is NOT an excuse for treating our fellow brothers and sisters with disrespect. There is no place for any ‘–ism’ (racism, sexism, classism . . .) in this place. . . or in God’s kingdom!

When we are hurt, we want to hurt back, but often the one who hurts us is too powerful, so a safe substitute is found. We find someone that we tell ourselves is lesser than us and blame everything on them. So many riots and wars have been fueled by this anger and bigotry. In the period of a depressed economy, more and more people are jockeying for a position in society. . . which, if not recognized and controlled, can cause one group of people to purposely denigrate and defile another. It may be subtle, using code words so only those who feel that same way understand the ‘–ism’. Or it may be very obvious and blatant.

But this lack of love for our brothers and sisters is a SIN!

We are all equal in the eyes of God.

We have the responsibility to expose these hidden ‘–isms’ so that we can all walk together. . . any race, any creed, any background, any gender, any culture, any socio-economic level.

We need to:

  • Acknowledge our own negative thoughts, feelings and attitudes of fear, anxiety, anger, guilt
  • Acknowledge our thoughts, feeling and attitudes toward those who are different
  • Acknowledge that we are all children of the same Creator
  • Acknowledge that hate, bigotry and –isms prevent us from living into the fullness of a life in Christ And then we need to cleanse our hearts and minds of those things that feed the hatred and bigotry

Let us pray:

Dear God, help us to remember that when we see with bigoted hearts, who not only do we reject you but also close ourselves off from experiencing all of your children. Help us to overcome these negative feelings and embrace all wonders of the world you have created.
Amen

Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH: 26 February 2012

Yes! . . . Well, Maybe

Luke 9:51-62

As most of you know, this is my final Sunday at Saint John’s. According to the canons of the Diocese, I must leave when the new rector comes. After much prayer and tears, with the help of Father Stephen, I decided the most graceful way to leave would be at the end of the current liturgical year. I want to thank each and every one of you that has welcomed me into the parish and made me feel like I belonged here. I will forever cherish my time here – you are extraordinary people and your future is unlimited.

So, as my last sermon, I want to assure you of God’s love and challenge you to take the next steps to grow as people and a congregation. You knew, based on my prior sermons, that I couldn’t leave without giving you a challenge and something to niggle in your brain. I hope this gives you some cause for thought.

We heard in the Gospel:

While Jesus and his disciples walked along a road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-61)

What did we just hear?

A series of ‘yes I will, buts. . .’

A series of excuses why these people weren’t ready to follow Jesus right then. Now, we don’t know if those were valid reasons or not, and really, it doesn’t matter. What we do know, is that Jesus was trying to tell us something important.

Jesus knew that there are times when we must simply move forward. His face was ‘set towards Jerusalem’; the city where he would share a last meal with his disciples; where one would betray and another would deny, and others would flee in fear and horror; where he would die an unspeakable death to remind us all of just how much God loves us. Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem and you and I are called to do the same as we follow him. And once we have heard that call there is no turning back. Not for anything. Not even those very good things which meant so much before. There is no turning back.

So we are urged to ‘set our faces towards Jerusalem.’ Every single day we must have our ears, our eyes, our hearts open to answer Jesus’ call, knowing that there is no turning back. Not now and not ever.

In these three encounters, Jesus calls us to leave behind one set of obligations and duties in order to take on a different set. Jesus calls us to unpack and leave behind nationalism, and racism, and social norms to embrace a kingdom that includes all people of all races and colors and languages from all over the world.

He invites us to leave behind selfish and narrow and localized devotion in order to accept a personalized love and duty for the salvation of the entire world, not just our little corner of it.

When Jesus set his face to Jerusalem, he turned his back on Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, on his life as a carpenter and small-town rabbi. When Jesus set his face for Jerusalem, he knew he was going to his death, he knew he was, from that very moment, walking to the cross.

And he invites us to go with him. He invites us, calls us to follow him to Jerusalem, to the cross. He invites us to rid ourselves of those things that keep us from loving God and each other completely and fully and passionately. Jesus invites us to drop our heavy loads, to cast aside the cares and concerns that hold us back, to reject the judgments and hatreds that turn us away from God and toward the world.

Jesus invites us to empty our hands of all of that so that we can take up our cross and gladly follow him. When we have empty hands, we can reach out to others. When we remove the hate from our hearts, we have room for love. When we take the judgment out of our eyes, we then see others as God sees them, as precious children in need of love and forgiveness.

Jesus wants people who will walk in his footsteps daily, people who will be with him who mirror his compassion and his love, even when such love and compassion are unpopular.

This was Jesus’ message that day: get your priorities straight. Then (and only then) will you be ready for God to rule in your life.

Recently I read that only between 2% to 4% of those who went forward to be redeemed during major Christian crusades like Billy Graham held are still actively observing the Christian life now. This is not to say that these crusades had no impact; some people were touched, but, for most of those who went forward, it didn’t last. The point is, in some situations, we might say, “Yes, Lord, I am yours,” but Christ knows we’re just caught up in the moment. This was obviously the way it was with this first man who said to him,

“I will follow you wherever you go.” (Luke 9:57)

The three men whom Jesus asked to follow him suffered from the “But-First Syndrome”. The American Medical Association hasn’t recognized the “But-First Syndrome” as a disease yet, but that doesn’t mean that many people are not suffering from some of its symptoms. We all have had situations where our heart desired to do something, but the flesh had a thousand reasons why we couldn’t.

Is there a BUT that is hindering your Christian journey? A BUT that is keeping you from following Jesus?

Have you been asked to help with Sunday School? Did you say ‘I would like to BUT there are others better qualified’?

Do you volunteer to make phone calls to shut-ins, BUT say you ‘just couldn’t fit it in’?

Do you sincerely wish to come to church regularly, BUT ‘Sunday is the only day you can sleep in’?

Have you agreed to serve on a committee BUT then never came, saying ‘I just can’t get there from work on time’?

Following Jesus is not easy, it means we have to re-organize our lives so that we can make it happen. We have to change our priorities and forego some things, but it is the way we have been called to follow. Can you hear Christ calling you now? Saying in the still quiet of your heart; “Drop everything that is holding you back and follow, follow me to Jerusalem, follow me to Love.”

 
In Saying Farewell
So, as I leave, I know that there will be a hole in my heart that you all occupy; this is one of the hardest things I have had to do, and I know that I will be grieving for a long time. So many people have sent me notes or expressed their feelings for me; it is bittersweet and touches my heart and soul. And although I am leaving, I want to leave you with these thoughts and prayer:

God,
You know it is going to be OK,
But too often it feels like it isn’t,
People come and go from our lives,
Sometimes friendships just slip away and fade with time,
Sometimes we move or they move,
But then there is death.

People leave our lives
and we don’t get a say,
Nor are we often prepared.
When they go,
We know deep down that it is going to be OK
Or at least we tell ourselves that
Not really feeling it,
But holding it in hope and faith.

We are thankful of the love that is shared,
Even though it leaves a hole in our lives,
When the people we share it with are not there to share it with.
We are grateful of the legacy of moments and memories,
Times which are cherished and treasured,
Which sustain us in connection with the ones that we have lost.
May we find time and courage to constructively give expression to our feelings.

May we have the patience that is needed to sustain ourselves until a new normal can be found.
May we hold the hope and faith that carries us,
Through the darkest of moments,
Until we can come at joy and happiness,
And bear the shadows of pain and sorrow which come as well.
Sustain and uphold us,
Comfort us in ways beyond our understanding.

For it will be OK in time.
We just need to wait for it to be so.
Amen.[1]

 
[1]      Adapted from Jon Humphries, “Mike’s Prayer”, The Welcome Table
 
 

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 30 June 2019

I Choose to Follow Jesus

Luke 9:51-62

We heard in the Gospel reading that Jesus was heading toward Jerusalem with a group of his disciples. He was determined to go to Jerusalem, and wasn’t going to let anything stand in his way. Do you know why he was headed to Jerusalem?

(pause)

You are right. Jesus was headed to Jerusalem where he knew he would be arrested, tried, and killed. But then he would rise from the grave to give us all eternal life if we just follow him.

Jesus always had a lot of people following him wherever he went, because they wanted to see this person that they had heard so much about. As everyone was walking, a man said to Jesus,

“I will follow you, Jesus, wherever you go.” Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes to sleep in. Birds build nests. But I have no place to call my own. Are you sure this is the life you want?” (Luke 9:57-58)

He wanted the man to understand that following him might not always be fun and easy. He was not going to be staying in four-star hotels, and eat at the best restaurants; he was going to suffer and eventually be killed.

As they walked along, Jesus turned to another man in the group and said,

“Follow me.” But that person replied, “I’ve got lots of things to do first, and then I’ll follow you.” (Luke 9:61)

Every time Jesus asks someone to ‘follow him’, the person said he would – BUT then offers excuses as to why he couldn’t go right then.

We all know that we really want to follow Jesus, but we seem to always have an excuse for everything. Making excuses is not new. People even made excuses in Jesus’ day.

Jesus was calling those who would give up everything — family, friends, their job — and follow him. What he got instead were excuses.

Do you have excuses?

  • If your mother asks you to clean your room, do you think of a thousand reasons why you can’t do it right then.
  • If you are supposed to carry out the garbage, doesn’t the current TV program you are watching seem more important than carrying out the stinky garbage!
  • If you haven’t done your homework, do you tell the teacher ‘my dog ate my paper’?

Even adults give excuses for things they don’t want to do right away!

Jesus is still calling us today saying, “Follow me!” He asks us:

“I’m calling you to proclaim the kingdom of God. Isn’t that important work?” Jesus said, “You’ve got to commit to me fully, or the kingdom of God might not be for you.” (Luke 9:62)

Wouldn’t it be sad if we thought other things were more important than following the teachings of Jesus? If we made so many excuses to Jesus that we would not be a member of the Kingdom of God?

That would be horrible!

So, I ask you, will you follow Jesus, or will you make excuses?

Jesus wants us to follow him, to have eternal life, and show God’s love to the world. Are we going to follow?

Or are we going to make excuses why we can’t ‘right now’?

I have a paper that I want each of you to take home – it is called ‘I Choose to Follow Jesus’. It has things that happen to you every day. What you need to do is answer what you would do in each situation if you are following Jesus.

What would you do at school, at church, at home, when someone is mean to you, or when you are mean to someone else. The last line is what you would do if you follow Jesus. When something happens, remember to write down (or have your parents help you) what you did or what you should have done if you were following Jesus.

Let us pray:

Dear God, when Jesus calls us to follow him, may we not offer excuses. Instead, let us do what we must to follow Jesus. Amen.

In Saying Farewell
As most of you know, this is my final Sunday at Saint John’s. According to the canons of the Diocese, I must leave when the new rector comes. After much prayer and tears, with the help of Father Stephen, I decided the most graceful way to leave would be at the end of the current liturgical year. I want to thank each and every one of you that has welcomed me into the parish and made me feel like I belonged here. I will forever cherish my time here – you are extraordinary people and your future is unlimited.

So, as I leave, I know that there will be a hole in my heart that you all occupy; this is one of the hardest things I have had to do, and I know that I will be grieving for a long time. So many people have sent me notes or expressed their feelings for me; it is bittersweet and touches my heart and soul. And although I am leaving, I want to leave you with these thoughts and prayer:

God,
You know it is going to be OK,
But too often it feels like it isn’t,
People come and go from our lives,
Sometimes friendships just slip away and fade with time,
Sometimes we move or they move,
But then there is death.

People leave our lives
and we don’t get a say,
Nor are we often prepared.

When they go,
We know deep down that it is going to be OK
Or at least we tell ourselves that
Not really feeling it,
But holding it in hope and faith.

We are thankful of the love that is shared,
Even though it leaves a hole in our lives,
When the people we share it with are not there to share it with.
We are grateful of the legacy of moments and memories,
Times which are cherished and treasured,
Which sustain us in connection with the ones that we have lost.

May we find time and courage to constructively give expression to our feelings.
May we have the patience that is needed to sustain ourselves until a new normal can be found.
May we hold the hope and faith that carries us,
Through the darkest of moments,
Until we can come at joy and happiness,
And bear the shadows of pain and sorrow which come as well.

Sustain and uphold us,
Comfort us in ways beyond our understanding.
For it will be OK in time.
We just need to wait for it to be so.

Amen.[1]
 

[1]      Adapted from Jon Humphries, “Mike’s Prayer”, The Welcome Table

 

Rev deniray mueller, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 30 June 2019

The Needy: Our Duty Is To Help

There have always been needy people in Worthington, although many people think that there are no poor or homeless people within our surrounds.

However, as the economy stays stagnant or experiences a decline, churches become easy prey for those who are looking for a handout. Saint John’s regularly sees people looking for assistance, particularly on Sundays, when most other services are closed.

We have been commanded by Jesus to:

“Feed my sheep”. (John 21:17)

And we are reminded

whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me (Matthew 25:40)

The majority of homeless or needy men and women are not dangerous — they’re people just like us, but circumstances have resulted in them being needy. It could happen to every one of us under the right conditions. They are our brothers and sisters.

When a person requests assistance it is not our duty to determine if the request is legitimate, or if they are panhandling. We are told to take care of their needs. But there are ways to care for these people that can satisfy their need in constructive ways.

Worthington Resource Pantry
The Worthington Resource Pantry provides assistance to those in need on a regular basis, and Saint John’s does a terrific job of supplying those goods that they identify they need. Become aware of where the Pantry is located (6700 Huntley Road, 985-1766), and what their hours are (see www.worthingtonresourcepantry.org). The Pantry not only provides food, but also is a source of information for additional available services. You might want to think about volunteering at the Pantry, especially if you have children. And continue to donate food items that are listed in the weekly bulletin.

When approached by a needy person,

  1. Smile and politely decline any requests for money. But we can still show love and offer to lift them up in prayer.
  1. DO NOT, DO NOT give money to children! Giving money to children is like paying their families to keep them out of school. It is, in a way, a type of human trafficking.
  1. If you have the time, listen to their story. That may be more important to them than receiving what they ask for.
  1. Give them tangible things – some people keep McDonald’s gift cards in their purse or car. This will provide them with a meal; it is usually less than $5 to provide a filling meal at McDonald’s; or offer to take them for a meal and you pay for it.
  1. Carry some Care Kits in the car; these Ziploc bags contain essentials that are hard to acquire if you are homeless or needy. A typical Care Kit could contain any of the following: water bottle, socks, granola or cereal bar, fruit snack or applesauce cup, cheese/peanut butter crackers, handiwipes (avoid hand sanitizer because of the alcohol content), Kleenex, maxi pads for women, toothbrush and toothpaste, Chapstick, brush and comb, unscented soap, travel shampoo and conditioner, disposable razors, gum or mints (preferably sugar-free). It might be an opportunity for some education of children and teens to have a party to assemble these kits. There is a flyer on the Information Table about creating Care Kits.
  1. If they need money for medication, take them to a pharmacy and pay for the prescription drugs. The pharmacist will verify the legitimacy of the drug to avoid supplying drugs that would be sold on the street.
  1. Carry information about services that are available for those in need. Columbus generates a ‘street card’ which identifies places and times for services. Ask the church to keep a stack of these on the Information Table.

In dire emergencies, the rector has a discretionary fund which can be used for emergency needs, but it is not bottomless.

Most importantly, we need to remove the conditions that cause these people to be needy. Call your local legislators and ask that social safety nets be maintained or increased in your city, county and state. Contact local aid agencies to determine what support they need. Remember the old adage:

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

Our goal, as followers of Jesus, is to remove those obstacles so that everyone has enough food, shelter, and services.

Remember we are all ‘beloved children of God’, regardless of our economic or social status.


 
 
Rev deniray mueller, The Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 1 July 2019

Social Justice – Who Better than Deacons?

One of the aspects of the job of the deacon is defined as ‘taking the church to the world, and the world to the church’. This means we are to not only care for the needs of our congregations, but also take the concerns of the church to the wider world – in other words, ‘speak truth to power’.

At the recent meeting of the Association of Episcopal Deacons (AED) Presiding Bishop Michael Curry was our keynote speaker. Just prior to his speech, he heard a reference to “AED” and had an epiphany. AED in the medical world refers to “Automatic External Defibrillator’ – an application of electricity which stops the heart’s arrhythmia, allowing the heart to re-establish an effective rhythm. He suddenly made the connection that deacons “apply electricity of the Holy Spirit” to the world. And he is right! Bishop Curry went on to say that “we need a revival”, and he couldn’t think of “a better group of people more appropriately placed than deacons”. He ‘encouraged’ deacons to begin applying electricity to righting the wrongs in the world at the national and local level.

In the Episcopal Church a deacon exercises “a special ministry of servanthood”, serving all people and especially those in need.[1] Deacons often work directly in ministry to the marginalized inside and outside the church: the poor, the sick, the hungry, the imprisoned. Deacons have specific liturgical responsibilities in the worship that are intended to reflect their role as servants of Christ. These duties include taking the Good News of God’s love to the world (proclaiming the Gospel), bringing the concerns of the world into the church (working with others on the prayers of the people), modeling servanthood (preparing the table) and sending the people of God out to serve the world (proclaiming the dismissal). Ideally, each of these liturgical duties is matched by real world and congregational ministries.[2]

Deacons are to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world – in other words, work for social justice.

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary social justice is “justice in terms of the distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges within a society”. Aristotle, in The Politics, said ‘justice’ ensured that individuals both fulfilled their societal roles and received what was their due from society. Joseph Joubert, a French moralist and essayist, said “Justice is truth in action”.

Who could be against justice? If there’s one thing that the laws and prophets – especially Jesus –agreed on, it is ‘justice for all’, regardless of background or social status. This is one of the main things Jesus did in the world: identify with the powerless, take up their cause.

And who better to take up the cause of social justice than deacons?

Social justice might mean personally taking time to meet the needs of the handicapped, the elderly or the hungry in our neighborhoods. Or it could mean the establishment of new non-profits to serve the interests of these people. It could also mean a group of families from the more prosperous side of town adopting the public school in a poor community and making generous donations of money and pro bono work in order to improve the quality of education there.

When we try to live a life in accordance with the Bible, the concept and calls to justice are inescapable. We do justice when we give all human beings their due as blessed creations of God. ‘Doing justice’ includes not only the righting of wrongs, but practicing generosity and interest in social concerns, especially toward the poor and vulnerable.

And who better to ‘do justice’ and apply the electricity of the Holy Spirit than deacons?

Again and again in the Gospels, Jesus angrily challenges the religious authorities, mocking them for their self-aggrandizing, self-promoting ways. He alienates the elite by spending time with and showing favor to the poor and marginalized; he talks to women, eats without regard for the dietary rules, he heals those considered unclean and returns them to wholeness. He questions current laws and challenges the status quo. And as a result, he becomes the target of those in authority. Ultimately, those authorities kill him.

Nevertheless, Jesus showed us that there are times when we must stand up and express ‘truth to power’ in constructive, meaningful, unyielding ways despite the possible consequences. Consider how often, and in how many ways, Jesus expressed anger in the Gospels. He was clear and direct, bringing about justice or revealing malice or ignorance. He made no personal attacks, but sought to uncover the evil behind the actions. There is no record of Jesus being angered by a personal offense no matter how wrong, unjust, or violent it may be. He lived and taught that the one who is persecuting us is also created in the image of God and loved by God, and in that reality, we can love our enemy.

And who better to ‘speak truth to power’ than deacons?

Just as God is righteously angered over oppression and injustice, so should we be. Learning how to balance these teachings and actions is a lifelong process for those who choose to follow his ways. The Good Samaritan wasn’t good because of his origins or because he was traveling. Instead, he looked around him, around where he lived and worked and traveled, saw a human in need, and got involved. He gave up time, money, and most likely status and respect in doing so. As he went about his day, he loved someone and righted an injustice.

Deacons are, destined by nature of their calling and ordination vows, to right injustice as well as care for those who are needy.

There are many ways we can be involved in helping set things right. We can advocate for stricter, common-sense gun laws, or work toward offering much-needed services for those suffering with mental illness; we can encourage our governments to shelter the homeless; we can feed those in poverty, visit those in prison, clothe children in need, serve those with special needs; we can work with youth who need an adult mentor. The needs are endless, the injustices everywhere.

This is the time for each of us to ask ourselves: How can our sense of outrage at injustice be channeled into loving action? We, as members of the Association for Episcopal Deacons have an obligation – no, a mandate – to work for social justice, just as Jesus did. We must be angry at instances of injustice, speaking truth in love to our friends, our neighbors, our legislators, our nation and the world.

When we witness wrong done to others, particularly those who do not have the strength or means to defend themselves, then as deacons we need to express the anger of love — the anger that gives us boldness and outspokenness to defend what is right and just.

Jesus’ example and teachings reveal to us that anger, channeled and directed in love, can redirect our anger into positive acts. We open ourselves to the guidance of the spirit of the Holy Spirit to determine how best to express our moral anger, and in all matters, how to speak and act in love.

This kind of direct action is risky because it involves other people, who are also made in the image of God. People about whom Jesus said,

“Whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:45)

The Jesus who said,

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

We need to remember what Micah 6:8 says:

what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

We, as deacons, are called to be a witness to the world of God’s love and Jesus’ teachings.

Are you ready to be the electricity to return the world to its normal rhythm?

Are you ready to take those steps needed to carry out the teachings of Jesus?

Are you ready to:

strive to do justice,

         love kindness and

            walk humbly with God’?

 

[1] The Book of Common Prayer, p. 543.
[2] Episcopal Diocese of Maine

 

Rev deniray mueller, Legislative Liaison, Diocese of Southern Ohio

WHO or WHAT is The Holy Trinity?

John 16:12-15

As you know, Bishop Price was scheduled to make a visitation today, and I usually accompany him when there is not a deacon present. Unfortunately, Bishop Price became ill and has just been released from the hospital. I don’t know any details, but it appears he will have surgery in the near future. I am asking that we all hold and Mariann in our prayers.

This service is going to be a little different than ones you are used to because as a Deacon, I can’t consecrate the host. But, by permission of Bishop Price, and because you have reserved sacrament, I will be able offer a slight modification of the Eucharist. Thank you for being understanding as we proceed.

I have to thank you, Whit, who managed to print out a sermon for me. We can thank the wonders of modern technology that I could pull up a sermon from the cloud and he could print it! And thanks to your organist, Sheryl Wise, who doodled on the organ until I could get it together.

I speak to you in the name of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Amen

One of the first sermons I delivered Saint John’s Worthington, without realizing when I agreed to preach, was Trinity Sunday in 2011. I have to tell you, of all the Sundays in the year, this is the one that makes even the most seasoned priest quake in their shoes. This is probably the most difficult to preach on because the concept of the Trinity and the concept of ‘three-in-one’ is hard enough to understand for those trained in theology.

There is an inside joke among clergy:

When Father Applegate was figuring out the preaching rota for Saint John’s this year, I told him I would preach on every other Sunday on the calendar, but NOT on Trinity Sunday – I didn’t have anything else to say! He is really going to get a chuckle out of today!

Today is Trinity Sunday. Since Pope John XXII, the western church has set this Sunday aside for reflection on the tremendous mystery of the Trinity. When we sing the words of one of our best-known hymns,

Holy, Holy, Holy, we sing, “God in three persons, blessed Trinity.”

Praising the Holy Trinity has been going on for almost 1690 years since Emperor Constantine called 317 bishops from all over the Christian world to settle the question of the divinity of Jesus Christ in 325 CE. They settled the question of whether Christ was simply another great prophet and teacher — even a high-ranking angel from God — or was he the divine Son of God, co-equal and co-eternal with God?

The church fathers had spent hundreds of years trying to reach agreement on the doctrine of the Trinity. And we, as preachers, are supposed to pull something ‘out of the hat’ that explains the Trinity as a matter of fact. I will say, since 2011, I have been studying and researching, bound and determined that I would purposely select this Sunday and give my best try at explaining the Trinity. . .

may I leave you with some understanding and no more confusion than you had before.

I have come to the conclusion, after almost eight years of studying, that we CAN NOT fully explain the Trinity… we can only speak of things that we can understand that might suggest the Trinity.

Did you know that Trinity Sunday is the only Sunday in the entire Christian Calendar which celebrates a doctrine; and it is an unfinished doctrine, a mystery that is not completed or understood. And many would say that there is reason that only one doctrine is celebrated; because nobody wants to hear a sermon on a doctrine.

But today is Trinity Sunday — what on earth could I say about the Trinity that was new?! How do I even begin to explain the mystery? So, it came to me — I CAN’T explain the mystery. No one can. No one has the ability to fathom the mystery, so we express it in symbols — and we look around the church and find Trinitarian symbols.

A doctrine by its nature is an abstraction – never referenced directly in scripture; others still, would state that the Trinity is the most unattainable doctrine of them all.

There are two concrete facts about the Trinity:

  • There is no reference in the Bible to “Trinity”
  • There is no reference in the Bible to the Triune God.

The Trinity has been explained in many ways from very heavy philosophical ideas to picture metaphors like a three-leaf clover. With any of these, it is important to remember that none of them describes God in his very being or essence. That cannot be done. The Trinity is a statement of how God relates, not how God is. When it comes to our relating to God, we can’t pin God down to one thing or one way. When we consider one way to view God there is always another way. But why three, as in the Trinity? Who knows? But we do know that just as we can’t pin God down to one of our simplistic ideas, we also can’t pin God down to three either, or any one of the three.

Throughout the centuries, Christians have striven to express this triune understanding of the oneness of God’s in various ways. The underlying belief is that God’s very being is reflected in his creation.

  • Augustine spoke of the Lover (Father), Beloved (Son), and the Love shared between the two (Spirit)
  • John of Damascus was one among many early church fathers who spoke of water that bubbled up from a spring, flowed into a river, and reached its source in the ocean. Water is one, yet spring, river, and ocean are distinctive expressions of it.
  • Martin Luther spoke of the root, trunk, and fruit of a tree as the living God traceable in his creation. He spoke of iron in a blacksmith’s shop that would glow, burn, and place its stamp on wood.
  • The Desert Fathers (the two Gregorys and Basil) compared the members of the Trinity to the source of light (Father), the light itself that illumines (Son), and the warmth when you feel the light (Spirit)

Can we be like God? Remember, we are the image of God. In that image we also cannot be pinned down to one way of relating. We are all many things. What wonderful surprises we all are, just as God is always a wonderful surprise.   God is everywhere; look at the beautiful sunset. God is there. Look at the home destroyed by a tornado. God is there. God is in the tears of joy and in the tears of sorrow.

St. Augustine, one of the most astute thinkers the Christian Church has ever produced, was walking along the seashore one day while pondering the doctrine of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He seemed to hear a voice saying, “Pick up one of the large sea shells there by the shore.” So he picked it up. Then the voice said, “Now pour the ocean into the shell.” And he said, “Lord, I can’t do that.” And the voice answered, “Of course not. In the same way, how can your small, finite mind ever hold and understand the mystery of the eternal, infinite, Triune God?”

The Holy Trinity is not a debatable doctrine: it is an icon, a window into God. It is a parable, a paradox that invites us to behold the mystery of the Divine. All these efforts to help us in our understanding of God do not explain him in completeness, they keep us mindful of a mystery – an essence that comes through to us in a tri-fold fashion. We have the Trinity, the Three in One.

God the Creator: called Father, not because God is a male – God is beyond all gender, male or female – nor because the first person of the Godhead is like a father. We call the first person Father because this is the Father of the Son and the source of the Spirit. We call the first person of the Godhead “Father” because that is what Jesus called him and taught us to call him. Through Jesus, the One Jesus called “Abba Father,” is also “Our Father” – who is the source of all that has ever been, is, or will ever be created.

God the Redeemer: we call the second person of the Godhead “Son” because he comes from the Father, was sent by God to us, to be God with us, to live out his life with us and for us, as one of us. He was not a hologram; he was flesh and blood. He was the greatest gift from God who saved the world, all of creation, all of US, through His living, teaching, sacrifice and resurrection. We know Jesus as the Son not only because he was of the flesh, but as the Gospel of John confesses, because of his life lived out in obedience to his Father (John 4:34).

God the Sanctifier: When Jesus prepared to return to his Father, he promised another Advocate – the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit–the presence of God would be with us (John 15:26). The Holy Spirit brings new birth from above, to transform, renew, sustain, to make us children of God. It is the Spirit’s work to make the bread Jesus’ body, and the wine Jesus’ blood to draw us into Christ’s risen. The Holy Spirit is the wireless connection between us and the Son, and us and the Father, because they are “hard-wired” together in the one essence we call ‘God’.

The Father is not the Son or the Spirit, but the Father, creator of heaven and earth. The Son is neither the Father nor the Spirit, but God in human flesh, sent as the Savior to redeem the world through divine love. The Spirit is neither the Father nor the Son, but God’s presence with us today, the means by which you and I come to experience and know God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit – three distinct means of God being over us and above us, with us and for us, and in and among us, – three distinct relationships with one another, who are nonetheless one in essence. What one wills all three will, what one does all three do–they work in concert, the three playing their different parts–three voices emerging from the same string at the same time, forming a trio of melodies that harmonize into one glorious sound, in order to accomplish the same purpose–as indivisible in their work as they are in their being–One God in three co-equal persons.

The Trinity is even a statement of our faith: God created us, saved us, and sanctifies us. God invites us back to Him, back to the Creator, back to the Redeemer, back to the Sanctifier. God calls us home, for we are created in God’s image, and God’s image and Spirit are within us. God is the Trinity. God is Unity. God is One. And God wants to share that Oneness in love. Within God, and with each and all of us, God wants to be ONE….WITH US!

This is the mystery of God we celebrate today: God over and above us, God for and with us, God in and among us, One God, the God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, the God who in the waters of baptism makes us his own, the God who meets us at table to give us the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation, the God who is in us and among us, using us to share the good news of his love and purpose for us all.

In the Nicaean Creed we will recite, we affirm that we believe in One God, the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

It would be appropriate for you to say, when trying to understand the Trinity:

“Why bother? I have enough problems with things that I understand, let alone things that I don’t understand.”

Surprisingly, there are THREE good reasons why we should attempt to understand the mystery of the Trinity.

The first reason is that Jesus revealed the Trinity to us. The existence of the Father, of himself, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, whom He and the Father sent forth upon the apostles. Jesus came and lived among us to teach us, to show us how to live and how to love, He worked miracles and died for our sins and rose from the dead to show us the way to eternal life. So whatever Jesus revealed to us, He revealed for a reason and it is important for us to pay attention to it and try to understand it as best we can.

Secondly, while we cannot grasp the idea of one God – three persons – each of them God, we can recognize that the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are the perfect model of harmony and unity, a community of relationship, so perfectly intertwined that you cannot tell where one begins and the other ends.

The third and most important reason is that in the first chapter of Genesis, humankind, you and I, are created in the image and likeness of God. Therefore, since Jesus has revealed to us the essence of God as perfect unity, harmony, community and relationship, then the very core of our creation is a call to perfect harmony, community and relationship. This is the real challenge living in a society where individualism is promoted. Nonetheless, we are called to expand our circle of relationship to include more and more people.

We are called to worship the One who created the world. We are called to worship the One who loved the world enough to come into the world and invite us into relationship. We are called to worship the One who comes as Holy Spirit, blowing where it will. This is the Holy Trinity: a mystery we catch glimpses of as we seek to know and love.

A Blessing for Trinity Sunday
In this new season may you know the presence of the God who dwells within your days, the mystery of the Christ who drenches you in love, the blessing of the Spirit who bears you into life anew.

Amen.

Delivered at Trinity Episcopal Church, Newark, OH; 16 June 2019

“To Tell the Truth”: UBE Ambassadors for Healing Pilgrimage

One of the four foundations of the “Becoming Beloved Community” movement is to “Tell the Truth” about the history of churches and racism. To better experience and understand that truth, four women from the central Ohio area joined 48 other “pilgrims” from seven states and the District of Columbia in late May for a pilgrimage to civil rights sites in Alabama. The group, led by The Rev. Dr. Gayle Fisher-Stewart of the DC Chapter of the Union of Black Episcopalians, included other denominations as well. Almost equally divided between African and white Americans, the group also included five clergy and an ELCA deacon. The group was based in Birmingham, with daily trips to sites in Selma and Montgomery as well.

Although words cannot fully express the impact of the trip on each “pilgrim”, a brief review of each day will, perhaps, help impart the scope and intensity of the pilgrimage.

Day 1 – Birmingham
Like all of Alabama and throughout the South following the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation in 1867, Birmingham remained a stronghold of segregation, enforced by customs, “Jim Crow” laws, and violence. From 1950-1962, Birmingham witnessed fifty racially motivated bombings of African American homes, businesses and churches, earning the city the name of “Bombingham”. Segregation was the “norm” in housing, education, and all aspects of public life. In 1963, however, led by a group of local and regional pastors (most notably Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, and Rev. Ralph Abernathy), a series of strategically planned, non-violent marches were held that captured national attention and led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

On our first day, we began by visiting Kelly Ingram Park, the gathering site for the “Children’s Marches”, which had its beginning there. During May 1963 over 1,000 teenagers gathered to march, demanding equal rights for themselves and their parents; all were arrested and jailed. For two more days, thousands of youth gathered to repeat the march until jails were filled for a sixty-mile radius of Birmingham! Attacked by dogs, water cannons, national guardsmen, and police on horseback, the children continued to peacefully march and sing, eventually joined by adults. Finally, the city power structure began to listen – and – responded by beginning the dissolution of segregation laws within the city. Consequently, today Birmingham is the most vibrant and progressive city in Alabama. Kelly Ingram Park provides a walking trail of moving statues and monuments to King, Shuttlesworth, and the African American children. At one point, we were joined by an older gentleman, a deacon from Shuttleworth’s church who had participated in the marches, who passionately explained the intensity and suffering of the 1963 marches.

Just across the street from Kelly Ingram Park is the historic 16th Avenue Baptist Church, which was bombed in September 1963, killing four young black girls. Founded in 1881, the 16th Street Baptist Church is now on the national historic registry, commemorating this tragic event. The young girls, now called “Angels of Change” by the locals, were introduced to us by a church member who knew them. He showed a film about the horrific Sunday event, then spoke eloquently to us about the impact the death of these young martyrs had in accomplishing civil rights reform in Alabama and the nation. We toured the church and left in silence, awed and disturbed by such suffering.

This first day ended with a visit to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, where a self-guided tour of displays, videos, films and holographs and a large research library helped to deepen and re-enforce all we had learned.

Days 2 & 3 – Montgomery
Early on each of the next two days, we boarded a chartered bus for Montgomery.

The Rosa Parks Library and Museum is located in downtown Montgomery on the campus of Troy University. The museum and memorial is in homage to Rosa Parks, whose bravery in 1955 by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white person, really began the civil rights political movement. Mrs. Parks’ great heroism spawned the 11-month long bus boycott in Montgomery. Once again, a well-planned strategy, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and local African American pastors finally began to break the grip of segregation in Montgomery. It was astounding to learn the detailed planning and discipline exhibited by the over 50,000 black citizens of Montgomery as they maintained this monumental example of non-violent protest.

Dexter Avenue King Memorial Church and Parsonage, another historic black church established in 1877, was the first pastorate of the young Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., as he began his ministry. Its basement held the first organizational meetings for the 1955 bus boycott response to Rosa Parks’ arrest. Here we were greeted by two church members who had participated in the Selma marches and other early protests. A visit to the nearby parsonage where Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King lived with their first child, was a moving experience. The house was furnished as it was in the 1950’s, with much of the original furniture. We saw Martin Luther King’s study, the dining table where he held many late-night planning meetings, and the kitchen table where he prayed for guidance and heard God tell him that he would never be alone. On the porch is a plaque denoting the site of one of the many bombings he and his family experienced during the civil rights movement.

The Southern Poverty Law Center is headquartered in Montgomery – and we ended our first day by visiting the fountain (designed by Mia Lin), a moving memorial to heroes of the civil rights movement.

We learned that when the overseas slave trade was banned by the United States Congress in 1808, Montgomery became the center of the domestic slave trade. In 1857, there were more slave auction sites in Montgomery than hotels and churches. Within a few short blocks, one can see the marker of the Confederacy White House, the church where Martin Luther King, Jr. preached, and the corner where Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the Cleveland Avenue bus.

On day two we visited two projects of the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), found in 1989 by Bryan Stevenson. The EJI is committed to ending mass incarceration and excessive punishment in the United States, to challenging racial and economic injustice, and to protect basic human rights for the most vulnerable people in American society. In addition to securing the reversal, relief, or release of over 125 wrongly convicted people on death row, the EJI has raised consciousness nationally about the continued persecution of black Americans starting with lynchings, through “Jim Crow” segregation, to today’s mass incarceration.

The Legacy Museum is located on the site of one of the major warehouses used in Montgomery for the slave trade, where up to 435,000 slaves were contained. Slaves were brought from southern ports, imprisoned in these warehouses and then sold to the highest bidder. When Alabama banned free black people from living in the state in 1833, those remaining were returned to slavery and sold. A beautiful fountain now stands at the site of the major auction block; very few non-people of color know its history!

The Legacy Museum contains alarming panoramas of the civil rights struggle through the 1970’s. The holographs of slaves telling the stories of their separation from members of their family were heart-wrenching. Something that we see again at the Mexican border so many years later.

Videos and testaments of wrongly-convicted prisoners are equally disturbing, not to mention the soil collected from the grounds of hundreds of documented lynching sites in America.

Further down the street near the river docks where thousands of Africans were unloaded from ships for sale stands the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice, also known as “The Lynching Memorial, dedicated in 2018. Veiled in silence, this awe-inspiring monument cannot help but leave one feeling anguished and guilty about what white supremacists perpetuated on our African American brothers and sisters for over 400 years. Hanging obelisks are displayed by county and display the names of those African Americans who were lynched there from 1857 through 1950. The verified count is over 4,400 men, women and children. What is not taught in Ohio history is that 18 African Americans were lynched in Ohio!

Day 4 – Selma
On our final day we traveled to Selma, site of the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the historic march for voting rights in 1965. We visited the Brown Chapel AME Church, which was instrumental as a meeting place for the protests that finally culminated in the Civil Rights Act. A gathering place for many young protestors, these students would skip school to participate in non-violent protests. We were fortunate to have guides at the church who were children at the time and participated in these marches.

They reminded us that there were three marches protesting restrictions on voting in 1965, making the 54-mile trek from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery. Since the Birmingham marches in 1963, there had been renewed efforts to register African American voters, resulting in clashes with Southern white supremacists and Alabama law enforcement. By January 1965, over 3,000 people had been arrested. In early February Jimmie Lee Jackson died after being shot by a state trooper and this lit the powder keg. On March 7, 1965, 600 protesters crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge and were attacked by state troopers and vigilante men with billy clubs and tear gas. This day will be forever known as “Bloody Sunday”. The violence at the bridge and subsequent murders resulted in a national outcry and many clergy from other parts of the country came to the South. Protest officials issued a call for clergy and citizens from across the country to join them. Awakened to issues of civil and voting rights by years of civil rights movement activities, and shocked by the television images of “Bloody Sunday,” hundreds of people responded to the Southern Christian Liberty Conference’s call. One of the men who traveled from Massachusetts was Johnathan Daniels, an Episcopal seminarian, who was later killed while trying to register voters. The second march was March 9, 1965; Martin Luther King, Jr. took the people to the end of the bridge, and when the state troopers did not stop them, he and the marchers returned to the church.

As a result of the violence and confrontations, President Lyndon Johnson sent 1,900 national guard, federal agents and marshals down to ensure the safety of the marchers. A final march left Selma on March , making 10 miles a day, along the “Jefferson Davis Highway” (U.S. Route 80), and arriving on the steps of the capitol on March 25, 1965. Over 25,000 people entered Montgomery supporting voting rights. The Voting Rights Act became law on August 6, 1965. Sadly, today many states are chipping away at the voting rights granted in 1965, including a random “voter purge” here in Ohio, that seeks to disallow over 2 million voters.

At the end of each day, our pilgrimage group met to share thoughts and experiences from what we had seen and heard. These sessions brought even more understanding to the white “pilgrims” of the challenges and heartaches every person of color in our society faces daily – as well as the role our “white privilege” plays in perpetuating their sorrow and struggle. We grew to know one another better, relationships were formed, and the beginnings of a “Blessed Community” were truly sown.

Observations
The pilgrimage to Alabama proved to be a life-changing experience for its participants, and each left determined to continue the work of cleansing our society of racism, and of unifying all of our citizens in love and community. We gained a new appreciation for the civil rights movement as a major force for human freedom in our country and the world, and we came to admire anew the courage and spiritual strength exhibited by those thousands of African American citizens who comprised the movement.

We made several observations about the movement and the work ahead that will drive our future endeavors if we are to be “ambassadors of healing”.

  1. It is imperative that we fight against the return to stringent voter restrictions at the state and federal level. Write letters, call your senators and representatives at the state and federal level.
  1. We must actively participate in registration of potential voters and participate in our election process by voting, serving as poll workers, and assisting people getting to the polls.
  1. Each of us needs to learn the history of the subjugation of African Americans and all people of color that our schools have often deliberately chosen to exclude.
  1. We need to build personal relationships with African Americans, building bridges of understanding experiences for all.
  1. We need to fully participate in Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s “Becoming Beloved Community” as a means to reach racial reconciliation, and finally, the healing of our society.

Birmingham is a vibrant city, attracting new industry and growing, partially because they chose to do away with the old “Jim Crow” legislation and grant African Americans the rights of white Alabamians. Montgomery and Selma appear to be dying cities, probably because of the refusal of their white citizens and leaders to embrace change and work for the good of over half of their population: their African American citizens! And so it is with our nation. We can flourish fully as a society only if we work for the common good of all of our people; when any are suffering and deprived, so are we all, and we can only become a truly good and prosperous nation and world when we care for the freedom and welfare of all of God’s children. To do this work will be to become a “Beloved Community”.

For further information, these websites may be helpful:

Equal Justice (https://eji.org/)

Rosa Park Library and Museum (https://www.troy.edu/student-life-resources/arts-culture/rosa-parks-museum/index.html)

Southern Poverty Law Center (https://www.splcenter.org/)

The Legacy Museum (https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/museum)

The National Memorial for Peace & Justice (https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/memorial)

United States Civil Rights Trail (https://civilrightstrail.com/)
 
 

Rev deniray mueller, Legislative Liaison & Dr Karen Peeler, Saint John’s Worthington, Connections, 1 June 2019

Even Me, Lord?

John 13:1-17

I want to share with you some prepared thoughts I had which I think are important. But first I want to acknowledge, for all of us, the deep sorrow the Christian and entire world is feeling now due to the fire and desecration of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. For those of you lucky enough to have visited there, you know that it is a structure that is a man-made homage to God, eternity, and the human spirit. It has become an icon of civilization and a tribute to beauty and the sacred that we thought was timeless. As we remove from the altar this evening the linens, flowers and cover the cross, as the lights go out, and the music dies away, we are reminded again that all of the beauty and love in this world comes to us from God, and without God, the world would be a wretched place. It is with the strength of God in our lives that we are able to rebuild, repair, and renew each day, and so shall it be with Notre Dame.

We shall all, no matter the individual faith beliefs, help to rebuild it and restore its beauty to our world.

But today is Maundy Thursday, the least understood, probably least attended, and surely the most intimate of the Christian holy days.

Most people, even non-Christians, have heard of Good Friday and Easter – the last two days of what is called the Paschal Triduum. But most people don’t know much about this important Thursday observance. “Maundy Thursday” comes from “mandatum novum” meaning “new commandment” referring to the 13th chapter in the Gospel of John, which describes Jesus hosting a meal for his disciples (now known as “The Last Supper”) after his triumphal entry into Jerusalem. It describes how, in the middle of that meal, Jesus got up from the table, wrapped a towel around his waist, and then started washing the feet of his disciples. He ended this loving and servile act by giving the “new mandate” to

“love one another.” (John 13:34)

Maundy Thursday is awkward and often ignored because, frankly, who wants to be reminded that Jesus humbled himself to do the task that servants and slaves did? We want to celebrate him as the risen king and lord of creation. Who wants to be reminded that Jesus lived out the truth that the ‘first must be last’ (Mark 9:35), and even now – as then – he is willing to touch us where we’re most vulnerable and where the dirt in our lives can be seen?

Who wants to be reminded of the tawdriness in our lives at all?

Who does not shrink from being intimately seen and known in our most wounded self by another?

Who wants to break bread and commune with people who truly know us at our deepest and most broken level?

Jesus’ first disciples balked when he washed their feet – “What are you doing? That’s for slaves to do! We can’t let you do this!” Jesus answered,

“Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” (John 13:8)

To paraphrase,

“Unless you let me do this, unless you let me humble myself, unless you let me do something that you think is shameful; unless you let me embrace you in your shame, you cannot truly share my life, my mission, and my love”.

And so now, if we don’t let Jesus into our lives where we’re truly most vulnerable, ashamed, and broken, we don’t let Jesus into our lives at all.

The love of God, as we learned from Jesus, is unconditional, . . .

just as we are.

To share in his life, to be fully followers of Jesus, we are called to love ourselves and others in that way too. . .

unconditionally.

Are we willing to accept that Jesus loves us totally, regardless of our failings, no matter what dirt we may be wearing? Can we remember that he suffers when we suffer? Can we fully accept that our pettiness, anger and violence hurt him deeply, as it hurts all humanity? Can we fully comprehend, that no matter what, his love has redeemed us and through his suffering and example, we are assured that with him we have eternal life?

Would you pray with me a prayer by Presbyterian Minister Rev Erin Counihan:

Almighty One,

Before I get lost,
In this night of false belief,
This night of cheap faith,
This night when my real is exposed, Along with my bare feet.
Before I give in.
Before I give up.
Before I walk away.
In silent complicity.

It’s obnoxious, I know,
but would you, please,
feed me.
Fill me.
Hope in me.
Give me strength.
Share your grace.
Share your all.
With me.
(Even tonight.)

Please.

If you’ll help me
I promise to try to trust you enough to believe,
to really believe in your wild and radical love
that it might even be for me
in a very real way,
and to let you hold this sin of mine.
The one I like to carry because I think I deserve its weight,
its punishing load should be forever shaking my arms.

So if you’ll help me
I promise to try to trust and believe you can really be that wonderful
for me too.
AMEN.[1]
 
[1]       Rev Erin Counihan, Oak Hill Presbyterian Church, St. Louis, MO

 
Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 18 April 2019