Archive for the ‘Politics’ Category

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!

 

 

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?”

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 Art Of The Possible

January 23, 2018

So, I guess some on the Left (including a few already running for President in 2020) are goring Chuck Schumer and the majority of Senate Democrats for “caving in” on the government shut-down in exchange for a promise from Mitch McConnell to have a debate and  an up-or-down vote on DACA in the coming months.

There is no question but that this is risky, particularly considering the fact that no one really knows where Donald Trump will ultimately come down on this and whether or not he is prepared to twist some right-wing arms in the House of Representatives which is far less likely to pass anything remotely looking like amnesty for the Dreamers than are the senators.

But I hasten to remind my fellow lefties that politics is the art of compromise and the art of the possible. Personally, I would rather guarantee the safety and security of some 800,000 Dreamers in exchange for money for a so-called border wall which will not even be built for five years — plenty of time to flip both houses of Congress and elect a new President who could then re-direct whatever money is appropriated to some kind of reasonable border security, which could even include humane ways to detain and evaluate those seeking a new life in the “land of the free and home of the brave” without the benefit of legal status.

I wonder how many of those now howling about a Democrat cave-in bothered to vote in 2016 or wasted their vote supporting some third or fourth party candidate. With those votes, we would now have a Democrat in the White House no matter how much Russian interference took place to swing the election Trump’s way. I was happy to see so many of my fellow “resisters” hitting the streets last weekend protesting the Administration as well as witnessing for women’s equality and rights.

Now, I would suggest they hit the streets and the phones, working hard for Democratic candidates up and down the ballot in 2018. The time is right to begin reversing one of the most heartless and dangerous courses this country has ever been on. Politics is the art of the possible. But possibilities begin with an informed and engaged citizenry willing to make sacrifices and to stand bravely for the principles they believe in…and on which this nation was founded.

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.”