Archive for the ‘Interfaith’ Category

Shattering The Silence

May 22, 2018

We marched, singing, to “Shattering Silence,” a limestone and steel structure on the west grounds of the Iowa Judicial Building. This powerful piece commemorates the 170th anniversary of the landmark 1839 Iowa Territorial Supreme Court ruling that prohibited the enslaved Ralph Montgomery from being extradited to Missouri after he failed to raise the $550 he promised to pay to buy his freedom. We thought it was an appropriate place to share our witness.

The Iowa Poor People’s Campaign was about the task of Shattering The Silence Around Systemic Racism in Iowa. After a  period of testimony and song, we made the following commitments to each other and to our state. I commend them to you as a way of combating the racism, xenophobia, and misogyny so present in our land today:

  1. I won’t be silent when I see racial profiling on the street, at the store, at my workplace. I won’t be silent when I hear racist speech at home, at church, at work, at clubs. I won’t be silent when stand  your ground laws are passed to justify murders.
  2. I won’t be silent when immigrant families are torn apart. I won’t be silent when asylum seekers are treated like criminals. I won’t be silent when people seeking the promise of freedom are called animals.
  3. I won’t be silent when indigenous women are murdered and missing. I won’t be silent when land is taken and exploited from sovereign nations. I won’t be silent as 28.3% of American Indians and Alaskan Natives live in poverty.
  4. I won’t be silent when voter suppression laws are passed. I won’t be silent as over 52,000 people with felony convictions are disenfranchised in Iowa. I won’t be silent when people are turned away from the polls.
  5. I won’t be silent when hostility and hatred are aimed at Muslims in and beyond my community. I won’t be silent when there is a ban on refugee resettlement. I won’t be silent when people are persecuted because of their religion.

Will you join us in “Shattering The Silence?”

Pentecost At Spirit Lake!

May 21, 2018

Mary always felt better when she could be with his friends. True, all of them except the young one John had deserted him in the end. But she understood that. She’d been afraid too. And she wasn’t even in immediate danger from the Romans like they were. In any case, he’d told her just before he died, “Behold your son.” And to John, “Behold your mother.” So, clearly, he wanted her to be part of them. He was taking care of his mother!

She really would have preferred to stay in Olivet which is at least a little distance from where it all happened. But, as they gathered there, it was clear that Jerusalem was where Jesus had wanted to go, and Jerusalem was where they must re-assemble as well. So, they crept in, over the course of a couple of days….individually, sometimes two by two…and began meeting in that same upper room where they had celebrated Passover.

Now, it was the Feast of Weeks, Pentecost, fifty days after the ceremony of the barley sheaf during Passover. It had originally been a harvest festival, marking the beginning the offering of the first fruits. She’d always loved its celebration as a child…and so had Jesus. So, she accepted their invitation to be together that morning. There were other women there in addition to his brothers and, of course, the Twelve (and they were 12 again now, with the addition of Matthias – who had, in any case, never been far from their assembly.)

They had just begun to dance…and sing the Hallel – “Hallelujah! Give praise you servants of the Lord; praise the Name of the Lord” Psalm 113:1 – when the wind picked up. It first whistled and then howled through the streets of the old city. And, even though they had been careful to secure the door, suddenly the shutters rattled and blew open. Strangely, there was no rain or fog as one might expect with the wind, but sunshine – bright glimpses of it, illuminating every face around their make-shift “altar table.” But they were too caught up in their praise dance to worry about open windows now! And the volume of their singing only increased over the noise of the wind:

“Let the name of the Lord be blessed! Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to your Name give glory! How can I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me? I will lift up the cup of salvation…Praise the Lord, all you nations; laud him all you people!” (Psalm 113-117 passim)

It was their custom, during the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost) to gather the poor and the strangers, as well as the priests and the Levites, for the communal meal which was the highpoint of this great agricultural feast. It was a way of recognizing their solidarity as people of the Covenant, across all the natural divisions and inequities of life. Rich and poor together!

And so, people in the streets were from all over the Mediterranean world. But their racial and ethnic diversity was no barrier to understanding God’s praise that day! She had no idea how it happened, but no matter in what language God’s praise was being spoken or sung, everyone heard it. Everyone “got it!” All of them from east to west, from the different traditions, ethnic Jews and converts.

And, when the praises began to abate, Mary saw Peter slowly walk to the open window and, flanked by the other Eleven, he said, “People of Judea, and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you…and listen to what I say…” (Acts 2:14)

Well, that may not be exactly how it happened on the first Pentecost. But it must have been something like that.  Clearly, something momentous must have happened to transform that ragtag group of frightened disciples into missionaries and evangelists.

And that “something” had been promised by Jesus shortly before he died. He had said that something called “the Advocate” would come. He called it the “Spirit of truth” and said that that Spirit would guide them into all the truth. (John 15:26 passim) Their Pentecost experience must have felt something like that.

In fact, Pentecost felt like another story they had been told since they were children — The story from the Prophet Ezekiel about the “dry bones.” At just the point when their religion and their faith was about at its lowest ebb, dry as dust, God was expected to breathe new life into those bones, to raise them up, and to renew the people of God.

“That’s what happening today” they must have thought. This must be the time when “our sons and our daughters will prophecy, our young men will see visions, and our old men shall dream dreams. For surely, this day, God has poured out the Holy Spirit…and all of us will be prophets!” (From Acts 2)

ear friends, we’re inheritors of that Pentecost promise. If that rag tag group of frightened disciples had not been turned into missionaries and evangelists, you and I would not be here today.  So Pentecost is important! But, let’s not just give thanks for that first Pentecost after Easter. Let’s pray today for a “new Pentecost!”

Let’s pray for a new Pentecost when languages and race and ethnicity are no longer barriers to receiving the fullness of God’s blessings. Let’s pray for a new infusion of God’s breath, God’s spirit into those whose poverty or situation in life makes them feel like those dry bones in Ezekiel’s valley. Let’s pray that our sons and daughters will prophecy, that our young men will see visions, and our old men still dream dreams!

Let’s pray today for God to pour out that same Holy Spirit upon us here at St. Alban’s… throughout the Diocese of Iowa, The Episcopal Church… upon the members Anglican Communion of which we are a part…and indeed on the over 2 billion Christians around the world who are our sisters and brothers by water and the Holy Spirit. Let’s pray for that!

In fact, we’ve already prayed for that – in this morning’s Collect. Let me offer it once again with what I’ve said today as background: “Almighty God, on this day you opened the way of eternal life to every race and nation by the promised gift of the Holy Spirit:  Shed abroad this gift throughout the world by the preaching of the Gospel, that it may reach to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.” Amen.

 

 

 

 

Prayer Book Revision: The Time Is Now

March 7, 2018

One of the items to come before the Episcopal Church’s General Convention this summer is a decision about whether or not to move forward with the process of revising the Book of Common Prayer 1979. The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music has put forth two options:

Option One: to begin the costly and painstaking process of revising the current Prayer Book. The study, work, trial use, etc would take nine years (three triennia of General Conventions) therefore likely resulting in the adoption of a new Prayer Book in the summer of 2027.

Option Two: to enter into a season of deeper exploration and study of the riches of the 1979 BCP postulating that we have not begun to explore the theology and implications of this Prayer Book and that should be undertaken before actual steps of revision would begin.

I am one who believes the nine-year journey into actual revision should begin this summer. While Option Two has a good bit of support, even on the SCLM, it seems to me too timid and too little to do in response to the rapidly-changing church and world in which we live. If we have not sufficiently explored the riches of the ’79 Book in nearly forty years, it is unlikely that we will do so over the next triennia or two.

My liturgics professor in seminary in the early 1970s predicted that, one day, there would be a “Society for the Preservation of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer” just as there was a SPBCP 1928. Prayer Book fundamentalists exist in all times and in all places! His insight seems prescient today.

Many of us have worked long and hard to introduce, celebrate, and live by the baptismal ecclesiology and more catholic rites of the 1979 BCP from its adoption, sometimes suffering the consequences from those who resisted such emphases. In fact, our current Prayer Book has changed this church, mostly for the better, in countless ways over these last 40 years.

It took 50 years to replace the 1928 Prayer Book with the current one. It will be just about the same length of time to follow the proposed timeline and replace the ’79 Book with BCP 2027. Yet, the pace of change in theology, the use of language, and societal norms have moved in a much-more accelerated pace than one could have imagined from 1928 to 1979.

The time to begin the process of revision…is now! (Future posts on the site will explore what some of the changes might include…and why. Stay tuned.)

A New Reformation?

March 4, 2018

It seems strange to have the story of Jesus’ Cleansing of the Temple read on this Sunday in Lent. We usually think of it as coming in Holy Week, toward the very end of Jesus’ earthly ministry, right after the Palm Sunday story, the so-called “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem. In fact, that is where Matthew, Mark, and Luke place this story – setting up the conflict between Jesus and the authorities which eventually led to his arrest, trial and crucifixion later that week.

 

But John, the Gospel writer we are following today, for his own purposes, has this event happen early in Jesus’ ministry. His gospel has Jesus going to Jerusalem several times during the course of his three year public ministry rather than only once at its conclusion. And John was interested, not so much in the conflict between Jesus and the Roman government, as he was between Jesus and his own religion’s leaders!

 

Even though he was a complete outsider to the power structure of the Temple, Jesus here issues a challenge to the authority of the Temple itself that really shakes it to its foundations. By throwing the money changers out of the Temple, and letting loose the sacrificial animals, he throws the mechanics of Temple worship into chaos, disrupting the temple system during one its most significant feasts so that neither tithes nor sacrifices could be offered that day.

 

The implication is that Jesus is claiming authority to challenge the supremacy of the Temple because his whole life bears testimony to the power of God in the world, not in the Temple. The Kingship, the Reign, the Sovereignty not of the Temple, but of God alone!

 

Now, none of this should be interpreted as meaning that Jesus was advocating the superiority of some new religion called Christianity over the old religion, Judaism. Jesus was an observant Jew who (according to John) traveled to Jerusalem regularly for the major holy days. Jesus taught and observed the Ten Commandments we had as our First Reading this morning – including the first two about worshipping God and God alone, and not making anything (even the Temple) into an idol!

 

No, Jesus’ challenge was not to Judaism itself, but to the authority of a dominant religious institution within Judaism – the Temple and temple worship. And he did that – not because he’s anti-Jewish (how could he be?) – but because he stands in the long line of Hebrew prophets like Amos and Jeremiah who challenged a religious system so embedded in its own rules and practices that it is no longer open to a fresh revelation from God. (See New Interpreter’s Bible; Volume 9, page 545)

 

A religious system so embedded in its own rules and practices that it is no longer open to a fresh revelation from God!

 

And that, dear friends, is where all this begins to apply to us.

We hear a lot today about people — and not only younger people – who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.” For many of them that means they believe in God, may admire the figure of Jesus, pray from time to time, and believe in some kind of life after death. But they are not terribly interested in what we sometimes call “the institutional church.”

 

They perceive us as being hopelessly out of touch with the contemporary world they live in. They shake their heads at our “church wars” over changing liturgies or the ordination of women, or the place of gays and lesbians in the church. Yet, many of these folks are very generous with their time and talent and treasure given to causes they believe in and often in direct service to the poor themselves.

 

Yet they wonder why we spend so much of our time, money and energy on maintaining church buildings and church governance structures that don’t seem to have very much to do with Jesus or with his primary message to the world!

 

Now, surely there is a certain naivete in that kind of critique. Very few movements can survive, over time, without a certain institutionalization. You need some kind of structure to pass the message on from generation to generation.

 

And there’s nothing wrong with beautiful cathedrals like this one built to the glory of God – and maintaining them once they are built! But I think the average seeker might be forgiven for observing that we don’t look much like followers of a poor, itinerant Jewish rabbi today. So we need to keep ever before us what the church is for!

 

Because, if we’re going to take the message of Jesus in this morning’s Gospel seriously, we need to recognize that he is challenging – not only the Temple-centered Judaism of his day – but the failures of the church…in our day!

 

Over the centuries, we Christians have allowed ourselves to be divided up, often over political rather than theological differences, into tens of thousands of competing denominations. We spend way too much of our time competing for an ever-decreasing membership base by trying to demonstrate that our way of understanding God or worshipping God is better than theirs!

 

We have often locked ourselves only into fourth century ways of talking about God in our historic creeds and liturgies while failing to look for new language and new music which might actually be able to convey the God we have experienced to a new generation of seekers and searchers who desperately hunger for something of that same experience, even if they are not always fully conscious of that hunger themselves.

 

I don’t think we have any idea what the church will be like 50 or 100 years from now. I expect it will look very different from the church we live in today. We can be either fearful of that kind of change and resist it with all our might or we can be open and flexible to see indeed “what the Spirit is saying to the churches” in our time.

 

We have to be willing ask ourselves where and when the status quo of our religious practices have become frozen, and therefore closed to the possibility of reformation, change and renewal. The great danger is that we in the contemporary church, like the leaders of the religious establishment in Jesus’ day, will fall into the trap of confusing the authority of our own institutions with the authority of God. And that, my friends, is what it means to worship an idol!

 

During these 40 days of Lent when we journey with Jesus in the wilderness, I invite you to be open to embrace whatever it is that God is up to in our day. You have wonderful opportunities to do just that in your readings from “The Good Book Club” and discussing passages from Luke’s Gospel (and your own faith) over the soup suppers as well as in the amazing outreach this Cathedral is involved in these days.

 

Michelle Crouch’s teaching on health, leading up to Krista Tippet’s conference on April 12, as well as Mary Hogg’s study on the great figure of David provide yet two more opportunities. And the Lenten Organ Series on Wednesdays invites you to encounter God through the beauty of sacred music

 

I invite you to take this Lenten season of discernment seriously – for surely not everything that is “new,” or claims to be of God, is of God.

But I do believe God is calling us into a kind of new reformation in our day. And if we are to be faithful to that calling, it will require us to be open and to travel light, but at the same time to ground ourselves ever more deeply in prayer and in study and in mission.

 

And Lent rolls around every year to remind us that, as long as we are grounded in God, we need have no fear of changing times or changing circumstances. For it is God alone that we serve.

God is our rock…and our salvation!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Love Be Genuine

February 16, 2018

The days are evil.  A dysfunctional Congress (whose work was complicated by a meddling Administration) failed to pass even one bill on immigration — even one which included protecting the Dreamers while enhancing “border security” both of which a majority of Americans approve and which a bipartisan committee had proposed. Thousands of undocumented immigrant families remain paralyzed by fear.

A deeply troubled young man, with a long history of unstable behavior, was able to purchase a high-powered rifle three days after he was expelled from high school and slaughter seventeen students and staff at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. No matter how you count the number of school shootings in this country just this year, this one was one too many. Young people are afraid to go to school every morning — afraid for their very lives.

A new breakthrough in the Robert Mueller investigation into Russian meddling in U.S. elections, particularly in the presidential election of 2016, includes the indictment of 13 Russian nationals and three separate entities for conspiracy to disrupt these same elections. Proof positive that such interference did indeed occur and, whether or not there was any active collusion by the Trump campaign, that this investigation is far more than any kind of “hoax.” Some of us now wonder if we can trust the outcome of any elections in 2018, 2020, or beyond.

What are we to do?

There are many proposals, strategies, and actions out there designed to take on one or more of these vexing issues. Given the divisive political climate of the day — fueled by politicians and the media as well as the Russians — few of them hold any real promise of success at least in the short term. We are hopelessly divided on immigration, gun control, and electoral politics. Perhaps a better question in these Lenten days is

How shall we live?

Christians, and other people of faith, are called to model a completely different lifestyle and set of priorities than those we see played out in the halls of Congress, the mean streets and schools in our neighborhoods, and the vicious world of international “relations.” There are many texts which attempt to describe this lifestyle. Here is one that  has always spoken to me:

“Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit,serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends upon you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:9-18)

For now…just for today…let this be all you worry about accomplishing.

It will make a difference.

And tomorrow…

Some of these decisions will turn into proposals…strategies…and actions.

But, just for today…

Let love be genuine.

The Impact of Christian Unity

January 21, 2018

I think it’s unlikely that when Jesus called Simon and Andrew to follow him – as we heard in today’s Gospel – he could possibly have imagined that his little band would one day turn into a worldwide church of some 2.2 billion members. If the truth be known, I don’t believe that Jesus ever intended to found a church.  He came to do what the first line of today’s Gospel said he would do: to renew his people Israel and to proclaim something called the kingdom of God – to announce the fact that God is king… and that Caesar is not!

But that little apostolic band eventually turned into a movement;  and for movements to perpetuate themselves across time and space they inevitably institutionalize (for better or worse).  And so the church was born.  For a thousand years we were one church (although not monochrome even in those early days, there were local variations, but we were one church!). Then, in the Great Schism of 1054, the Western and Eastern branches shattered apart for political as well as theological reasons.

Five hundred years later – for different political and theological reasons – the Reformation produced Lutherans and Reformed Christians and Calvinists and Anglicans, and we’ve been pretty much dividing ever since. By some estimates there are over 30,000 denominations across the world today. That’s pretty depressing for those of us who still say in our creeds that we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church!

And so every year we observe something called the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. From January 18th (the feast of the Confession of St. Peter) to January 25th (the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul) Christians around the world pray for an end to our scandalous divisions and for greater unity among us all.  It’s easy to get discouraged about the slow pace of ecumenical unity…until we remember how far we’ve come even since World War II…in my lifetime.

In those days Roman Catholics were not to enter Protestant churches and most Protestants would not dare enter a Catholic church. Mainline Protestants made cruel jokes about Baptists and “holy rollers.”  And there were instances of discrimination and lack of preferment in the workplace perpetrated by Christians against other Christians. Most of us remember all too well the concerns raised about John F. Kennedy’s Catholicism when he ran for President in 1960.

The modern ecumenical movement has made all kinds of strides over these last decades, both in the realm of “Faith and Order” and also what used to be called the “Life and Work” movement.   In line with our Epiphany theme here at New Song about the plight of immigrants and refugees around the world, I’d like to hold up an example of the Life and Work movement known as Church World Service.

In 1946, in the aftermath of World War II, seventeen denominations (including the Episcopal Church) came together to form an agency to do in partnership what none of them could hope to do as well alone. The mission: Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, comfort the aged, and shelter the homeless.

In that same year “… churches opened their hearts and provided more than 11 million pounds of food, clothing, and medical supplies to war-torn Europe and Asia. Protestants and Catholics pooled talent and resources to meet a staggering refugee crisis. Today the Immigration and Refugee Program of Church World Service is a vital, internationally-recognized operation, having resettled nearly half a million refugees since its inception.”

“… in 1947, Lutheran World Relief and the National Catholic Welfare Program created a joint community hunger appeal, the Christian Rural Overseas Program, also known as CROP. (Some of you have no doubt participated in CROP walks, but may not even have realized where they came from.) The early CROP initiative captured the imagination of American’s heartland”.

“Soon ‘Friendship Trains’ roared across the country, picking up commodities such as corn, wheat, rice, and beans to be shared around the world. The experience of the trains led to ‘Friendship Food Ships.’ And, a multi-denominational program called the One Great Hour of Sharing was formed to raise in-church gifts to help fill these ships.” (From the CWS website)

Well, I could go on and on with the history. But, suffice it to say, Church World Service continues today its refugee resettlement and food security programs as well as many more efforts. When I served on the Board of the National Council of Churches in New York, I was regularly blown away by the annual reports of those efforts.

We face new challenges to immigrants and refugees in our day. Fueled in part by fears of terrorism and economic insecurity and in part by a new wave of nativism reinforced in the highest levels of government, there are new barriers being raised against immigrants and refugees coming into our country.  The government was shut down yesterday because of this!

Last Tuesday, before the shut-down, I went with about a dozen colleagues from the Center for Worker Justice to plead with staff persons for Chuck Grassley and Joni Ernst at their offices in Cedar Rapids. We asked them why our senators could not support a “clean Dream Act” (which has overwhelming bipartisan support in Congress) and end the fear of deportation for some 700,000 primarily young DACA residents. And we got the same old tired arguments about the need for border security and the same old hysteria about human trafficking and terrorism as reasons for that heightened security.

But this is not the first time Americans have confronted a sudden influx of refugees and it’s not the first time the impulse has been to close the door. Even in the era I’ve been talking about, after World War II, when the Soviet Union was tightening its grip on Eastern Europe, President Eisenhower released a plan to bring a quarter-of-a-million asylum-seekers to the U.S.  That was our President’s plan!

But the end of WW II sent waves of refugees in many directions. And the popular reaction here was resistance. Not the kind of “resistance” many of us are engaged in today….not the kind of resistance we saw in the streets yesterday…resistance to refugees! A Gallup poll in 1946 found that fifty-nine per cent of Americans disapproved of a plan to accept those displaced by the war – including Jews who had survived the Holocaust.

We’ve been here before, dear friends. But in those dark days it was people of faith who made the difference – not least ecumenically minded Christians such as those who banded together in the fledging Church World Service, The National Council of Churches and World Council.. Those we celebrate in this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

So, Jesus may not have intended to found a church. But he surely intended that his followers — and the followers of Simon and Andrew in today’s Gospel — would heed his central message: “The time is fulfilled… the kingdom of God has come near… repent, and believe in the good news!”

Part of that good news for us is that “all are welcome, all are welcome, all are welcome…in this place.”

 

New Year’s Resolution: Resistance With Respect

December 31, 2017

The preacher at our Episcopal Church this morning (a lay person of whom we have quite a number licensed and trained) spoke of this new year’s eve as a time to pause, looking back at 2017 even as we prepare to enter 2018.

He grounded this nicely in today’s Lessons from Scripture, seeing John’s Prologue as looking backward to a time when the Word was with God; Isaiah looking forward in chapter sixty-one to a time when God would “cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations;” and St. Paul in Galatians 3 rejoicing in the present, what he called the “fullness of time.”

As I take that pause “between the times” on this new year’s eve, I look back on 2017 as a devastating year at least in the political arena and, from my perspective at least, for this nation and the world. I believe Donald Trump has already done enormous damage to this country, undermining the respect the world used to have for us (as recently as under President Obama) and making life in the not-too-distant future extremely difficult for poor and working class people, immigrants and people of color, and threatening the very environment in which “we live and move and have our being.”

I look forward to 2018 as an opportunity to reverse at least some of these trends by working to elect Democrats to local, state, and national legislatures — particularly to flipping the Senate and House of Representatives so that the worst of this Administration’s proposals can be thwarted legislatively…perhaps even the likely extreme appointments the President may attempt to make to the judiciary, perhaps even the Supreme Court.

In short, I shall rededicate myself to the “resistance” in 2018, but I want it to be “resistance with respect.” I commit myself to monitoring my language and tone particularly on social media so as not to add to the coarsening of society we find there so often. I will try to give my opponents the benefit of the doubt and to focus my attention on their arguments or positions, not on them as persons.

This will not be easy because I do perceive great evil out there in these days. But, if I claim to be a follower of the One who was able to pray — even as they drove the nails — “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do, it is the very least I can do.

Please join me in this effort. Redouble your efforts to resist evil. But resist in a non-violent manner which truly does “respect the dignity of every human being” and which will be seen as light shining in the darkness.

Remember,  we have been told that “the darkness did not overcome it.”

Mary And The Tax Plan

December 23, 2017

As we enter this weekend on which we will celebrate not only the Fourth Sunday of the Advent season, but begin our celebration of the Twelve Days of Christmas, my attention is drawn to the song Luke tells us Mary sang at the Annunciation of her role in all this. We sing it every day in Evensong. It is called the Magnificat as our hearts join hers in “magnifying” the Lord.

This plucky Jewish teenager not only praises God for choosing her for such privilege, but joins her fore-mother Hannah in reminding us all that “Yahweh raises up the poor from the dust (and) lifts the needy from the ash heap.” (I Samuel 2:4)

Mary puts it this way, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:52-53).  Such is the justice of God to be embodied in the life, death, and resurrection of Mary’s son.

In these days, President Donald Trump has announced a “big, beautiful tax cut for Christmas.” And yet there are many who fear that, unlike Mary’s gift to us, our government has just passed a tax bill which may “cast down the lowly, and lift up the mighty on their thrones,” taxation which may –in the long run — “fill the rich with good things, and send the hungry away empty.”

We do not yet know the ramifications of all this, but as we prepare to commemorate the birth of Jesus, let us rededicate ourselves — in the New Year — to standing with those who may be most negatively affected by the new tax laws. And, just as importantly, to shine the very Light of Christ on those who will unfairly reap the benefits — those who in fact need no tax relief but who should be paying even more in thanksgiving for the bounty they have received (often through no merit of their own) and to ensure the well-being of those less fortunate than themselves.

For remember, Mary also sang of the One who “has mercy on those who fear him in every generation” but who has also “shown the strength of his arm (and) and has scattered the proud in their conceit.”

May it be so.

Merry Christmas!

 

In The Wilderness (Of Today) Prepare The Way Of The Lord

December 11, 2017

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” That quotation is heard regularly from this pulpit and is one of my favorites from Dr.  Martin Luther King, Jr. ( It is apparently one of Barack Obama’s as well since he not only used it in many speeches, but quite literally had it woven into a rug in the Oval Office!)

The quote is sometimes criticized for being overly optimistic and even deterministic. In other words “Don’t worry, be happy” everything is going to turn out right in the end anyway…perhaps suggesting that resistance and efforts working for justice and peace are not even necessary. In these days, the words may really seem overly optimistic as we are confronted daily with facts some of which John Harper called our attention to last Sunday:

The U.S. Congress is working on putting the finishing touches on a tax plan which has many poor and middle class people (as well as deficit hawks) extremely worried; the Supreme Court has given carte blanche to President Trump’s travel ban on persons from certain predominantly Muslim countries; this same president seems hell bent on rolling back federal land protection in such sacred Native lands as the Bears Ears National Monument in Utah; and the great state of Alabama seems almost certain to elect an alleged sexual predator to the United States Senate.

And still the stock market surges and employment figures are good.  Even in the face of the concerns I just listed; and the fact that there is genuine worry about an outbreak of nuclear war, beginning (but perhaps not ending) on the Korean peninsula and new tensions arising in the Middle East over the Administration’s decision to move our embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem! Don’t worry, be happy!

Is the arc of the moral universe really bending toward justice? Really?  Well, I believe that it is, but it may be helpful for us to look first at the context of Dr. King’s familiar quotation and then turn to our scriptural lessons for this 2nd Sunday of Advent to see why…and how.  First – as is so often the case – we need to look at the context of Dr. King’s quote. It was not original with him. He was citing a 19th century Transcendentalist, a reforming Unitarian minister and abolitionist named Theodore Parker – and the whole quotation reads like this:

“Evil may so shape events in this world that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross; but that same Christ will rise up and split history into A.D. and B.C. so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name. Yes, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” In other words, bad people will often prevail in this carnal world where Caesar still rules, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t engage in social activism and strive for justice.

Just as Dr. King always looked to the great stories of his faith for strength and inspiration so it may behoove us to pay attention to our history in order to be strengthened in the present and to await the future with hope. Look at our Lessons today:

Isaiah was “comforting” (which means strengthening) his people with the confidence that – even while they were in exile – God was preparing to do something new.   And, by the way, in Isaiah, it’s not “a voice crying in the wilderness” but “a voice crying, in the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord.” In other words it is while we are in the wilderness that God is to be seen most powerfully at work! The people of Israel had to learn to trust their God while they were in Exile, not only after their joyful return. (Isaiah 40:1-11)

The Psalmist too looks back with gratitude at God’s action in their return from exile, “You have been gracious to your land, O Lord, you have restored the good fortune of Jacob….Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth shall spring up from the earth, and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” (Psalm 82:1, 10-11)

Centuries later, Mark quotes our same passage from Isaiah as the Jews suffer under yet another occupying power – this time the Roman Empire.  Decked out like Elijah – the first of the prophets – John the Baptist assures his people that (even though he may not have all the answers) this state of affairs will not stand, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize with the Holy Spirit,” (Mark 1:7-8)

And finally this morning, the second Epistle ascribed to Peter was likely written after the fall of Jerusalem yet again in 70 AD. Everything had fallen apart and yet still Jesus had not returned to set things right. So, the early Christians were encouraged to settle in and wait for him, “Do not ignore the fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day. The Lord is not slow about his promise, as some think of slowness, but is patient with you…” (2 Peter 3:8-9b)

But does that mean they are to sit around doing nothing? Hardly, the author continues: “Since all these things are to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be in leading lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God…” (2 Peter 3:11-12a)

Can we really “hasten the coming of the day of God?” Well, Isaiah thought so. The Psalmist thought so. John the Baptizer thought so. Jesus thought so. “Peter” thought so. Theodore Parker thought so. Martin Luther King, Jr. thought so. Each one of them put their ultimate trust in God’s power to save. But each one of them spent their lives striving for justice and peace in God’s name.

Do not flinch from the events brought to your attention in the daily newspapers, beloved. Read them and weep. But then, dry your tears, find one cause with which your heart aligns and start making a difference. For it will only be then that

“Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together…” (Isaiah 40:4-5b)

Sexual Misconduct Is A Social Disease

November 27, 2017

“In 1995 the Diocese of Iowa adopted Policies and Procedures Concerning Allegations and Incidents of Sexual Misconduct. The policy was the attempt to prevent the occurrences of sexual misconduct in the first place and to ‘ensure that where allegations of sexual misconduct are made the response to any allegation or instance will be just and compassionate, and so may allow God’s grace to work redemptively.'”

“The new policy met the Church Insurance Company requirements and all vestries and bishop’s committees were then required to accept them formally on behalf of the local congregations.” (from A Beautiful Heritage: A History of the Diocese of Iowa 1853-2003; page 123)

I was Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa at the time these policies and procedures were hammered out and put in place. The quotation above highlights several things: First, our document provided detailed definitions of such terms as “sexual harassment, sexual exploitation, sexual misconduct, and sexual abuse.” This was intended to have a proactive dimension helping people understand just exactly what constitutes such behavior and alerting many for the first time about just how unwanted and sometimes unintentional such actions may be.

There was also clarity about the role that power differential plays in sexual misconduct and the unliklihood that “consent” is even possible when a person in a position of power over another (employer/employee, doctor/patient, clergy/parishioner) acts in an exploitative manner. This took a lot of education, but gradually our people began to see the logic.

The document was published in the diocesan newspaper for all to read, was discussed and voted upon at Diocesan Convention, and became a published part of the Constitution, Canons, and Policies of the diocese brought out in a new edition each year. Specific procedures were outlined for those filing allegations of sexual misconduct as well as the steps which would be followed in investigating such allegations, seeking to insure the confidentiality and privacy of all.

Because it was made crystal clear that such allegations would be taken seriously and that (usually) women who brought such complaints were — in the first instance — presumed to be telling the truth, there was a good bit of resistance on the part of some clergy who feared false allegations.

This was an understandable concern. However, in the perhaps half dozen allegations I received during my time as bishop (and the two ecclesiastical trials which stemmed from them) never were the women found to be making a false allegation. And the priests were held accountable.

Finally, although I wish these policies and procedures had been put in place because of our compassionate sensitivity to the plight of abused and exploited women, the truth is we were motivated to work on this issue in the 1990s because of pressure put upon us by the Church Insurance Company which had been forced to pay out millions of dollars in the 80s because clergy were not trained or sensitive to the tragedy of sexual misconduct in their ranks. Therefore Church Insurance threatened to stop covering the clergy for such violations unless training, policies and procedures in every diocese were put in place.

Nevertheless, I am proud that The Episcopal Church was “ahead of the curve” on this issue and that a high level ecumenical meeting was held at our Church Center in New York some years later in which representatives from the Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Methodist, and other denominations consulted with us as they worked out their own policies on sexual misconduct on the part of clergy.

Perhaps the entertainment industry; local, state, and national governments; the Congress of the United States; and even our Presidents should take a look at the current iteration of The Diocese of Iowa’s Policies and Procedures Concerning Allegations and Incidents of Sexual Misconduct.

They are on our website http://www.iowaepiscopal.org/safeguarding-gods-people.html