“Home”

February 11, 2017

It’s interesting how a sense of “place” gets embedded in one’s soul. I’ve discovered that kitschy, fairly run-down Daytona Beach is such a place for me. I never actually lived in this little east coast town myself. My parents and I vacationed here from the 1950s when we still lived in Greenville, SC.

When we made the big move to Florida in 1955 we settled in Orlando because of my dad’s work, but kept a series of boats in the Municipal Yacht Basin on the Inland Waterway in Daytona. Then, when I left for college at the University of Florida, my folks moved to Daytona full time, living in a series of small houses and condominiums both on the beach side and the mainland.

Whenever we visited them during college, seminary, or during my tenures as a parish priest in Melbourne, Lakeland, Jacksonville, and Cocoa, Daytona Beach was where we came. My formative years were spent swimming in the surf or in boats up and down the Halifax River. Even though this town has never really been my home, it has always been “home!”

Part of the reason I like Daytona is that it is not just a rich person’s resort town. Certainly there are many wealthy people here who live in the same kind of high-rise condos and lavish river and beach front homes as you find up and down both coasts of the Sunshine State. But Daytona has always also been the vacation-destination of choice for all sorts and conditions of white and blue collar workers and persons of all ethnicities and economic levels.

Some of the still-family-owned motels along A1A may look tacky (and they are) but are affordable “resorts” for lots of people who would otherwise never walk up and down a Florida beach for more than a few days in their entire lives. And there are “old salts” and Florida crackers who have lived here for generations as well as an African American community centered around the famous Bethune-Cookman University with its primarily Black student body and faculty. St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church is located virtually on the campus of this small college and has become my favorite church in town.

So, it’s good to be back for a few weeks this time of year. Not only to visit my dad who remains in assisted living just north of Daytona. But to spend some time in that “home” which has never been my “home.”

Maybe it will be one day.

 

Life Before Death

February 8, 2017

This trip to Florida will end up, sadly, mostly spent taking my 95-year old dad around to doctors’ appointments and running other errands. He’s in assisted living now which, as near as I can tell, means he’s on his own except that nurses bring him his meds, check on him a few times a day, and are available at the end of a pull-chord should he fall (and be able to get to it!).

Medicare won’t allow these particular nurses to do anything really except administer the meds so, in order to have a couple of wounds treated (one, a bed sore developed when he was in the hospital; the other an elbow scrape sustained in a fall) he has to contract with an outside health care agency for which he pays extra and who visit him a few times a week.

He can get transportation to appointments and such and will have to do so when I head back to Iowa, but it’s a hassle and takes all day to get transported to and from the docs and to hang out in their waiting rooms for what seems an interminable length of time. Just so much easier, when I’m here, to drive him myself and maybe take him out for a meal to break the monotony of the dining room service in his assisted living facility.

It’s not much of an existence for one who has had such a long and active life. Former Air Force pilot, architect and banker, boat owner and faithful churchman. All of that is gone how, including his beloved “Maggie,” wife and best friend for 72 years until her death a few years ago. Like so many elders, my dad really wishes it was over, but the will to live is still mostly there and so he faces the endless days largely alone and making lists of things he needs to do.

There are, of course, activities provided but he’s never been much of a “joiner” and, apart from the occasional bingo game, does not participate in many of them. He’s not able to concentrate enough to enjoy reading, TV is mostly awful, and his hearing is so bad (even with hearing aids) that carrying on an extended conversation with his few friends proves difficult if not impossible.

He keeps a sense of (sometimes “gallows”) humor, calling Bishop’s Glen where he lives “Sing Sing” (“It’s walled in, they lock us in at night, and we’re here for a life sentence!”). And he gruffly maintains that no one should live past 80…85 at most. “Four sets of 20,” he growls,” 20 years to grow up and get educated; 20 years to advance in your chosen work; 20 years to enjoy your success; 20 years in retirement, and then you’re done. If I was running things, that’s the way it would work!”

Looking at his lot in life now, I can’t say that I disagree.

Except that I just turned 70!

Salt and Light

February 5, 2017

Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. Matthew 5

I’m not preaching today but, if I was, I would say something like this: In confusing, uncertain and downright scary times like these, it’s important for the people of God to remind ourselves of what we are all about. We must remember that Jesus, and his earliest followers, lived in a time of oppression and violence. Their whole nation was under the domination of the Roman Empire and had been for a very long time.

Some of Jesus’ fellow Jews counseled violent revolution to overthrow the government. These were the Zealots of Sicaari (dagger men). Others followed the path of withdrawal. The Essenes and others retreated into the desert to avoid being persecuted and to create an intentional community of prayer and holiness; there to await the coming of the Messiah. Still others like the Pharisees and Sadducees tried various ways to “go along to get along.” They paid attention to their religious observances, but made the compromises they could with the political establishment and, in the process, were often rewarded by the state in ways tangible and intangible.

Jesus taught another way — the way of non-violent resistance to the powers-that-be. He and his closest followers continued to live “in the world” but to live lives that were remarkably different from the dominant culture. Like salt they livened things up a bit in the midst of the meager rations of everyday life. They stood with the outcast and the marginalized. They brought what healing they could into the lives of the poor. Occasionally, by openly debating the issues (with the Pharisees and others), by staging a mock procession into Jerusalem for the feast of the Passover, and finally by undergoing public martyrdom, they brought a shock to the taste buds of those who feasted on the provisions of others.

By public preaching and teaching, by enacted parables of resistance and justice they sought, like that lamp on a lampstand, to shed light into the darkness of their day. They stood up to tyranny, but without breaking a bruised reed or lifting up their voices in the street. They were salt. They were light.

Are we?

 

Works of the Flesh; Fruit of the Spirit

February 3, 2017

For evangelical Christians: Donald Trump’s moral check list from the 5th Chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. “Works of the Flesh:

  1. Fornication – Check
  2. Impurity – Check
  3. Licentiousness – Check
  4. Idolatry – Check
  5. Sorcery – Not so much
  6. Enmities – Check
  7. Strife – Check
  8. Jealousy – Check
  9. Anger – Check
  10. Quarrels – Check
  11. Dissensions – Check
  12. Factions – Check
  13. Envy – Check
  14. Drunkenness – Not so much (teetotaler)
  15. Carousing – Check

“Works of the Spirit”

  1. Love – Check (family)
  2. Joy – Unknown
  3. Peace – Not so much
  4. Patience – Not so much
  5. Kindness – Not so much
  6. Generosity – Not so much
  7. Faithfulness – Not so much
  8. Gentleness – Not so much
  9. Self-control – Not so much

No wonder he was like a fish out of water at the National Prayer Breakfast!

Going High

February 1, 2017

I am so tired of the inflammatory, relentlessly adversarial, tit-for-tat rhetoric – from both left and right – in politics today. Obviously, the system is set up to be adversarial in some respects, but most of us can remember the days when there was mutual respect on both sides and when principled compromise was actually a goal to be reached so that bipartisan consensus could be found and legislation actually passed for the good of the American people.

As a lifelong progressive Democrat, obviously I lay much of this at the feet of the Republican Party which reached its crest during the last eight years of the Obama administration. When the stated goal of the GOP leadership, from day one, was to see that Barack Obama was a failed president it is not hard to see how all of this has developed. However, I refuse to believe that acting exactly the same way as Democrats under a Trump administration is the way to go.

Michelle Obama’s “when they go low, we go high” may not have been a winning strategy in the short run. But it is a moral strategy and we are not always called to “win.” We are called, as the saying goes, not always to be “successful” but to be “faithful.” I am opposed to Democrats “boycotting” hearings for Trump nominees for Cabinet positions. Congress folks should show up, grill the hell out of the nominees, vote No if they need to and make it clear to their constituents and to the American people at large why they did so.

I believe Neil Gorsuch should be confirmed by the United States Senate, not because I agree with many of his positions on ‘the issues’ but because he is imminently qualified and because elections (even ones as contentious a problematic as this one) have consequences and Presidents deserve to be able appoint Justices of their persuasion if they are well qualified. Yes, Barack Obama should absolutely have been allowed to appoint Merrick Garland who the Republicans shamefully blocked from even getting a hearing. But two wrongs do not make a right and “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth eventually leaves everyone blind and toothless.”

Democrats should fight the good fight, according to the rules, after setting priorities and deciding which ditches they are prepared to die in. Christians and people of good will from all religious perspectives and none should be prepared to make our voices heard in the halls of Congress and in the streets (but not by blocking interstate highways or breaking windows and vandalizing property). We should stand in solidarity with those who may be hurt by reactionary and right-wing decisions be they immigrants, refugees, women, people of color or members of any other marginalized group.

And we should gear up now for the next election cycle and try to get “our” candidates elected up and down the ballots in 2018 and in 2020. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and, if we had campaigned smarter and harder in swing states like Ohio and Pennsylvania, she would now be in the White House. Dear friends, never give up on “going high.” It is our calling.

“Look Around You”…a song of lament

January 30, 2017

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

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

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

 

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

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison

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

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison

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

Kyrie eleison, Christe eleison, Kyrie eleison

 

Join me in praying these words through your tears…

And mine.

 

Think Globally; Act Locally

January 25, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

Why Women Must Lead

January 23, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sustained movement informed and led by women.

Women’s March On Washington

January 21, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

Time For “Life And Work” Again

January 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We must not let that happen again.