Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Final Reflections On Cuba…and How YOU Can Help!

January 31, 2019

Our guide in Cuba, The Rev. Dr. Luis Leon, joked, “We Cubans speak the worst Spanish in the world! People can always tell I’m Cuban. We speak a kind of slangy Spanish and have a tendency to omit the last syllable of our words.” Luis reflected how poignant it is to return to the land of his birth and yet, each time, no matter how familiar it all feels, he knows he does not belong there anymore. This is the tension all immigrant live with — love for the land of their birth, love for their new home of residence.

Continuing with some of the history, Dr. Leon pointed out that the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 dramatically changed things for Cuba. The Soviets had been Cuba’s “best friend” and economic supporter for many years, buying sugar at inflated prices and selling oil to Cuba at a low price. When the USSR fell, so did Cuba’s economic safety net.

During this time, electricity barely existed. Human need increased greatly as one U.S. dollar equaled 150 Cuban pesos. In 1994 the first serious demonstrations against the Castro regime took place. In the midst of the rioting Castro announced that “whoever wanted to leave, could go.” More than 35,000 took the opportunity, most heading to the U.S. Men, women and children packed into small boats, makeshift rafts, and set out for Florida in the largest exodus from Cuba since the Mariel Boatlift of 1980. Eventually, both governments called a halt to it because it was so dangerous and many people lost their lives at sea.

With so many Cubans now in “exile,” lots of money was sent back to the island nation by these immigrant families. Some 800 million dollars provided a huge economic boost throughout the 1990s. Castro began loosening up the economy and some entrepreneurs began to emerge.

And today, tourist dollars are essential. For example, a dentist may earn 900 a year, a tour guide may earn 400 a day! If you have U.S. dollars, you are OK, if not, you’re in trouble. Many have moved from the rural areas to Havana and there is a serious housing crisis. Four generations may live in one house, usually rented from the government.

We saw the poverty in Havana, but even more so on a visit to Cienfuegos, a city on Cuba’s south coast. We did visit a simple art gallery (outside of which we were entertained by lively music and dance in the street) and an amazing graphic arts studio where we were able to purchase a lovely print. Many businesses are a combination of government ownership and private entrepreneurship.

Our local guides were very careful in their criticism of the Castros. One young man, who is lecturer at the University, “moonlighting” as a guide, was more openly critical of the corruption in the Castro regime but is more hopeful about the newly-elected President Miguel Diaz-Canel. He is a career politician, but at least is not a member of the Castro family, putting to rest the idea that the Castros would try and put in place a family dynasty.

One older guide we had was a linguist by training. He said that he had studied Russian languages, but that is no longer so necessary in Cuba (!) so he is now a guide! I asked him if there are any wealthy people in Cuba today. He said, “Oh no, we are all equal in Cuba.” Then, with an eye-roll, “But some are more equal than others!”

So, the poverty is real, the 1956 Chevy’s fun to look at, but obviously the result of the Cuban embargo in place basically since 1959. One of our guides pointed out that there are three eras of automobiles in Cuba — American cars of the 1950s, Russian cars from 1960-1990, and Chinese cars since then. “You can tell from that who our friends have been,” he chuckled.

Yes, the poverty is real. Yet, there is universal health care and education and Cuba exports their doctors all over the world to help in emergency situations and natural disasters. Many of those physicians send money home to their families and communities. Homelessness is rare as people are taken off the streets by their families (which remain strong) and in government shelters. It is all a very mixed bag.

My hope is that the Trump Administration and its successors will reverse the tightening of restrictions and return to a path of openness explored by President Obama. It would be a shame for American tourist dollars to turn beautiful Cuba into another Miami Beach, but there are other forms of investment and their only hope is to develop many more trading partners than China, Venezuela, and Belize!

Episcopalians (and others) can help by joining The Friends of The Episcopal Church in Cuba (www.friendsofeccuba.org) Their stated goals are to:

+Continue transforming our churches into vibrant community centers that include as many people as possible.

+Restore and develop the physical infrastructure of our properties.

+Create an Episcopal campus of vibrant worship, and sustainability education (ecological, economic, and spiritual)

+Unleash the full potential of the team (of ordained and lay ministers)

+And, finally, pursue new sources of funding

 

It is also possible to find Companion Parishes with the Episcopal Church in Cuba. For more information contact admin@friendsofeccuba.org (203-858-5794)

As I said to the Sunday morning congregation at the Cathedral in Havana: “My wife Susanne and I first visited Cuba in 2004 with a delegation from the National Council of Churches to meet with the Cuban Council of Churches, an ecumenical body. We fell in love with Cuba and the Cuban church on that trip. We are still in love! Gracias for welcoming us back again!”

 

The Episcopal Church in Cuba

January 30, 2019

As far back as 1875, the Episcopal Church has had a history with the Cuban people, beginning with pastoral care provided to a Cuban exile community in Key West, to missionaries to Cuba in the 1880s, to the opening of three churches and one school in Havana in 1888.

However, the real establishment of the Episcopal Church in Cuba did not occur until 1902 following the 1898 War of Liberation when other Protestant churches got started as well. By 1904 our church had begun establishing co-ed schools and bilingual education providing a revolutionary step forward from the Roman Catholic parochial schools then in existence. The Episcopal Church grew rapidly because of these efforts.

Throughout the decades the church flourished in the cities and among ex-patriots as well as among the Cuban people themselves. “From 1939 to 1961, under the episcopacy of the Rt. Rev. Alexander H. Blankenship, partnerships developed new trends in ecumenical activity in the Evangelical Council of Churches and participation in theological education with other churches in the Union Evangelical Seminary.” (Historical Reflection of Partnership in Mission by The Ven. Juan Ramon de la Paz Cerezo)

Progress was halted in 1961 when all church property (all property generally!) was nationalized and Bishop Blankenship was kicked out of Cuba. And in 1966 The Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. shamefully ruptured relationship with the church in Cuba as we were played like political pawns in the anti-Communist hysteria and reaction against Fidel Castro’s Cuba. This act of betrayal was not rectified until 2018 when the General Convention of the Episcopal Church voted unanimously to accept the Cuban church back into the fold of the Episcopal Church. I’m surprised (but happy) that they even wanted to be part of us again!

From 1966 until 2018 the Anglican Church in Canada played a heroic role in maintaining contact with the church in Cuba and a Metropolitan Council, consisting of the Archbishop of the West Indies, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, and the Primate of Canada provided oversight and council. Strangely, no minutes were ever kept of these Council meetings, so we will never know what some of those discussions and actions were!

A test of the Episcopal Church’s commitment to the Cuban church will be the necessity of raising some 800 million dollars to pay back pensions to clergy who are barred from being in the Cuban social security system (another example of the “soft persecution” endured by Christians in Cuba) and are at the mercy of family and friends in retirement. By canon law, all Episcopal clergy must be provided with pensions, so we will need to guarantee that for this reunited diocese as well.

Our delegation visited the Episcopal Cathedral in Havana on Sunday January 20, 2019. The presider at the Eucharist was The Rt. Reverend Griselda Delgado del Carpo, the first woman in the Cuban episcopate. She spoke only in Spanish, but it is obvious that this is a strong leader with a vision and commitment which will serve her and her people well! The liturgy was in Spanish except that the Gospel was also translated into English and the preacher preached a fine, bilingual sermon all by himself!

A number of us were invited to bring greetings during the time of announcements and we were welcomed with love and enthusiasm both in the Eucharist and in a festive coffee hour which followed the liturgy. In my next blog post, I will have some concluding thoughts, including how one can join and participate in the Friends of the Episcopal Church in Cuba. See http://www.friendsofeccuba.org

 

Pilgrimage To Cuba

January 29, 2019

The last time Susanne and I were in Cuba was in 2004 with a National Council of Churches delegation. We were there to celebrate the opening of the first Christian church since the Revolution in 1959. It was a Greek Orthodox Church and Fidel Castro actually handed over the keys of the property to the Ecumenical Patriarch, Bartholomew, and we were there to witness the “transfer!”

Castro even attended a lecture and reception that evening where Bartholomew — sometimes known as the “Green Patriarch” because of his environmental advocacy — delivered a passionate address, seemingly well received by Fidel. The next day we met with the Cuban Council of Churches where we learned something of what it was like to be a Christian under the Castro regime.

We were told that there was no real active persecution (unless you were a political dissident!) but that Christians were denied preferment in jobs or educational opportunities. A kind of “soft persecution,” if you will.

This year (2019) we returned to Cuba on a cruise sponsored by Educational Opportunities and The Friends of the Episcopal Church in Cuba. Our host was The Rev. Dr. Luis Leon, a Cuban by birth who had been sent to the United States in 1960 under the “Peter Pan” initiative of Church World Service and grew up in adoptive families and boarding schools of the Episcopal Church. Luis was later ordained a priest in our church (I actually was one of his canonical examiners in Central Florida many years ago!) and eventually became the Rector of St. John’s, Lafayette Square (the “Church of the Presidents”) from which he recently retired.

Luis delivered three lectures on-board before we arrived in Cuba. The first was a brief history: The island was occupied by indigenous peoples prior to the arrival of Columbus in 1492. Spain conquered Cuba shortly after Columbus’ arrival and decimated the native tribes. A series of rebellions during the 19th century failed to end Spanish rule, but after the Spanish-American War in 1898 Spain withdrew and Cuba gained formal independence in 1902.

As far back as 1818 Spain had opened Cuban ports to the U.S., and John Quincy Adams became the first American President to write of wanting to annex Cuba. From that time, the Cuban people have been wary of the United States’ “designs” on the island nation. Two fateful points were included in Cuba’s constitution which remain to this day: (1) the U.S. can intervene in Cuba whenever it thinks necessary; and (2) the base in Guantanamo Bay was established! This, due to the Platt Amendment.

Jim Crow laws were eventually imported to Cuba. Most restaurants only served “whites.” Percussion drums were banned because of their African influence. Protest against this began by dancing in the streets to the beat of drums (the government couldn’t arrest hundreds at once!). These dances were the birth of the Conga line!

Racism still exists in Cuba. All the leaders of of European descent. In 1933 Batista was an army officer who helped put in place a new government. In 1952, he decided to stop being the puppet master and to become President himself. In 1953 Fidel Castro, a young attorney, led an unsuccessful revolt. He was (for some reason) released from prison and moved to Mexico. From 1956-1959 he returned to eventual revolutionary victory.

Most of the revolution took place in the eastern part of the island, far from Havana. The U.S. had mixed reactions to Castro. He was popular in certain progressive circles because he sought to oust the dictator Batista, but the U.S. government initially supported Batista. Finally, we embargoed arms sales to his government and it fell in 1958.

Castro took over the 1959 and “nationalized” everything in 1960. In 1961 an attempted coup — the Bay of Pigs invasion — was repelled by Castro. When the U.S. didn’t really do anything about that, many families who could afford to do so sent their children to the U.S. or left themselves. Some 14,000 children were evacuated, including our host and guide, Luis Leon.

1962 featured the Cuban missile crisis and John F. Kennedy’s game of chicken with Nikita Khrushchev which many of us remember so well. In 1965, Fidel allowed anyone who wished to leave the island and thousands did.

In my next blog post, I will continue to relate the history, particularly as regards the Church in Cuba, described by Dr. Leon, and tell something of our visit to the Episcopal Cathedral in Havana on January 20, 2019.

 

On The 25th Anniversary of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Des Moines, Becoming A Cathedral

November 18, 2018

After I was elected bishop of this diocese in 1988, for the next couple of years I spent Christmas Eves and Easters away from my family. This, because in the tradition I was raised in, the Bishop was expected to be in his Cathedral on those high holy days – especially for Easter. And, in Iowa, the Cathedral just happened to be located three hours east of where the bishop lived and worked – Trinity Cathedral in Davenport!

That Cathedral had been established there for all kinds of good reasons. Iowa’s first bishop, Henry Washington Lee, had lived there and started the missionizing of Iowa from that base of operations.  Trinity was only the second church built specifically to be an Episcopal cathedral west of the Mississippi River.

But, as the state developed and the capitol was eventually established in Des Moines, it made sense for the Bishop of Iowa to live here, in the geographical, political, and eventually economic center of the state. Yet the Cathedral remained in Davenport!

Not only because of the slight inconvenience of those first Christmases and Easters spent away from home, but because St. Paul’s had functioned as a kind of “stand in” cathedral for many decades, hosting Diocesan Conventions and diocesan gatherings of different kinds and because St. Paul’s had a history of the kind of good liturgy and great music associated with cathedral churches, I began to wonder about moving Iowa’s cathedral here.

When I floated the idea there was some support –and some resistance! — here and also, of course, at Trinity, Davenport!  Here, because of a concern that “the diocese” and even “the bishop” might exercise too much control over St. Paul’s. In Davenport, obviously, because they had become quite accustomed to being the cathedral after 121 years!

But, because of the support of Dean John Hall of Trinity and Michael Barlowe who was rector here at the time and — I might add — a little politicking on my part, in 1993 we were able to pass a carefully-crafted Canon at Diocesan Convention entitled “Of the Cathedrals!”  Section 1 reads:

“The Convention of the Diocese of Iowa hereby acknowledges Trinity Church, Davenport, and St. Paul’s Church, Des Moines as the Cathedrals of the Diocese. Trinity Cathedral is recognized as the historic site, and St. Paul’s Cathedral as the liturgical center of the Diocese.” With that, we joined the Diocese of Nebraska and the Diocese of Minnesota – and a few others around the country – as dioceses with two functioning cathedrals, for similar historical reasons.

My experience and dream for a cathedral church had been formed and honed by the years I spent as Canon Residentiary at St. John’s Cathedral in the Diocese of Florida. That great Gothic church sits in the middle of downtown Jacksonville.

When The Rev. Bob Parks (later Rector of Trinity Church, Wall Street) was Dean, there had been a move to relocate St. John’s out in the suburbs thereby joining the “white flight” which was taking place out of the inner city in those days.

Bob fought that impulse and the congregation eventually recommitted itself to stay in the city as a witness to Christ’s healing and constant presence. Today (and when I was there) St. John’s boasts three senior citizen high rise apartment buildings, a nursing home, a cutting edge ministry in the heart of the inner city called Urban Jacksonville, and Jacksonville Episcopal High School.

Since I left, they have added a preschool serving the downtown area and serve a Friday Café luncheon in partnership with a local Culinary Institute frequented by business people and others from the downtown area. St. John’s is a vibrant presence known and respected by many in the city – church folk or not.

Well, the times are different today.  Government money is not as available to partner with churches and other non-profits which agree to sponsor and support such senior housing and nursing home projects. Church-related high schools and colleges are fewer and farther between.

But cathedrals still have special vocations and responsibilities today, as they always have, and as you no doubt heard from Gary Hall who knows a thing or two about the subject, having been Dean of Washington’s National Cathedral – one of our Church’s finest legacies.

I believe cathedrals should have a special relationship with the bishop and the ministry of the entire diocese in which they are located. Our family made St. Paul’s our church home during my years here. I was able to preach and preside at the Eucharist on most Christmas Eves and Easters as well as at a midweek service in the chapel from time to time.

When Mills House was undergoing some much-needed sprucing up, we enjoyed the hospitality of St. Paul’s as we officed here for a few months and Dean Barlowe and I even talked about the Diocese selling Mills House and building a second story over the office wing, having the bishop’s office down here… until we learned that structurally that would be impossible.

I believe that cathedrals should offer the best contemporary liturgy and music possible, reflecting — as far as they can —  the best of the spirit and style of churches across the diocese in which they are located. They should be models of good liturgy, great music, worship and prayer.

Cathedrals should offer a ministry of hospitality, not only to diocesan conventions and state-wide meetings, but a place all members of the diocese should feel is their “church home” when they are visiting or working in the “see city.” In Jacksonville, St. John’s offered a daily Eucharist presided over – not only by the Dean and Canons – but by visiting clergy from across the city.  Parishioners and non-parishioners alike attended those services.

When – as is so often the case – cathedrals are located in an urban center, they should be part of the city itself and active in ecumenical and interfaith witness when they occur. When that “see city” happens to be – as it is here – the state capitol, cathedrals have a special role to be a voice for the Church speaking truth to power, be that the governor, the state legislature, or the judiciary.

Cathedrals are often impressive church buildings offering a visual statement of the majesty of God and forming part of the beauty in the landscape of the city. But Jesus warns us about being too caught up in that aspect of our life in today’s Gospel,

“As (he) came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’” (Mark 13:1-2). The transitory nature of earthly monuments!

Some attention will always need to be paid to bricks and mortar, and there is much to be said for visual witnesses to the presence of God in the city. But the heart of a cathedral, like any Assembly of God’s people, is our commitment to the Risen Christ and our witness to him! As the author of Hebrews wrote:

“…since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:20-25)

Hearts in full assurance of faith…holding fast to the confession of our hope…provoking one another to love and good deeds…meeting together and encouraging one another

Those are the marks of any Christian community, not only a cathedral.

But surely a cathedral is called – in a special way – to hold them high.

Thank you for being willing to rise to that challenge 25 years ago. And let me encourage you to find new and even better ways to carry it out over the next 25.

I’ll see you on the 50th!

 

 

The Widow and Her Mite: Exemplar or Victim?

November 11, 2018

Sort of wish I hadn’t agreed to preside at the Eucharist today for Elizabeth – especially after I took a look at the Gospel where Jesus tells us to: “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk about in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!” (Mark 12)

Now, I think Jesus was talking about an attitude of mind and heart more than he was about ecclesiastical haberdashery, but you get the point. In a liturgical church like ours, we have to always keep in mind that “uniforms” like vestments and clerical collars are about designating functions and roles – NOT about spiritual superiority or oppressive hierarchy. But we must always be vigilant to assure that one does not turn into the other — Because they certainly have throughout much of our history.

I am glad that I got to wrestle with the second part of this particular Gospel reading though, because I’d like to use it as an example of how Scripture can always be looked at in a variety of ways, and that that’s part of why it can be fresh and new in every age and in different contexts. And I’m grateful to a young emerging church pastor named Doug Pagitt for his little book Flipped in which he talks about how “flipping” certain passages of Scripture from how we have traditionally understood them can challenge us in new and exciting ways.

In one chapter he takes on our Gospel reading for today. And, I’m going to quote him directly just so you’ll know I’m not making this stuff up! Doug writes: “About a year ago, I Flipped a story of the widow who gave all she had. At my church, Solomon’s Porch, we use an open discussion group on Tuesdays to put together the sermon for the following Sunday”.

“We are reading this story, and I was telling the group how I had used it at retreats. A man who was visiting had joined us for the evening. When I finished talking, he said, ‘I think you have that story totally wrong.’ As he explained himself, I knew he was right.”

“He suggested that Jesus wasn’t using this woman as an exemplar of faith. Instead Jesus was pointing her out as a victim of the temple’s requirements. Because this was a Temple tax, not a freewill offering! Jesus wasn’t saying, ‘Be like this woman.’ He was saying, ‘Be careful or you will be like this woman. The system will leave you penniless and broke. It will take all you have and leave you with nothing to live on.’ It was as if he were saying, ‘For the rich, this system works fine. But for those who have given all they have, they end up with nothing.’”

“This guy pointed out the verses that preceded this story.  Jesus was in the temple issuing warnings: ‘Watch out for the legal experts. They like to walk around in long robes. They want to be greeted with honor in the markets. They long for places of honor in the synagogues and at banquets. They are the ones who cheat widows out of their homes, and to show off they say long prayers.’ Then a widow came along and proved Jesus’ point!” (Flipped, by Doug Pagitt, Chapter 6)

And the verses which follow directly after this passage strengthen the argument, “As he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings?’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2) Those verses, and the warning about the scribes, form the bookends to the story of the widow who gave to the Temple treasury “all she had to live on.” Interesting!

Now, I’m not here this morning to convince you to throw out the traditional interpretation of this passage, the way most of us grew up understanding it. I am here to suggest that sometimes “breaking open the Word of God” with a group, or even by regular Bible study yourself, can reveal some surprising things.

I’m here to suggest that interpretation from “below,” from the grass roots, from faithful people just like this guy who visited Doug Pagitt’s Bible Study can revolutionize our understanding of Scripture! Catholic Christians in the “base communities” of Latin America have been telling us this for decades! These poor people, meeting in small Bible study groups in which they apply the plain reading of Scripture to the oppressive situations in which they live, gave birth to Liberation Theology which applies to so many in our world today.

I’ve been reading the Bible daily for just under fifty years! Following the lectionary I read several Psalms and a couple of chapters of Scripture each day. I am constantly surprised at how, paying attention to the context of the passages, learning something about the historical situation in which they were first written, and applying them to real-life situations we face today can “blow us away” with fresh insight and new interpretations.

Our Jewish sisters and brothers know this so well which is why they engage in Torah study and argue endlessly about the meaning of each verse and each word as they seek to apply ancient wisdom to the world in which we live. The Book of Hebrews says, “…the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)

Reading the Bible every day sheds light on the thoughts and intentions of my heart most every morning and evening. So, whether you understand the widow in today’s Gospel as exemplar or victim, do know that Jesus was no fan of the religious establishment of his day. He was a faithful and practicing Jew, but – like the prophets before him – he spent a lot of his time criticizing the chief priests and the Temple hierarchy.

He knew that God does not live in a temple made with hands and that, while religion is an essential part of life, we must be constantly vigilant that it is not misused to lay heavy burdens on people and manipulate them through threats of hellfire and brimstone or fear of God’s judgment, or ecclesiastical rules and regulations.  For:

“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had…all she had to live on!”

And perhaps, just perhaps… that’s NOT what God had in mind…after all!

 

 

From Where Is Our Help To Come: A Vigil

October 31, 2018

“I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come?” This verse from Psalm 121 formed the text for a powerful reflection by a young rabbi, the first woman to head an historic Iowa City synagogue, as she spoke to some 250 of us gathered for a vigil on the University of Iowa campus. We were there to remember 11 faithful Jews slaughtered at their worship in Pittsburgh and 2 African Americans gunned down at a convenience store in Louisville.

“I lift up my eyes to the hills; from where is my help to come?” she said again. “Jews and African Americans need help in this country today, my brothers and sisters. Where is our help to come from?” She knew perfectly well that the next line in the psalm is “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”

But, as a line from the contemporary song she led us in at the close of the service reminds us: if God is to build this world in love, WE must build this world in love. We are the hands and feet of the Holy One in this time and in this place.

The vigil service was hastily put together, as were so many across the nation, but scores and scores of people of all ages, races, faiths and no-faith walked through the light rain to stand with our nation’s Jewish and African American communities in their grief and to pledge our support.

A Muslim woman, well known in Iowa City and head of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, officiated at the entire service after beginning with an appropriate reading from the Qur’an.  Community members lit thirteen large votive candles while the names and brief remembrances were read for each of them.

The Mayor of Iowa City spoke, actually quoting the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop Michael Curry in a recent sermon in reminding us that the only solution to our problems was Jesus’ Summary of the Law “Love God, Love your Neighbor (and, while you’re at it, Love Yourself).” An African American couple who lead a local community effort known as the Johnson County Interfaith Coalition spoke of their fear that, when their young children grow up, they will still be hated…and killed….because they are Black.

Token notes of solidarity came from our two state senators and lone Democratic congressman, apparently too “busy” to make it to the vigil in person.

And one of the most powerful reflections came from a leading community activist and Presbyterian minister who began by acknowledging his concern as a “tall, white, privileged, Christian male” that he could have anything meaningful to say in such a gathering.

“My tribe has had it all — wealth, power, privilege. But my tribe is dying. And people who look like me are very afraid. Yet death throes can be dangerous. Be careful, my friends, my tribe is dangerous.” It was a moving moment of contrition, confession, and lament. A humbling moment of truth telling.

Yet, there was hope in the service — hope in the haunting and ancient Jewish music and chant; hope in the Muslim readings, hope in the Christian prayers. And, most of all, hope in our commitment to stand together and not to be afraid to act.

A white-bearded rabbi, dressed in the black hat and suit of Eastern European Jews passed out “mitzvah” cards with a half a dozen “good deeds” we could do, indicate them on the card, and send them back to him to forward to the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh; good deeds done that these lives might not be lost in vain.

We concluded with a contemporary Jewish song, led by the young, blonde, European rabbi, complete with her guitar as we lit candles and held them high aloft, pledging to build this world in love…that God may build this world in love.

Let us no longer leave the most vulnerable among us, asking the question, “From where is our help to come?”

On Labor Day: Save Our Labor Center

September 3, 2018

Ostensibly because of the need to trim the budget, the University of Iowa administrators announced not long ago that they intend to close the UI Labor Center which is the only unit in our state university system that specializes in research and development for Iowa workers.

The Center was established in 1951 and built by the contributions and support of generations of Iowans. It provides direct education for over 2500 Iowa workers across the state each year on such issues as health and safety laws, anti-discrimination rights, and leadership skills.

Continuing education students then bring those learnings and skills back to their workplaces and communities to strengthen Iowa’s economy. This extends the reach of the Center to impact thousands more.

It is a model of public-private partnership because it is sustained by funds from program fees, competitive grants, and a small but essential university commitment. Now the university is trying to hijack the only university funds across the state that are committed to serving Iowa’s workers.

Even worse, this action is being taken with no prior discussion with the Labor Center, University of Iowa faculty, workers, students, or community partners! We are being urged to contact UI administrators and faculty and urge them to protect the small amount of university money that has been committed for decades to research and education on issues that matter most to Iowa worker.

You may do so by contacting:

UI LAW SCHOOL DEAN KEVIN WASHBURN: 319-384-4658/ KEVIN-WASHBURN@UIOWA.EDU

UI PRESIDENT BRUCE HARRELD: 319-335-35-3549/ BRUCE-HARRELD@UIOWA.EDU

 

For more information see: saveourlaborcenter.com

Facebook: “Save Our Labor Center”

Or be in touch directly at savrourlaborcenter@gmail.com

 

No Hate, No Fear!/ Immigrants Are Welcome Here!

August 17, 2018

We gathered under the slate gray, early morning skies in front of the Veteran’s Auditorium in Des Moines, Iowa. The “we” was just under a hundred members of Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement, a social justice advocacy group in the forefront of the “resistance movement” in this Midwestern farm state.

Our reason for gathering on this particular day was to protest a visit and speech by United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions.  He is, of course, the “top cop” of the Trump Administration responsible, among other things, for executing the “zero tolerance” policy that has separated immigrant families on the  southern border, reversing his Department of Justice’s position that federal law protects transgender workers from discrimination and releasing “License to Discriminate” guidance, and who indeed has spent his entire legal career opposing and actively undermining voting rights for minority citizens.

As we assembled, familiar chants began to ring out:

No Hate, No Fear/ Immigrants are welcome here! No Hate, No Fear/ Immigrants and welcome here!

 

Tell me what democracy looks like!/This is what democracy looks like!/ Tell me what democracy looks like!/ This is what democracy looks like!

 

No Hate In our State!/ No Hate In our State!

But there were some new ones as well:

Hey Jeff come on out!/ See what Iowa’s all about!

and

Hey Jeff, What’s it gonna be?/ Kids in cages or Democracy!

After most everyone had arrived, a pretty good sound system began blasting out a little Aretha Franklin, the sound track of many our lives, the civil rights activist who had just died the day before.  R-E-S-P-E-C-T was what she sang, and Respect is what many of our number demanded!

Next came six Latina dancers, beautifully arrayed in traditional gowns, adding more life to the crowd before one of them moved to the speakers’ podium in her role as spokeswoman for a domestic abuse shelter for immigrants. She was followed by an African American woman who is a leader in ICCI, a young man recently incarcerated who spoke of the horror of America’s criminal “justice” system, and an even younger man from the Democratic Socialist Party who framed some of what we were protesting in the larger context of unbridled capitalism and greed.

After the speeches we moved toward the lobby of Vets Auditorium and tried to enter to deliver a letter to General Sessions. Security saw us coming, slammed and locked the thick glass doors of the entrance. Some of our number in the front of the march — a older woman about  my age, flanked by two young adults, one man and one woman — began banging on the doors as we all chanted.

No Hate!/ Stop Sessions!/ No Hate! Stop Sessions!

That was enough for Security to call for some back up from the Des Moines Police Department. After a few more chants and the reading of our letter to Sessions, we peacefully retreated from the building. Some went on to another venue to deliver our message to Iowa Republican headquarters and Governor Kim Reynolds.

Our message was simple: the U.S. Attorney General is charged with enforcing our nation’s laws as well as ensuring the fair and impartial administration of justice for all people. Time and time again, Jeff Sessions has proven that he is unable, or unwilling, to fulfill his impartial duty as Attorney General. We call for the removal of Jeff Sessions and for an investigation into Sessions’ actions, not for, but against justice.

The struggle continues!

 

 

Prayer and Action

July 15, 2018

You know, sometimes when I am preparing a Sunday sermon, I never get past the Collect of the Day! Some of these Sunday prayers in our Prayer Book so rich, and many are very ancient. Our one for today goes back to at least the 10th century. And they often contain as much spiritual wisdom and insight as the Scripture Readings which follow!

The Collect’s theme for today is prayer and action, and the relationship between the two. We prayed: “O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them…” The first part tells us the primary purpose of prayer — that we may know and understand what things we ought to do!

I’m afraid we too often understand prayer as telling God something we want done for us. We ask for forgiveness, we pray for others, we pray for ourselves. Sometimes it’s as though we think of God as some kind of heavenly Butler, just waiting around to fulfill our every need. But the truth is, prayer is not meant to change God’s mind. It’s meant to change ours!  We pray so that we might know and understand what things we ought to do!

That means that a good portion of our prayer time each day needs to be spent in reading and meditating on the Bible and other spiritual books, and in quiet and silence, learning about God and listening for God’s gentle direction and guidance for our lives. That’s prayer too! So that we can know and understand what things we ought to do.

Secondly, our time spent in prayer and worship is meant to recharge our spiritual batteries so that we can rise up from our knees and get about the task of doing what God wants us to do out there. As the Collect says, as we know and understand what things we ought to do, that we may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them!

Our First Lesson today (Amos 7:7-15)) describes the prophet Amos following what he understands as direction from God in confronting the king who was oppressing his people. Amos has such confidence in his vision of the plumb-line that he even takes on the court-appointed priest, Amaziah, who tries to stop him from carrying out his mission.  He says, “O seer, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king’s sanctuary…”

But Amos says, “I am no (professional) prophet; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees, (but) the Lord took me from following the flock, and the Lord said to me, ‘Go, prophesy to my people Israel.” Amos prayed first, and that gave him confidence to follow through even in the face of opposition.

Today’s Gospel (Mark 6:14-29) tells a similar story of John the Baptist’s martyrdom at the hands of another king, Herod Antipas. We know that John was a man of prayer because Jesus’ followers once wanted him to teach them how to fast and pray like John the Baptist had done for his disciples. John fasted and prayed in the desert so that he would have the grace and power to speak truth to power and challenge Herod, not only to clean up his tangled marital relationships, but to stop oppressing his people and keeping them in poverty.

And finally, St. Paul begins his Epistle to the Ephesians (1:3-14) today with words of prayer, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…” He goes on to say that “…he has made known to us the mystery of his will.” Why? So that “we might live for the praise of his glory!” Again, Paul counsels prayer so that we might know and understand what things we ought to do, and then have grace and power to accomplish those things!

It’s become quite fashionable these days for politicians when confronted with the now-commonplace incidents of gun violence, or some other devastating human tragedy, to say that they are sending their “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families. This, whether or not it seems likely that said politician has uttered a serious prayer in decades! In recent months, some of those victims and families have suggested that the politicians keep their thoughts and prayers to themselves and get about the business of doing what we elected them to do:

And that is, to find solutions to these problems – whether it’s the scourge of violence, the immigration mess, or the increasing gap between rich and poor here and around the world, or environmental concerns which threaten the planet. I must say I have some sympathy with those sentiments! Keep your thoughts and prayers to yourself! And get about the business of solving the problems!

Of course that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t pray for victims and survivors! But if we think that is all we need to do, that pious utterances and assurances on cable news networks absolves us of our responsibility to be about the hard work of making this world a better place, then perhaps we had better pray again. And to pray this morning’s Collect:

“O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them…”

So, spend your prayer time this week more in listening for God than talking.

And then, rise up from wherever it is that you pray, knowing that you have the grace and power to accomplish whatever it is that God wants you to do.

For that is God’s promise!

 

 

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?”