I was blessed on November 22nd to give my first ever message during a worship service in the Episcopal Church. It’s been such a blessing to get to know people at the 5pm Sunday Service at St. John’s, and a true gift to be asked to speak. In the message I reflect on the Gospel passage of the day in John 18 and the richness of our liturgical calendar.
Here’s the link to the message on St. John’s website: http://stjohnsnorwood.org/a-different-kind-of-kingdom/
I’ll also drop in my transcript, which I only loosely follow. =)
Last Sunday After Pentecost Christ the King Nov 22 2015
Life is a journey and our spiritual life mirrors this with twists and turns and fun developments… a recent fun event in my journey was being confirmed in the Episcopal Church and the worldwide Anglican Communion on Saturday, November 14th, 2015 at the National Cathedral in Washington DC. In the picture with me is Reverend Sari and my new friend Anne, both from St. John’s Norwood Parish.
It was also an intentional move, not an accident. I’ve been looking for a Christian faith tradition for the second half of my life, even making a short-list of fellowships to explore and question, and we ended up choosing the Episcopal Church for many reasons. I’ll describe three of those reasons here, things that the Episcopal Church stands for and some deep blessings of being around this tradition.
The Middle Way. In my life as a Christian and a Pastor I have often found myself holding the center among a variety of people and viewpoints. I have pastored a community for many years that included conservatives and progressives, Republicans and Democrats, many ethnicities, differing sexualities, beautiful colors, varied traditions and diverse backgrounds. I was intentional about trying to make all welcome and keeping them respected and I called it a sacred tension of doing life together in our diversity. I’ve found the Anglican Communion to have already named this: the middle way. With a foot in both the Catholic and Protestant traditions, and a diverse family of people, the middle way is that path of unity and shared dignity without a forced conformity or loss of vital historicity.
Tribal Without Tribalism. Our family has been blessed to find a balance of openness and identity in the Episcopal Church that I describe as being tribal without the tribalism. We have an identity as a group, a faith family, without needing to judge or exclude others. We have a belonging system, which is important, without needing to also draw bold lines of division and keep others from our Table or our full welcome in worship. As a guest dropping in often over the last decade I was able to find solace in the Rites and share the Eucharist with this communion of faith long before my confirmation. I am so thankful for that gift through the years.
Living As A Communion. I’ve been a prayer book collector for many years, and the Book of Common Prayer has been one of my favorites. I didn’t know that it’s existence represents one of the central ideas of the Anglican Communion, that instead of being in joined in fellowship because we all think and believe exactly alike, we are one because we pray together. This resonates with me as both a foundation of unity and peace in our life as a communion and in my daily devotional practice. We are one in our mutual reaching out to God.
I’m not here asserting that the Episcopal Church is the best faith family for everyone, and I have no interest in any my church is better than your church competition. I just want to share what a blessing it has been to find my tribe and be welcomed therein. It’s been an interesting journey for our whole family and we are excited about the coming years with the church. And yes, the cool Episcopal shield is probably going to be my next tattoo, but we’ll see. =)
We face a moral challenge as a global people and a nation. Our species faces a moral challenge. It’s the question of turning on the most vulnerable and needful to vent our fear and rage. It’s the question of targeting the refugees of Syria as scapegoats for the sins of ISIS.
Even as State Governors embarassingly and proudly announce that they will not welcome refugees we need to be heard loud and clear as people of faith: attacking the most vulnerable is a moral outrage and wrong.
I cannot speak to the Muslim faith with authroity, nor to the scriptures and faith of Hinduism, Sikhism or Buddhism. These are neighbors and belief systems with which I am familiar and I respect, but am not an insider. I have spent a good bit of time with the Jewish and Christian scriptures, and there is a strong witness from both of our being a safe place for the hurting, a refuge for the vulnerable and peacemakers for the afflicted.
In the Jewish scriptures we find a beautiful image and phrase the heart of the stranger (Exodus 23:1-9, Laws of Justice) to describe the turning of one’s heart to the foreigner, the alien, the needful, because of our shared human experience. There are many ways that Israel was commanded to care for the stranger among them, but I have always felt that the reminder that we are all strangers was one of the most compelling.
Christians have a life and faith framed by what we call the Beatitudes (Matthew 5), an ordering of life based on the mutuality of human needs, experiencing life together and making peace. Those ideas frame the sermon in which Jesus says we are to love our enemies, refrain from striking back and to pray for those who hate us.
The West has been supposedly built on these Judeo-Christian faiths, ideas and teachings, but in fact many politicians today appeal to their faith in one moment and attack the most vulnerable of fellow human beings in the next. Perhaps we have lived too long with these teachings without an opportunity or the will to actually practice them?
We need to be loud and clear: Targeting the Syrian refugees in fear and anger, further compounding their pain and loss with our demonization of them and a denial of their basic human needs, is immoral and wrong on every level imaginable. Any political figure who does so is not worthy of your time or attention.
Instead, let us embrace the chance to live our faith in amazing ways, letting our hearts enlarge to surround and serve the most needful, and possibly to even be broken in service to the least. While together we pray…
35. For the Poor and the Neglected
Almighty and most merciful God, we remember before you
all poor and neglected persons whom it would be easy for us
to forget: the homeless and the destitute, the old and the sick,
and all who have none to care for them. Help us to heal those
who are broken in body or spirit, and to turn their sorrow
into joy. Grant this, Father, for the love of your Son, who for
our sake became poor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
36. For the Oppressed
Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this
land who live with injustice, terror, disease, and death as
their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to
eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those
who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law
and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of
us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through
Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
From the Book of Common Prayer page 826
I’m just having some morning coffee, meditating on the day and thinking of all the discord in our country with the presidential debates and fighting, the violence in our streets and wars around the globe… leads me to pray for our species.
And it leads me to renew a vow that:
Today, I will speak with more civility, express myself with more genuine love and welcome for others, and I will speak and act to impart dignity to all people, especially those least like me or least liking me.
The Book of Common Prayer (and it’s online if you don’t have a copy) provides many helps to assist with daily prayer, often giving good words to the hurts and hopes of the heart…
28. In Times of Conflict
O God, you have bound us together in a common life. Help us,
in the midst of our struggles for justice and truth, to confront
one another without hatred or bitterness, and to work
together with mutual forbearance and respect; through Jesus
Christ our Lord. Amen.
BCP pg. 824
And of course, our prayers often begin to be answered in our own lives, in our words and actions. If we’re going to ask God to increase peace in the world, then we are rightly reminded to acknowledge that we will have to be part of the increase. It begins with our hearts and the overflow of our hearts into the things we say and things we do.
How can you increase peace in the world, today? Is there a personal conflict with someone you can resolve? Is there a good greeting to practice giving others? Is there a need you can meet? Is there a friendship to renew or develop?
The day is ours, a gift of God. Let’s begin it well, seek the best that we can achieve in it, and in the last give all thanks to God.
I am more than a little heart-sick at the lessening of faith and Christianity in our time and society, America in the 21st Century. We are so privileged in the West that it seems we often don’t know how to be Christians without manufacturing a war on something we enjoy or pretending to be persecuted. It lessens our witness, it lessens our joy and it lessens our faith.
Did you grow up singing the great old ditty I Have Decided to Follow Jesus? I did… and there’s that other verse, though none go with me, still I will follow. But somewhere along the way that refrain has become though none go with me, geez will I tantrum! We tantrum because we don’t get to tell others how to greet people in the holidays, we can’t always force people to listen to our praying in public, and in fact, some of our neighbors aren’t Christians at all! And we haven’t the maturity to deal with it.
When we cry our crocodile tears over Starbucks cups, we lessen our faith. When we deny others their civil liberties, like marriage, we lessen our faith. When we slander our Muslim neighbors for their religion, we lessen our faith. When we manufacture a war on our faith to bolster slipping or apathetic morale and make a political gain, we have lessened our faith and opted for a something completely other than faith.
Christians have begun the slow death of the meaning of Christmas by making it a season of self-centeredness and creating controversy where there should be joy and peace. We welcome the Prince of Peace by being contentious, angry and divisive. How have we so completely lost the message of humility in the birth narrative of our King? How have we so lost the grace with which he responded as he was both welcomed and rejected in his own life? How have we forgotten that Jesus didn’t forge a kingdom or legacy on any blood or suffering but his own?
“Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
Preach it, Peter. I’d like to advocate a season of love this year, when we rid ourselves of all the envy over other people’s headlines, when we rid ourselves of malice toward people who don’t think or live just like us, when we grow up a bit and bring some meaning back to the faith we profess to follow so that our behavior is admirable and points toward the grace of God.
Imagine it with me… we’re taking about a whole season of:
~ Christians simply drinking their coffee and enjoying it,
~ Christians not posting slanderous meme’s and sharing
hateful stuff on social media that slanders and demeans
~ Christians not manufacturing a war on a holiday that
is about to drive our national consumerism into the usual
frenzy of overindulgence and debt, and
~ Christians growing out of their spiritual baby years and
into at least a form of spiritual adolescence in which they
learn to serve the world and their neighbors with the love
and selflessness shown by their Christ.
We can do this! In fact, the very meaning of our Christianity depends on it. Our witness depends on it. Our growth depends on it. And yes… I believe our faith depends on it.
I believe we are blessed to live in a time when we are more openly and gracefully speaking of our sisters and brothers who are transgendered, but I also realize that many of our precious neighbors and family members still face stresses, threats and dangers that the majority of us do not recognize or understand.
It’s November, and November 20th is an awareness day to remember our fellow transgendered human beings who have died: Transgender Day of Remembrance.
If you wonder why we have a special day like this, please take a moment to peruse articles that educate us on the threats and stresses facing our trans friends and family: murder, suicide, teen homelessness and violent crime.
The conversation about transgendered men and women has gone mainstream and we all know the names of celebrities and public figures who have made their transition in various levels of public scrutiny: Laverne Cox, Chaz Bono, and Caitlyn Jenner. Last year for Transgendered Remembrance Day I shared a couple of videos in a blog post, one from Laverne Cox and one from an amazing pastor and preacher, Allysson Robinson.
I have a few simple requests to everyone as we approach the 20th this year:
- Stop posting mean-spirited and discouraging memes and messages on social media about transgendered men and women. You may not think of Caitlyn Jenner’s transition as courageous, but when she receives an award from someone who thinks she shows courage, and you compare her to examples of firefighters or soldiers, you’re not being smart or clever, you’re just being mean and misrepresenting. There is a kind of courage that enables someone to survive media scrutiny and our disdain in the public arena, and it in no way diminishes other types of courage in other areas of life. Drawing unfair comparisons because you don’t like Caitlyn is a distraction and it is mean-spirited.
- Educate yourself on gender dysphoria so that you can stop spreading the demonization and criminalization of transgendered women and men. Learn about Gender Dysphoria in the DSM-5 and a good Huffington Post article. No, trans neighbors are not faking their gender identity to sneak into your bathroom. No, trans neighbors are not immature sexual attention-getters. No, trans neighbors are not out to make you trans, prey on you or your children, or even more likely to be sexual offenders. Please take some time to study the facts on sexual assault and sexual crimes, and you will learn the difference between many myths and many facts, supported by the numbers, like the fact: “sex offenders are disproportionately likely to be heterosexual men.” Some quick links and sources for your perusal: RAINN, University of Michigan (info for new students and the source of the above mentioned quote), CASA, and this long but important read from UC Davis. These links do often speak to the question of sexual orientation more than gender presentation or transition, but they are still good reads for us as we tend to fear and demonize what we do not understand. We are far more influenced by political spin and the culture war proponents (i.e. gullible) when we are less educated on issues.
- Be graceful and compassionate, practicing empathy and mercy for others. Take a long hard look at the numbers of homeless trans teens who have been kicked out by their families, a long look at the numbers of trans suicide attempts and successes, and a long look at the rates of violent crime against our trans neighbors, and then ask yourself: “Do I want to say or share anything that continues to stigmatize or hurt a group of people who are already under such assault and victims of such hatred and violence?” It’s time we all spent a lot more time owning our words and their impact. It’s time we owned the responsibility to be people promoting and increasing grace in the world. Even if you read every post I linked in this blog and still don’t quite understand gender dysphoria or understand someone’s authentic struggle with their gender identity, you can still be merciful, empathetic and kind. In fact, you must.
As with our discussions around sexual orientation, there’s so much to learn from knowing a person who is transgendered. Knowing people is the best way to break down the stereotypes and prejudices. You may not know someone who identifies as a the gender opposite of their birth gender or sexual organs, but you can listen to the stories and struggles of real people like: Chase Marie, stories from The New York Times, and lots more at TransPeopleSpeak.org.
Life can be real struggle, as we all know. Our paths may be divergent in many ways, but at the intersections we have magical moments when love and grace ignite the wonder of God. Pray this month for the souls of those who die at the hands of our fear and ignorance. Pray for the peace and joy of all God’s children.