Archive for January, 2017

“Look Around You”…a song of lament

January 30, 2017

On my long drive to Florida, as I often do I listened – and sang along with – a CD from the Community of Celebration (the musical arm of which was called “The Fisherfolk” decades ago).  I serve as Bishop Visitor to this wonderful community of Christians now living in Aliquippa PA, incarnating God’s love and healing in a distressed, formerly “Rust Belt” neighborhood.

As so many of us remain deeply saddened, depressed if not angry, and nearly hopeless following Donald Trump’s election, his Cabinet selections, and his recent executive orders, it is all very well to resist, to demonstrate, and to begin planning for the next elections to bring some sanity back into our government.

But we also need words and music to help us lament. I was touched deeply once again by this modern interpretation of the ancient Kyrie eleison (Lord, have mercy) by J. Page-Clark and sung by the Community of Celebration in their worship and on a number of albums and CDs. I wish I could sing the haunting melody for you over this medium. But these are the words:


Look around you; can you see. Times are troubled, people grieve. See the violence, feel the hardness. O my people, weep with me.

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison

Walk among them; I’ll go with you. Reach out to them with my hands. Suffer with me and together, we will serve them, help them stand.

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison

Forgive us, Father; hear our prayer. We would walk with you, anywhere. Through your suffering, with forgiveness, take your life into the world.

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison


Join me in praying these words through your tears…

And mine.


Think Globally; Act Locally

January 25, 2017

In these opening days of Donald Trump’s presidency, days in which he has begun to disassemble the Affordable Health Care Act, to defund Planned Parenthood, to re-open possibilities for construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access oil pipelines through our land, to appropriate U.S. funds to build a wall between our country and Mexico and, finally, to severely restrict immigration from some parts of the world, I joined several hundred Iowans at our State Capitol in Des Moines to resist any and all of this.

Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement is a 40 year old, grassroots organization dedicated to community organizing in the state of Iowa. Our mission statement is “to empower and unite grassroots people of all ethnic backgrounds to take control of their communities, involve them in identifying problems and needs and in taking action to address them; and be a vehicle for social, economic, and environmental justice.”

Yesterday began with a “political theater” event in the rotunda of the state capitol where mock ‘awards’ were given to legislators who were seen to be the worst offenders in taking corporate hand-outs in order to pass legislation favorable to big business and big agriculture in order to protect their interests against those of their workers and the environment (especially our water supply). This lampoon was followed by brief addresses from sister groups joining ICCI on this day, particularly college student organizers from Drake University, Grinnell College and elsewhere across the state who were engaged in similar resistance and action.

We also heard from a family farmer who represented a dying breed of smaller, sustainable farms across Iowa being driven out of business by the huge Factory Farms gobbling up most of the land and resources of our beautiful state and destroying the small towns which used to exist to support scores of family farms  surrounding them, but now face dwindling populations because larger farms employ fewer people due to massive automation of farm equipment and disastrous heavy use of chemical fertilizer in order to manage their vast acreage “efficiently.”

Over the lunch hour, we jammed the halls of a hearing room debating defunding Planned Parenthood in the state of Iowa. This is an effort led by legislator Steven King, a Trump-like clone who has been embarrassing Iowans of good will for a decade or more by his ignorant and racist statements about women, immigrants, and anyone else he considers unworthy of his consideration. After lunch, I attended a smaller gathering with one of the bright lights of our state, Senate Minority Leader Rob Hogg (Dem. Cedar Rapids) who asked for our help in defeating impending legislation to cut funding for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

In the afternoon, some of us boarded three buses for a quick trip downtown to “occupy” the main Wells Fargo Bank building in order to protest their corporate support of the Dakota Access Pipe Line which will cut a diagonal swath across our state, delivering some of the dirtiest oil in the world from the Bakken shale oil fields of North Dakota to an oil tank farm in Illinois. This pipeline endangers our water supply here in Iowa as well as that of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation prompting protests by Lakota and Dakota Sioux and scores of other tribes in recent months.

We took over the lobby for about a half an hour, delivering a letter of protest to the new CEO of Wells Fargo (who has just replaced the one resigning in the midst of scandal by employees of this huge bank). The reading of the letter was interspersed by our chants like “Finance the Future; Not Fossil Fuels” and “No oil in our soil!”Also by individual testimonies from persons affected by the potential building of this pipeline. The bank manager refused to come out of his office and the security guards eventually called the police who, having been assured by our organizers that this was an entirely peaceful protest, watched benevolently over our action until we marched and chanted our way back to the buses.

Like my wife Susanne who participated in the Women’s March on Saturday, it felt good to be among people who shared my horror and frustration at the election of Donald Trump and the forces of evil (yes, evil) it has released across our land. Our worst impulses seem to have been tapped by the racist and unqualified bully we have elected to the highest office in our land. The only thing we can do now is peacefully resist this Administration and its local expressions as best we can while we await with hope for it to collapse under its own incompetence and the nation come to its senses before it is really too late.

It’s the only thing I know to do now. As we used to say in the 70s, “Think Globally; Act Locally.”




Why Women Must Lead

January 23, 2017

When Susanne first decided to participate in one of the “sister marches” to the Women’s March on Washington last Saturday, the one in our state capital of Des Moines, she thought there might be 1,000 people present. By the time she left from Iowa City, she had heard there might be as many as 10,000. Yesterday, the Des Moines Register put the number at just over 26,000! By all accounts these solidarity marches around the world exceeded a million and far surpassed what was anticipated.

In addition, contrary to the window-breaking thugs in Washington DC on inauguration day, these marches were entirely non-violent. Not one arrest was reported across the United States and I would not be surprised if this was the case all over the world where similar demonstrations took place. This is, in part, why I have titled this post “Why Women Must Lead.”

First, an illustration: When the good people of the Diocese of Massachusetts elected Barbara Harris in 1989 as the first woman bishop in the Episcopal Church (and therefore in the worldwide Anglican Communion) they peacefully — and perhaps unknowingly — revolutionized the Episcopal Church. Barbara was welcomed warmly into our House of Bishops, but her first years were lonely as the sole female voice in the “good old boys” club of that HOB.

This, until she was joined by other women, first other “suffragan” or assistant bishops, then later a few “diocesan” bishops and finally, in 2006 our first female presiding bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori. Gradually, as the number of women in the House of Bishops reached double figures and became increasingly influential, we began to notice a change. The conversations became more civil, the leadership more collaborative, our concerns began broadening out to include attention to marginalized persons across the spectrum, debates about issues of human sexuality became more informed as their complexities and nuances became better understood. In short, women bishops changed us!

The United States of America desperately needs such change now. Hillary Clinton might well have ushered in, or at least advanced, such change. But her election was not to be for a variety of reasons — Clinton fatigue, mistakes she made in life and in campaigning, Russian interference, a rural and blue collar population which became convinced (against all reason) that Donald Trump was on their side and would bring about changes in an economy which seemed to have passed them by. We (and perhaps soon, they) are only beginning to realize what a tragic mistake that was.

Precisely because Donald Trump was elected by a coalition of angry white men and women who (tragically) either think like them or were intimidated by them, we need the leadership and example of the kind of women we saw in the streets of this land and others last week. Women who know something of what it is like to be marginalized and silenced, but will be no more.

Women who have utmost in their minds the well-being of children and families. Women who, in their own bodies, know something of the wonder and complexity of human sexuality and who seem naturally inclined to move beyond the kind of dualistic thinking (in this and other issues) which seem to dominate so much of the rhetoric and “wisdom” of this age. Women who seek consensus and collaboration in leadership rather than silencing, shaming, and bullying.

It is my fervent hope that those “marchers in pink” and those of us who love and support them may find ways to make the Women’s March far more than an event. As important as such events are, what we need now in a Movement.

A sustained movement informed and led by women.

Women’s March On Washington

January 21, 2017

A prayer for the Women’s March from today’s Scripture…

“...our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the arrows of the evil one.

Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert, and always persevere...”

(from the Letter to the Church at Ephesus, Chapter 6)

Time For “Life And Work” Again

January 18, 2017

Today is the Feast of the Confession of St. Peter and marks the beginning of the 2017 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The week will conclude on January 25 with the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. This is a week during which Christians are asked to pray for the unity of the church. The modern ecumenical movement, which has church unity as its goal, is sometime said to have started with the formation of the World Council of Churches after World War II.

But the Council itself came into being largely as a result of the merger of two already-existing movements — Faith and Order which focused on matters of doctrine and church structure/governance and Life and Work which explored ways the churches could work together around issued of justice and peace in the world. Those movements came into their own after the First World War.

For a long time, the emphasis was on Life and Work since the differences in Faith and Order among the churches seemed too great to overcome. However, a renewed emphasis on faith and order from, say, the 1960s has brought about a remarkable number of agreed statements, full communion relationships, and even mergers where previously separate communions (denominations) have become one. It has been a remarkable half-century.

As ecumenical officer for the Episcopal Church, I spent many years in bilateral and multilateral dialogues — Anglican – Roman Catholic, Lutheran – Episcopal, the Consultation on Church Union (COCU), Episcopal – Methodist, Presbyterian – Episcopal and others. While I would not take anything for those experiences and the advances toward the unity of the church we made, I believe we have gone about as far as we can go in the Faith and Order side of things. Now, especially now, it is time to focus again on Life and Work.

I have been reading a lot of Dietrich Bonhoeffer lately because I sincerely believe that the United States is facing some of the same challenges Germany faced in the 1930s with the rise of Nazism and Adolph Hitler. Bonhoeffer was deeply involved in the fledgling ecumenical movement of his day and derived much strength and support from ecumenical colleagues in England and the United States as he became a leader in the Confessing Church in Germany which opposed Hitler and the capitulation of the established church in his rise to power.

Fortunately, Donald Trump does not have an established church in the country to co-opt. There is a reason we have a separation between church and state. However, his embrace of the so-called “evangelicals” (I recoil at letting them claim that hallowed title) and the “prosperity gospel” preachers may well give him a kind of cover and lead people to believe that the racist, misogynist, and xenophobic policies he is likely to promote are actually “Christian” positions.

It will be up to Christians in a renewed Life and Work movement (and, I would hope, a strengthened World Council of Churches and National Council of Churches) to bear witness to the truth of the gospel and resist any attempts to apply a veneer of “faith” onto right wing politics. We have seen this done before. The Confessing Church in Germany, however heroic, was a bit late in mounting resistance to Hitler and his minions.

We must not let that happen again.

The Time For Silence Is Over

January 16, 2017

Much has been written about the unconscionable irony of President-elect Donald Trump getting into a war of words with civil rights icon John Lewis virtually on the eve of this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It is just one more example of Trump’s insensitivity and tone deafness on the matter of race relations in this country over which he will soon preside.

It will be enormously difficult for Donald Trump to “bring this country together,” as he claims to want to do, if he continues to denigrate African Americans, women, immigrants, the press, allies in NATO and the United Nations, and so many others. One of Trump’s most dangerous characteristics (and he has many) is his prickly, thin-skinned nature which we see played our daily on Twitter. Presidents, even the most popular ones, are constantly being criticized — sometimes deservedly, sometimes not. Are we in for four years of daily rants about every such critical remark? Probably.

A more rational response to John Lewis’ (and others) opinion about the “illegitimacy” of his presidency and decisions not to attend the inauguration would have been for Trump to reach out to them or at least to state publicly that he would do all he could to win their confidence and trust in the days and months ahead. Alas, another missed opportunity.

I have been reading a lot of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth lately and considering the similarities between what we are going through in this country and the situation the German people faced in the 1930s during the rise of National Socialism and Adolf Hitler. I do not believe Trump is another Hitler yet, but I fear he might be. Hitler was “elected” by a population who felt that democracy was not working for them and that they therefore had to have a charismatic, unconventional leader who would “drain the swamp” and get things done.

Hitler began by embracing Christianity and the German church because he knew it was in his best interests to do so. Prophets like Barth and Bonhoeffer saw through this ruse and finally felt the need to set up a “Confessing Church” in opposition to the established church which has fallen under the dictator’s sway. We are fortunate not to have an “established” church in the United States for Donald Trump to co-opt, although his embracing of the so-called “evangelicals” and “prosperity gospel” preachers is troubling.

I have mixed feelings about our National Cathedral agreeing to participate in the inauguration by providing a choir and hosting the interfaith prayer service. On the one hand, we have had that role for many decades even when many Episcopalians opposed a particular candidate and surely it is right to pray for our leaders whether we agree or disagree with them. On the other hand, never before have we seen a President-elect who has made so many public statements which are at odds with the spirit of Christ and the teachings of the church. It would have been a powerful witness to respectfully decline the invitation to participate this time.

When all is said and done, on this Martin Luther King Day, we must heed the witness of John Lewis and his mentor, Dr. King, not to keep silent in these days, but to remain eternally vigilant lest the slippery slope that led the German people to plunge into the horrors of Nazism and the Holocaust be our fate in the coming years. It can happen here!

King famously said that “the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice” and I believe that. But, as this recent election has shown us, that arc has many twists and turns along its path.


White Privilege and Mansplaining

January 4, 2017

Susanne and I decided to check in with our first Iowa City Council meeting last night as they discussed the possibility of claiming the title “sanctuary city” for immigrants who rightly fear for their safety and the integrity of their families under the upcoming Trump administration. The discussion was a bit disappointing resulting in their stopping short of pursuing the sanctuary city label, but directing the city attorney to draft a resolution for a future meeting that would, in part, deny allocations of local resources to federal immigration enforcement officers.

The major expressed concern that the term “sanctuary city” has no agreed-upon definition and is controversial even in progressive Iowa City because it may suggest (wrongly) that the city would be breaking federal law or harboring dangerous criminals who happen to be immigrants. One councilwoman even used the tired argument that using the label would give a false sense of security to those who might not understand the limitations that local government has. (In other words, immigrants are too dumb to comprehend what the rest of us do!).

Susanne commented that the meeting was a cross between “white privilege and mansplaining.” It certainly had those characteristics. One bright spot was an articulate attorney who expressed his desire to send a strong signal in advance of any actions the federal government might take under a President Trump, given his rhetoric on the campaign trail. He acknowledged the good record of local law enforcement in the past in guarding public safety while not getting involved in immigration policy which is a federal responsibility.

The city attorney made it clear that any request from the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) for local police to detain people solely on the basis of questionable immigration status can only be in the form of a request and do not bind the city police department or the Johnson County jail. Unless there is a threat to public safety, local law enforcement is quite within its rights to ignore such requests.

The councilman mentioned above who was most concerned about Iowa City sending a message to the Trump administration now pointed out that this was all fine and good given present laws, but feared that such laws may change in the not-too-distant future. “If there was to be a federal law passed like that, saying that we had to help (ICE), then constitutional issues would come into play,” said the city attorney. In other words, the city might refuse on constitutional grounds due to lack of proper warrants, etc.

In the end the council agreed to ask for the resolution clarifying the city’s intent not to allow federal immigration enforcement officers to be assisted by local resources and also to consult University of Iowa law professors in order to be kept informed of any likely change in federal law which would require further assessment of the city’s response.

Overall, I am glad to be in a community where these matters are even being discussed on the highest levels. But I will continue to monitor the progress of the proposed resolution and will likely be back in council chambers for that debate.

A Post-Party 2017

January 2, 2017

No, the title of this post does not mean that I have given up partying after a crushing hangover yesterday (didn’t happen!). What I am seriously considering as my belated New Year’s resolution is to curtail my involvement in any political party this year in favor of focusing my energies on groups and organizations which will be fighting to preserve our civil rights and liberties which I fear may be very much under attack under a Trump administration.

Oh, I will still remain a registered Democrat. At least as long as that party’s platform and values best represent the poor and marginalized with whom my faith requires me to stand. I will likely vote Democrat in any upcoming elections, but I will no longer devote my time and hopes to a political party which so badly failed us all in 2016…and perhaps long before. I worked hard for Hillary Clinton and was assured by the party bosses that Donald Trump could not possibly win and that their strategies would carry Secretary Clinton with ease into the White House. Wrong!

Besides, I have never been a completely doctrinaire Democrat. I resonate with Republican concerns about our ballooning national deficit and want to “fix the debt.” I agree with them that the federal government is far too large and bureaucratic to serve the needs of the people. I am pro-life as well as pro-choice, and am uncomfortable with the Democratic party’s seemingly cavalier attitudes toward the taking of a human life even from the womb. I am sympathetic with the catholic church’s “consistent ethic of life” which opposes both abortion and capital punishment.

I am hugely attracted by the Libertarians’ non-interventionist positions with respect to our military and agree with Ron and Rand Paul that the U.S. rarely makes things better by military adventurism into foreign conflicts and usually make things worse (i.e. Iraq, Libya, Syria, Egypt). I believe military force should be the absolute last resort and used only for our national defense and with Congressional approval! Bloated military spending could well be re-directed toward humanitarian support for the victims of foreign conflicts rather than entering them ourselves.

Right now, I am most concerned about the issue of immigration, fearing that the Trump administration is serious about making life difficult and even miserable with their proposed “build a wall, send them home” policies. So I intend to get involved in Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement ( and our local interfaith coalition if they are serious about standing with immigrants, documented and undocumented. And I plan to attend the Iowa City Council meeting tomorrow night as they discuss the pros and cons of designating Iowa City as a “sanctuary city” as a way of publicly declaring our solidarity with our recent, and not so recent, newcomers.

As priest and bishop, I always tried to be political but not partisan. In other words, I spoke out on the issues but never advocated for a particular candidate or political party. In retirement, I felt free to involve myself deeply in the Democratic party, including being a delegate to our district convention, making phone calls, knocking on doors and pledging not-insignificant dollars for Democratic candidates.

In retrospect, I think my former posture was better.