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

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