Archive for July, 2016

The Graciousness Of A Great Leader

July 12, 2016

Yesterday, I wrote these words on my Facebook status and received nearly 60 “likes” almost immediately: “Ed Browning, who died today, inspired a generation of us as a missionary priest, an international bishop, and Presiding Bishop. When he presided at my Consecration, my only prayer was to follow in his footsteps. His contribution to this church, and to the cause of Christ in incalculable. My his rest this day be in the Paradise of God.”

I shall never forget watching him, by video, in the pulpit of Washington’s National Cathedral on the day of his installation as our 24th Presiding Bishop. It was on the Feast of the Baptism of Christ and he preached a magnificent sermon on Compassion, based on the Proper lessons and theme of the day. It was out of his profound understanding of the Sacrament of Baptism that Ed reiterated his famous declaration on that day, “In this church, there will be no outcasts.”

This was not a “politically correct” or “bleeding heart liberal” statement. This was a conviction borne out of his theological commitment and deep spirituality to the fact that we are all created in the image of God, that we are to respect the dignity of every human being, and that baptism is the great equalizer, the celebration of that radical equality preached and demonstrated by Jesus and lived out, when we are at our best, by the church.

Ed presided at my consecration as the 8th Bishop of Iowa and I served with him on the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council for three of my six years (the latter three being with Frank Griswold). With Ed as the chair and Pam Chinnis as vice chair of the Council, I witnessed the finest example of shared leadership between clergy and lay that I have ever seen in our church. They had the deepest respect, and even love, for one another and they led this church with passion, integrity, and courage during those difficult years.

One of my proudest possessions is an autographed copy, in his beautiful handwriting, of the book No Outcasts, a collection of excerpts from his sermons and essays narrated and edited by The Rev. Brian Grieves, Ed’s dear friend and the Peace and Justice officer for the Episcopal Church during his tenure as PB. Please allow me to share Ed’s words, not because of what they say about me, but because of what they reveal about the graciousness a great leader:

To Chris

With the deepest admiration and gratitude for your ministry — for me you are one of the most articulate statesmen of this Church. It has been a privilege to be both in the House and the Council with you!

+Ed Browning

Executive Council

Hawaii 1997

If these kind words indicate that at least Ed thought I had partially succeeded in walking (far behind) in his prophetic footsteps, they bring me much peace and contentment in retirement. There is no one for whom I have had greater respect.

“Into paradise may the angels lead you. As your coming may the martyrs receive you, and bring you to the holy city Jerusalem.” My dear brother…

 

 

 

 

 

Head of Congressional Black Caucus Visits Iowa Democrats

July 10, 2016

Emanuel Cleaver, longtime Congressman from Missouri’s 5th district and now head of the Congressional Black Caucus, paid a visit to our campaign headquarters in Davenport, Iowa yesterday. He was there to give a pep talk to those of us who are volunteers in the Hillary Clinton campaign, and to implore us to work hard in what he called “the most significant presidential election perhaps in our nation’s history.”

This is not a man given to hyperbole. He is a United Methodist pastor who grew up in public housing in Wichita Falls, Texas. He served on the Kansas City Council from 1979 to 1991 when he was elected as the first African American major of that city. He is now the ranking member of the Banking Committee and has fairly recently been named chair of the Black Caucus.

On September 11, 2014, around 2:50 a.m. a Molotov cocktail was thrown through the window of Cleaver’s Kansas City office. Fortunately, he was in Washington at the time and no staff members were injured.

So, I have to take this man very seriously when he expresses his genuine fear that Donald Trump might be elected President of the United States. He believes the presumptive Republican nominee to be not only unqualified, but dangerous. Traveling across the globe on Congressional business, he told us he has found, wherever he goes, foreign leaders and ordinary citizens aghast at what is happening in America, not least in this political season. “What is happening in your country?” Cleaver said he is often asked.

After a passionate and moving address, he went on to his next campaign headquarters stop (he had just come from Cedar Rapids) and many of us began making phone calls on behalf of Hillary Clinton and indeed the entire Democratic slate which will appear on the ballot next November. I found lots of support for Secretary Clinton, a few Trump supporters, and some who — unbelievably to me — are undecided!

Of all years to be “undecided” at this point, this is patently not the one. Some simply don’t trust either candidate, a few are therefore looking to Gary Johnson (the Libertarian Party candidate) as a way to express their displeasure with the two traditional parties. I guess I can understand that, but I encouraged them at least to vote for Democrats “down ballot” if they could not bring themselves to vote for Hillary Clinton.

While, on the one hand, I think she may win an overwhelming victory in the Fall. Yet, on the other, this is an unbelievably unpredictable electoral cycle. I will continue to work as hard as I can to get out the vote and encourage people not to vote against their own self interest, simply because we have two flawed candidates from which to choose. When has this not been the case? It’s just more evident this time.

But the stakes could not be higher, as a very wise man reminded us yesterday.

I invite you to join me in defeating Donald Trump by working and voting for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Surely The Presence of the Lord Is In This Place

July 9, 2016

Challenged by Brandi Riley’s powerful live video on Facebook, imploring white people to get involved, to raise their voices because black folks cannot do this — call for justice and an end to police (and other) violence — alone, I joined a march yesterday.

Sponsored by a coalition of churches and community organizations here in the Quad Cities, we marched from police headquarters in Rock Island, Illinois across the Centennial Bridge, to headquarters in Davenport, Iowa. As we marched we chanted the familiar “No justice, no peace” and “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

One of the leaders, at the start of the march, made our intentions clear, “We will not turn this into another Dallas. Anyone bent on provoking violence can go back to your car now.” There was no violence. Here are excerpts from some of the speeches we heard:

“Is everybody here black?” No, the crowd responded. “Is everybody here white?” No, the crowd roared. “We’re here because we respect humanity. When black people are killed, I hurt. When civilians are killed, I hurt. When police are killed, I hurt. A life is a life. Until we resemble what we see today, people of all backgrounds respecting life, until that day comes, we have to shout to all people that black lives matter. Because obviously too many people don’t think those lives matter.”

“We don’t hate cops,” a young woman said, “I don’t want to be a mother standing over a casket.” And another organizer summed it all up, “We’re here to share our concern, share our love, and share our will to say that things have got to change. We can start change in our community.”

I hope so. This is the first march I have participated in since the Trayvon Martin murder. After that event, there were a few meetings here of community leaders and clergy but things sort of fizzled out. We have a short attention span in this country. We are numbed to gun violence and systemic racism.

But this is the only way things will change. Yesterday, I called for continuing hard work against racism and for sensible gun laws. Even more important are ongoing conversations between black people and white people, between law enforcement and the citizenry to build the kind of trust necessary for genuine and lasting change to begin to happen.

I was proud to be a Christian yesterday. Even though there were Muslims, Buddhists and people of no faith in the crowd, the spirit of the black church was much in evidence. When a young pastor closed our time in prayer, he acknowledged the presence of many faiths and none and he expressed his respect for them all. But then he asked their indulgence while he prayed, with integrity, out of the faith which brought him there. The powerful prayer ended in the Name of Jesus.

I don’t believe anyone was offended.

Because his spirit was surely present in that place.

 

Baton Rouge…St. Paul…Dallas

July 8, 2016

Just a few thoughts about these last awful days: First of all, it hardly needs to be said, but must be, that at the root of it all, is white racism. Whether or not the police officers in Baton Rouge or St. Paul were themselves racists or whether the killings of the young black men were even motivated by racism, white racism is nonetheless at the root of it.

Racism is not the same as prejudice. The definition of racism is “bias plus power equals racism.” A powerless person cannot be a racist. He or she may be prejudiced (making pre-judgments about others) or even a bigot. But a powerless person cannot be a racist…by definition. So, we live in a racist society where white people (white men, more specifically) have the power. When that is coupled with bias or prejudice, you have racism and a racist society.

Black people especially (among other people of color) are victims of this racism. They have been denied adequate housing and education, they have been denied employment opportunities, they have been denied their basic humanity. Most white people are afraid of black people, black men especially. They have become dehumanized.

Many police officers are afraid of black men, and are therefore hyper-vigilant when confronting a black person for some alleged violation of the law. I believe it is that fear, borne of generational racism, that is at the root of so many of the recent killings of black men by police officers.

Secondly, our society is awash in guns. We often think of white, redneck types as the most likely to “conceal and carry” but the epidemic of black on black murder on the South Side of Chicago makes it crystal clear that lots of black youth are carrying weapons as well these days. Both the recent victims, in Louisiana and Minnesota, were carrying handguns. One was apparently properly licensed, the other most likely was not. Does anyone seriously believe that the fear of a black man reaching for his weapon was not at the root of these police officers firing precipitously?

Now, we have another black man in Dallas who, enraged and full of hatred, used yet another gun, this time a high powered rifle (perhaps schooled by military training) to mow down and kill five innocent police officers, wounding others and some civilians as well. The bitter irony is that these officers were trying to protect the rights and safety of those who were protesting the actions of some of their fellow officers!

Think about this vicious cycle: Two young black men, victims of white racism all their lives, carry  concealed handguns. Frightened (and perhaps angry) white cops, believing that these men might be going for those guns pump multiple rounds into their bodies, resulting in their deaths. People around the nation organize peaceful protests against this action and another black man, armed with a powerful weapon himself, slaughters five more.

Two concealed handguns, two police weapons, one (at least) long rifle. Seven innocent lives lost…needlessly…again.

What are we to do? Engage in the ongoing war against racism. Get to know your neighbor of color. Speak out against racist remarks and actions. Try to determine how the policies and positions of your elected officials (from city council to the presidency) serve to either advance or retard racism in our society and vote accordingly.

Secondly, do all you can to support efforts for effective gun control in this country. That will likely mean local and state efforts since the will to do something on the national level seems lacking. Of course such things as banning assault weapons, limiting magazine capacity, assuring that there are effective background checks on gun purchasers will not eliminate gun violence. But if there are no laws on the books, or if those laws are not being effectively enforced, then we have no way to prosecute those we do find in possession of these weapons of mass destruction. Saving one life, such as the ones we lost this week, would be worth it.

These are just initial thoughts, ramblings, I guess. We will all be processing this for weeks, months, years. Please, God, help us to do something about it. This time…

Those Damn Emails Again!

July 6, 2016

“I’m sick and tired of hearing about your damn e-mails!” So once said Bernie Sanders during one of the primary debates with Hillary Clinton, delighting Democrats everywhere. We shall see if he is able to maintain that same posture after F.B.I. Director James Comey’s announcement that no criminal charges would be recommended by his agency against Clinton for her handling of classified material on non-personal email servers while, at the same time, questioning her judgement. Personally, I hope Sanders will continue to take the high ground.

However, I do have to agree with a Republican strategist who said yesterday, “Any day a  campaign has to say, ‘Well, at least she didn’t get indicted’ is a bad day for that campaign.” No kidding! Having said that, I doubt that this announcement will have much influence on the outcome of November’s elections (except taking up valuable air time which could be spent on discussion of substantive issues about which Clinton and Donald Trump disagree). Hillary’s opponents will see a “vast left wing conspiracy” at work. Her supporters will minimize the seriousness of the F.B.I.’s findings and point out that Colin Powell and Condoleeza Rice did substantially the same thing. Actually, no, they didn’t.

As is so often the case, today’s New York Times editorial says it best: “As Mrs. Clinton said in the past, and her campaign reiterated on Tuesday, her decision to use private email was a mistake. She remains, far and away, the most experienced and knowledgeable candidate for the presidency, particularly compared with Donald Trump. But she has done damage to her reputation by failing to conform to the established security policies of the department she ran and by giving evasive or misleading answers about her actions and motivations. If there was ever a time that Mrs. Clinton needed to demonstrate that she understands the forthrightness demanded to those who hold the nation’s highest office, this is the moment.”

I could not agree more. And, if I was Secretary Clinton’s campaign manager, I would suggest immediately scheduling an hour long, one-on-one television interview with some respected journalist (if there are any left — maybe Lester Holt or Brian Williams; Andrea Mitchell has become a Hillary hater for some reason, and Rachel Madow would be seen to be too partisan).

In this interview Clinton should answer forthrightly any and all questions, avoid her usual hyper-defensiveness, and show some genuine contrition and vulnerability which can be so winsome when she lets herself reveal it.  That would go a long way toward restoring the confidence of her base without the temptation for them to minimize her “careless” (not”reckless,” as Rudy Gulianni falsely quoted Comey) decisions about emails and private servers.

Having gotten herself into this mess, Hillary could at least use it to demonstrate that she does not believe herself to be above the law or someone to whom the rules do not apply.

 

 

Have A Thoughtful Fourth!

July 4, 2016

We were reminded last week by the Vice President of our Episcopal Church’s House of Deputies, Byron Rushing (longtime African American state legislator in Massachusetts) to be careful in appropriating Christian symbols and values uncritically to our Fourth of July celebrations. For example, this prayer, often used on Independence Day, is offensive to many and not completely true anyway:

“Lord God Almighty, in whose Name the founders of this country won liberty for themselves and for us, and lit the torch of freedom for nations then unborn: Grant that we and the people of this land may have grace to maintain our liberties in righteousness and peace…”

Leaving aside the question of whether the “Founding Fathers” did what they did in God’s name, it is clear that they won liberty primarily for themselves and certainly not for the enslaved people they continued to “own,” Native Americans they continued to slaughter, and women who did not have the right to vote for their leaders for over a century.

Byron Rushing suggests the substitution of another prayer we often use For the Nation: “Lord God Almighty, you have made all people of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will…”  This, at least, sets us into the context of all the “people of the earth” and recognizes that we have a long way in establishing “liberty and justice for all.”

I also chafe at the ease with which we often appropriate texts about the “Promised Land” in the Old Testament, clearly referring to Israel, as now somehow applying to this new “promised land” of these United States. This is clearly “eisegesis” (reading something into the text) rather than “exegesis” (extracting meaning from the text). Therefore, I was happy that our morning Reading from the Wisdom literature of the Apocrypha avoids this tendency and really gives us something to think about:

“A wise magistrate educates his people, and the rule of an intelligent person is well ordered. As the people’s judge is, so are his officials; as the ruler of the city is, so are all its inhabitants. An undisciplined king ruins his people, but a city becomes fit to live in through the understanding of its rulers. The government of the earth is in the hand of the Lord, and over it he will raise up the right leader for the right time.”

“Human success is in the hand of the Lord, and it is he who confers honor upon the lawgiver. Do not get angry with your neighbor for every injury, and do not resort to acts of insolence. Arrogance is hateful to the Lord and to mortals, and injustice is outrageous to both. Sovereignty passes from nation to nation on account of injustice and insolence and wealth.” (Ecclesiasticus 10:1-8, 12-18)

Well, God may well “raise up the right leader for the right time.” But, in this country at least, that depends upon getting a majority of the people’s votes. And we have some pretty important choices to make this time around.

So, I will spend a few hours of this Independence Day registering new voters at the Bettendorf, Iowa July 4th Festival! Happy Fourth!

 

 

 

 

Letter Sent This Morning

July 2, 2016

To the Editor:

I grow extremely weary of the succession of letters to the editor such as Justine Carlson’s “Clinton can’t be trusted” on July 2, accusing the presumptive Democratic nominee for President of being “a chronic liar involved in many scandals (and) numerous violations while Secretary of State…” and on and on.

Hillary Rodham Clinton is the most qualified person to run for the presidency in U.S. history. She has deep Midwestern roots, hailing from Chicago, finished off with a world class education at Wellesley and Yale Law School. Rather than signing up for a lucrative career in a Wall Street law firm she began her dedicated life of public service by co-founding the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families and, in 1978, was appointed the first female chair of the Legal Services Corporation. She is a devout Methodist, being heavily influenced in her youth by a progressive youth pastor who once took her to hear Martin Luther King speak, which changed her life.

She was given unprecedented responsibility as First Lady by her husband, Bill and was ahead of her time in working for health care reform. Even though frustrated in that effort she was able to create programs for children’s health insurance, adoption, and foster care. When she was subpoenaed in the trumped up Whitewater controversy, no charges were brought against her related to this or any other controversies in her life. She remained faithful to her husband after his heartless betrayal with Monica Lewinsky and many others. Is she to be criticized for this?

As U.S. Senator from New York and as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton has indeed revealed a somewhat more “hawkish” foreign policy perspective than even I am comfortable with, having voted for the ill-fated invasion of Iraq (led astray by faulty Bush-era intelligence) for which she has apologized. But she also advocated a stronger military response to the deteriorating situation in Syria which, had President Obama heeded her advice, might have prevented the disaster present there now resulting in the development of ISIS.

In short, let us concentrate on Secretary Clinton’s actual record and stop repeating the unsubstantiated lies which continue to be spread by her adversaries. And let us hope that, come January of 2017, we will have another President Clinton and not a President Trump.

 

Christopher Epting

Bettendorf, Iowa