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The author with a fellow Moms Demand Action member at the annual Virginia Interfaith Lobby Day for Gun Violence Prevention

Striving for Justice and Peace Among All People: Advocacy, Activism, and the Baptismal Covenant

During Baptisms, Easter and other special occasions in The Episcopal Church, churchgoers are asked eight questions known as The Baptismal Covenant. It begins as a statement of faith laid out in straightforward question and answer style with questions aren’t all that questionable.

Do you believe in God?
Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
Do you believe in the Holy Spirit?

Then the covenant transitions into questions about how we will live out our faith.

Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching, their fellowship, communion and prayers?
Will you resist evil and return to God when you sin?
Will you proclaim the Good News of God in Christ?

And to these three questions we respond heartily, “I will, with God’s help.”

But then there are the last two questions, which have always been far more radical to me than the six preceding them.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

Again, we respond, “I will, with God’s help,” but I’ve always wondered what crosses through folks’ minds as they respond.

These fundamental promises define who we are as Episcopalians. The way in which we live and move and have our being as Christians is deeply embedded in these baptismal promises. We know that seeking and serving Christ in all persons, striving for peace and justice among all people and respecting the dignity of every human being are things we should be doing as followers of Jesus Christ, but, truthfully, I found living out these promises incredibly challenging while working as a parish priest. Read more

note at Manchester bombing memorial

Death in the Family

note at Manchester bombing memorial

Manchester victim memorials

There has been a death in the family. As I write this, less than twenty four hours have passed since the bomb at Ariana Grande’s concert at the Manchester Arena. Twenty-two people have been confirmed dead, and an unknown number of people are injured. Social media is awash with connected stories. How a homeless man cradled a woman as she died. Ariana Grande herself tweeting a sense of feeling broken. Grande is twenty four years old; much of her following consists of young girls and women. Another article suggests that this was an attack specifically targeted at girls and women. There has been a death in the family.

There has been a death in the family. As I write this I am attending the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. For the Church of Scotland, and for the United Reformed Church, their respective General Assemblies are the highest and final decision making bodies for their denominations. In some respects, for those Churches, it is these Assemblies who are the bishop or the archbishop rather than any individual person. This morning the Assembly received the report and debated the deliverances (this is the term the CoS use for what other bodies would call a motion or a resolution) from their Church and Society Council. The pain of the world was held before us as we reflected on what happened in Manchester along with many other national, U.K., European, and global, social and political issues. I have lived through too many of these tragic events. As I remember other bombs in other cities, in other countries, and on other continents, the creeping feeling of numbness and disbelief that humanity could treat its own so dreadfully touches me yet again. There has been a death in the family.

There has been a death in the family. Much has been written and said about how human communities and how Christian churches deal with death and tragedy. Among the most well known writing about bereavement comes from Elizabeth Kübler-Ross and her theory of five stages of grief. As a Christian minister I have presided over countless funerals where I have proclaimed the Gospel Good News of hope and resurrection trying to enable those left behind to make sense of the gap now present in their family or community. There has been a death in the family.

There has been a death in the family. The question that I am left with, again, is about why this happened? On one level, the answer is simple, someone – and someone that I choose not to hate, or label with insults – walked into the Manchester Arena and detonated an explosive device. The group styled as ‘ISIS’ have claimed responsibility. But where is God? And if there is a God, why do these things happen, and happen to children and young people who had their whole lives ahead of them?

While studying theology at university I was introduced to the biblical genre of lament. Read more

Earbuds

Hearing and Being Heard: A Pastoral Response to Orlando

Earbuds

Listen

The Orlando shootings are not about me. Let’s start with that. I’m white, heterosexual (attracted to people of the opposite gender), and cisgendered (my internal gender identity matches the physical traits I was born with).

My privilege has socialized me to think that the news is always about me – I believe I can make the first comments, know something about it before anyone else, and choose to disregard it as rubbish when it doesn’t fit my worldview. Even when I actually know and experience nothing about it, my place in society gives me the privilege to believe that I am allowed to be the first to know something about the things that happen in our incredibly diverse world. Especially, my privilege assures me to know that I will be heard.

I confess this: being heard has been more important in my life than hearing. I do not listen enough.

Today, the Monday after the shootings, I realize how much I need to listen. I am yearning for the stories written by people in the communities most affected. I am looking for articles written by Latinx (a gender-neutral word form of Latino/Latina) people, posts generated from people who identify within the LGBTQIA community, blogs composed by Muslims who remind us that their religion is indeed about love, not hate. We need to hear that hatred within Islam is a perversion of Islam.

In the same way, hatred is a perversion of Christianity. God is about love.  Read more

Pastoring After Orlando

3704240804_76133ef97b_bIn the wake of the shootings in Orlando, you are not alone if, as a clergyperson, you find yourself asking, “What’s a real thing I can do in response to this?”

Members of The Young Clergy Women Project shared some of their ideas over the last few days. Here are some ideas from young clergy women in a variety of denominations and contexts:

Pastoral Care

  • “Call your members who are LGBTQ. They’re scared, they’re hurting, they’re angry, and they may need pastoral care. Tell them you love them and remind them that God loves them.”
  • “Especially if you are white, hetero, cisgendered: Call the people you know who are gay, Latino, LBBTQI, Muslim. Say you are here for them. Ask how this affects them. Respect if they don’t answer. But if they do, be quiet and listen. Just listen. Don’t share your own reaction or what you think that person should be feeling or doing. Just listen and honor the story.”
  • “Don’t forget the family members of LGBTQIA people. And family members of Muslims. Listen attentively. Validate and normalize the complexity of feelings. Love them, network for them, build them up.”
  • “Apologize for how hurtful the Church has been to the LGBTQ community. Acknowledge that we are still going to mess it up. Commit to try your hardest to personally work for change and ensure the safety of LGBTQ people. Proclaim that while the Church fails, God never fails in God’s love for them.”

Worship

  • “You could offer a requiem Eucharist to celebrate the lives of the beloved children of God who were murdered. The role of the Church is to give our air time to the people who were killed, to comforting those who mourn, and to create ways we can end senseless violence.”
  • “Consider preaching about this, even if it’s hard. It’s good to post prayers on social media, but this may have to be addressed from the pulpit. Consider saying each name during your sermon.”

Public Witness

  • “Fly a rainbow flag at half mast on your church’s flagpole.”
  • “It’s Pride month. If you aren’t involved, it’s not too late to help out, be present and watchful (not creepy though) during Pride events in your community.”
  • “Open your mouth when you hear hate and stop it. Be uncomfortable and be disliked. It’s worth it.”
  • “If you see a Muslim family being harassed, intervene if you can. If you can’t, then console the family after their attackers are gone. Help to make the world safe for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters because their community was attacked and an attack on the Muslim community happened as well.”
  • One young clergywoman shares these plans as an example of ways to build community and solidarity: “We are holding an interfaith lunch in a cafe owned by a same sex couple (which is a noted safe space for LGBTQ persons) as an act of solidarity and fellowship. One of our Muslim interfaith council members will be reading a statement of peace and reconciliation. We hope this leads to further partnerships.”
  • Another young clergywoman writes, “I went to a local mosque today to ask how we could help. The imam asked if we could host an iftar dinner between his community and the LGBTQ community at our church because his mosque didn’t have a large enough space. I know God’s house is big enough.”

Other Thoughts

  • “Talk to your kids about this. A pediatrician I know posted this article.
  • “Even if your denomination or church is not in full support of LGBTQ rights, talk to your congregation about the consequences of the language that we use, what it looks like to show love and support even when we disagree, and what it means to work for the preservation of life in all places.”
  • “Avoid the sentiment, ‘I believe homosexuality is a sin but…’ This is neither the time nor place for that conversation.”
  • “Explicitly acknowledge that this hate was directed at the LGBTQ community. Some of the language out there right now is contorting itself to avoid saying the obvious truth, and that is one more denial.”
  • “If your church has caused harm to queer people, it’s time for repentance. Please don’t participate in ‘praying for Orlando’ without acknowledging that you’ve actively caused harm. If you are interested in Holy Spirit change, that is great! But don’t use the LGBTQ community in prayer when it seems convenient. There is a big difference between churches that represent a wide variety of theologies, but do their best to minister to all, and churches actively doing harm to the LGBTQ community. If your church is the former, by all means, pray. Pray loudly. Lift this up. Let it fuel your work toward a wider lens of inclusion. Acknowledge this as a hate crime and its intersectional nature. But if yours is a church where queer folks would not really be welcome, one which hosts ex-gay ministries etc., then you need to think hard about what an appropriate public voice is.”

At My Wits’ End

Psalm 107:23-32 (St. Helena Psalter)

Some went down to the sea in ships,
         and plied their trade in deep waters.
They beheld your works, O Lord,
         and your wonders in the deep.

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In 1995, I was a junior in college. I had the opportunity to study abroad, and so I did. I was bright, curious, and ambitious. I thought I was ready. I thought it was the kind of thing a student like me, a person like me, should do. I chose the program at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I was a double-major in Religious Studies and Anthropology, with an interest in archaeology; and I was a lifelong Christian, curious to see the land where my faith was born. Jerusalem seemed like an obvious choice.

The study abroad program started early in August with a Hebrew language immersion class, before the school year proper began. I arrived in Jerusalem with many other students from around the world, and we settled ourselves in the student lodgings at the secondary campus, across town from the university.

Jerusalem was beautiful and surprising and strange: that great, golden, hilly city, full of the ancient and the brand-new, all mixed up together. I was entranced by walking the streets of the Old City, buying trinkets from merchants on streets that Jesus may have walked; seeing the Wailing Wall, last remnant of the Temple where Jesus preached;  traveling to the Negev and to Galilee, as the landscapes of the Gospels became real in my heart and mind as never before. Every day was breathtaking.

Then you spoke, and a stormy wind arose,
         which tossed high the waves of the sea.
They mounted up to the heavens and fell back to the depths;
         their hearts melted because of their peril.
They reeled and staggered like drunkards,
         and were at their wits’ end.

I’ve started with what was good and exciting about the trip, but truth be told,  it’s difficult to separate that out from what was hard about it. I was kind of a mess before I even got there. A month before I left the country, my boyfriend of three years broke up with me. It was my first big heartbreak. I hoped a change of scene and the adventure of the trip would help, but in reality, it just meant that I was separated from my family and friends when I needed them most. I made some tentative new friends among my fellow students, but frankly, I was in too much pain to try very hard. I was also struggling to come to terms with the politics of Israel, the sharply-drawn religious and ethnic lines, which I hadn’t given much thought before setting foot in the country. I heard the word “Arab” used as if being Arab automatically meant bad and dangerous, as in, “Don’t walk around the campus at night, an Arab could get in.” I met and talked with Palestinians, I listened to their stories. I refused to find them intrinsically dangerous. The scorpions in the bathrooms – those scared me.  The young Palestinian Christian man who met with me to tell me about his people and their plight – he wasn’t scary at all.

Then, about three weeks into my time there, on August 21, 1995, I was riding the bus across town to the main campus first thing in the morning with other students when another bus, half a block ahead of us, exploded. Five people were killed, including the suicide bomber. A hundred were injured, many severely. My memories of the day are jerky and confused. I remember people running away from the accident site in horror and fear, and others running towards it to offer help. I remember a kind young Israeli woman who lived in a nearby apartment and gathered me up, with several other stunned international students. She took us inside and made us tea, and eventually put us in a taxi to school. I remember arriving at school, finally, in the middle of the day, to find classes cancelled and grief counsellors meeting with students to help us process. They were, unfortunately, well-practiced at handling such events.I remember calling my parents to tell them I was safe. They were asleep and hadn’t even heard the news yet.

Coming on top of everything else, that explosion nearly shattered me. I was utterly overwhelmed. I had no inner resources with which to rebound or rebuild. I was isolated, displaced, miserable and terrified. I felt completely vulnerable, and almost completely alone. The exception to the almost was God. In the days following the bus bombing, I remember spending the evenings sitting on the hillside near our dorms, looking out over Jerusalem – the golden city, the great, holy, broken city – and reading the Psalms from the small red Book of Common Prayer that I had brought with me, a gift from my campus ministry community back in Bloomington. It was then that I discovered Psalm 107, and especially the section that begins, “Some went down to the sea in ships…” That story about the adventure that turned terrifying – I recognized it immediately and deeply as my story. My heart was melted within me. I was at my wits’ end. I read the Psalm and its promise of salvation, again and again, and again and again I prayed: Just let me survive this. The physical danger to my body, the deep pit into which my soul has fallen… Just let me survive.

Then they cried to you in their trouble,
         and you delivered them from their distress.
You stilled the storm to a whisper,
         and quieted the waves of the sea.
Then they were glad because of the calm,
         and you brought them to the harbor they were bound for.

My parents wanted me to come home immediately. They’d been worried about me already; they knew this was too much. But I refused. Coming home to another ordinary year on campus felt like giving up. It felt like a failure, and I was afraid it would be the last straw that would break me completely. But because I was a very lucky and loved and privileged young lady, my parents were able to work with the people at my university  and make me another offer, some days later: I could come home, rest, re-pack my bags, and join the study abroad program at the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, instead. It didn’t start until October, and several of my friends were going. Given an attractive alternative, I was persuaded to come home from Israel, repack my bags with plenty of sweaters, and fly off to England. Looking back, I feel incredibly blessed by this opportunity. Canterbury was a very healing place for me, charming and beautiful and among friends, and with the spires of the cathedral, the spiritual center of world Anglicanism, always on the horizon. My year in Canterbury was happy and deeply restorative. It did feel, finally, like arriving at the harbor I was bound for.

At the same time, I have never forgotten how deeply I was shaped by the journey, and the storm. During my weeks in Israel, I sank as low as I had ever sunk in my young life. And what I learned was that even when the deeps were closing over me and the light seemed so far away, there was something solid down there in the depths that let me push off, and push up towards the surface and the light once again.

Those days in Israel made Psalm 107 into one of my core texts, my heart-Scriptures, one of the places I go again and again to remember that experience of God’s faithfulness.  To remind myself to trust, all over again, that I will, eventually, arrive in the harbor for which I am bound.