A Year Later …

Grace and peace to each of you.  What follows is a posting of my sermon on Annual Meeting Sunday 2017, so it now has a year behind it. I’m sharing it here as a way to encourage the Cathedral community into a thoughtful and prayerful place as we anticipate our 2018 Annual Meeting of the Congregation on Sunday, January 28, 2018 at 11:00 am. I thank you in advance for your time spent with what follows.  SSH+ 1/23/2018

 

Ten. Ten years. Wow. Who would have thought it? Ten times I have come to this pulpit on the occasion of our Annual Meeting. It is hard for me to imagine. Every time I step into this pulpit my breath catches. Every time I step down from here to go back over to my seat, I am quite confident that I have received more from you than you from me. Thank you for the journey; thank you for your prayers during some challenging times I went through just about a year ago. Most of all, thank you for the honor of serving as your dean. I can already say, that with God’s grace and blessing, I look forward to doing this with you again next year.

Normally when I am up here I touch on several things –

  • Our financial picture: It is pretty good. New pledges are up. Annual giving is up. We have challenges. To whom much is given, from them much is expected. We will have to stretch. Gary Wood, our treasurer will tell you more.
  • I talk about the year past in the life of the Cathedral: It has been a year of loss and welcome. Beloved souls have departed this life, others have moved to distant places. We miss them both. We miss them differently. Deacon Shaffer will remember those in the nearer presence of God in prayer as we close our time together. We have welcomed wonderful new souls to the parish family. In your annual report you will see many of them, but joyfully not all, as God continues to bless us with many opportunities to show hospitality to others – thereby allowing us to entertain angels unawares. Let us not forget that we welcomed our Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev’d Michael Curry, not once, but twice into these prayer-worn walls.
  • I talk about the year ahead: You hear some form of, “There is lots of ministry to do, because Jesus staffed out some stuff to us. We don’t have everything wrapped up yet, so let’s get on with it.

Well, that didn’t take too long. So let me share some dreams with you – not wishes-type dreams, but godly ones like Joseph’s.

Many of you know I was schooled in Economics, and I was particularly fascinated by the economics of business. Today, in any gathering of economic scholars I would know just about enough to embarrass myself, but, not as much as I think the business world embarrasses itself. The bottom line, the profit, the increase of shareholder wealth, drive everything. It is sought at the expense of the rights and dignity of workers, at the expense of our environment, and at the expense the truth.

I bristle at that. The business philosopher, professor, economist, and father of modern management was a man named Peter Drucker. He was Austrian-born and a naturalized American citizen (so an immigrant), and generally more popular in Japan than the US for most of his career.

I think of him for two reasons: he maintained that businesses were too short sighted, and in his work, Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices said, “The fact is that in modern society there is no other leadership group but managers. If the managers of our major institutions, and especially of business, do not take responsibility for the common good, no one else can or will.” He also believed strongly that all institutions, including those in the private sector, have a responsibility to the whole of society. This, amongst other things, ticked off Alfred Sloan, one-time head of GM.

Drucker’s expectations of business and business leaders quickens my heart. I would raise great shouts of joy if it were ever a general reality. Today any sort of hope for such a business world seems to be a huge dream. I dream it, but I have to also say the putting faith in the business sector in general is faith misplaced.

One cannot study economics, particularly in this country without engaging in the study of the other great juggernaut – that of government. For that matter, one cannot, I think, be a part of leadership in a religious community in this country without some study of government. For all the shouts of “separation of church and state,” which may structurally be the goal, the influence and impact of one on the other is undeniable and on-going. Any sort of hope for government as an instrument of good for all people seems a huge dream. Again, I dream it, but have to say that putting faith in the government sector is misplaced.

Let me stop here for a moment and say that there are some businesses, small and large, and some business leaders, that strive for a reality such as Drucker envisioned. There are public servants and government officials who seek for government to be an instrument of good for all people. But as in the time of Samuel and Eli, the lamp, while not out, flickers dimly.

As one of the baptized, as a believer, as a person of faith, now more than ever I believe I am called to audacious dreams, and not just me alone. All of us.

The prophet Isaiah is speaking to us when he says (Isaiah 58:9b-12):

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
10   if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
11   The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
12 Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

Isaiah’s words are elegant, beautifully compelling, and harder than we can imagine – well at least harder than we have been able to make a reality in the 2600 or so years since he prophesied them. They are, for Christians, a call to live boldly the baptismal life, the Christ-life.

Now, as much as I dream, and I’ll share some of that in a minute, I also need to be inspired by real incarnate glimpses of such baptismal living. Dr. King did and does that for me. But here is another witness, from a couple of hundred years ago, that witnesses in a personal way that challenges and inspires me to examine my daily actions and being.

On the night of May10, 1775, Alexander Hamilton was rousted from his sleep in his room at King’s College in New York City. As one writer tells it, “Hundreds of protesters armed with clubs and heated by a heady brew of political rhetoric and strong drink descended on [the college] ready to inflict rough justice on Myles Cooper [the college president].” Cooper was, according to one source, “a Tory and an obnoxious man, and the mob went to the college with the intention of tarring and feathering him or riding him upon a rail.” One Nicholas Ogden raced ahead of the crowd to warn Cooper. Hamilton’s room being nearby, he was alerted too. “Whereupon Hamilton instantly resolved to take his stand on the stairs (the outer stoop) and there to detain the mob as long as he could by a harangue in order to gain the Doctor more time for his escape.”

Hamilton likely knew he couldn’t stop the intruders, but he won vital minutes for Cooper to clamber over the back fence and rush down to the Hudson. He did so at the risk of a terrible beating, and the potential loss of his considerable stature among the Sons of Liberty. As one writer shares, [this] episode “captures the contradictory impulses struggling inside this complex young man, a committed revolutionary with a profound dread that popular sentiment would boil over into dangerous excess.”

Of all the incidents in Hamilton’s early life in America, one author writes, his spontaneous defense of Myles Cooper was probably the most telling. It showed that he could separate personal honor from political convictions and presaged a recurring theme of his career: the superiority of forgiveness over revolutionary vengeance.”

Hamilton was about rebuilding the ruins of government, and Drucker was about rebuilding the ruins of business. Neither had a short term vision of anything – they sought something that was more than generational. But, they are nothing compared with God’s vision. We are not called to raise the ruins or rebuild the foundations of governments and business – institutions of the world.

We are called to raise the lives of people – even if it be one at a time. God calls us to be repairers of the breach, the restorers of the streets to live in.

Years ago, in the 1950’s this cathedral was packed four times a day on Sundays: three morning services and an afternoon one wherein a new cantata was sung each week. There was talk about how one might move the walls of the cathedral out so a make space for more people. Why so many back then, and not now? There were different social expectations. There were fewer Sunday options – couldn’t shop, no internet, movie houses were not open on Sunday. Perhaps we drifted from the Isaiah God-given directive….

Right now we don’t have that challenge of moving walls. But … I have the dream of people seeking this place because it speaks truth: truth that God loves us – every shape, size, color, gender identity, age, culture of heritage and culture of origin; truth that neither business nor government will bring forth the change that respects and empowers the dignity of every human being. God staffed that out … to usto you, to me, to the person next us, behind us, across the aisle from us.

For me Hamilton and Drucker witness to this very real challenge and expectation of living a baptismal life. For each of them, at the heart of it was “the other person.” It raises the bar on everything. Loving neighbor as self.

I dream we are filled because people find here healing, inspiration, nurture, community, and sacramental sustenance that sets you, me, them, each of us, free to recognize, embrace, and celebrate this call to be repairers of the breach and restorers of streets to live in … for all of God’s people.

Your cathedral leadership is going to stretch itself and call you to stretch as well. We are going to take steps to expand and empower God’s children, increase and empower pastoral ministry, reach outside our doors to share God’s love with our community in new and adventuresome ways. It will be as compelling as it is challenging. It will invite us to give more, gather more, pray more, risk more, trust more, love more, engage more, and be more baptismal every day.

Almighty and ever-living God, source of all wisdom and understanding, be present with those who take counsel in this Annual Meeting of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul for the renewal and mission of your Church. Teach us in all things to seek first your honor and glory. Guide us to perceive what is right, and grant us both the courage to pursue it and the grace to accomplish it; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

A Word to the Cathedral Community – January 14, 2018

Today in the life of the Cathedral we observe the commemoration of the Rev’d Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.(transferred), the preeminent figure of the twentieth century in the fight for justice and equal rights. His voice called not just for our attention, but for our action. He called us to speak up and to stand up.

The vile disparaging remarks made this week by the 45th President of our nation about other nations cannot go without redress. There are, no doubt, countries led by despotic regimes. There are countries ravaged by natural disasters and the lack of natural resources. We must also remember that there are countries, these and others, which were rich in resources until this nation and our colonial forbearers plundered and enslaved them. Because of these factors and others, they may lack economic stability and standing. They may lack political power and prestige, but as nations of peoples, they all possess intrinsic dignity.

Almost twelve years ago I was afforded the humbling responsibility and the profound honor to become the Dean of this Cathedral: God’s cathedral, your cathedral. During this time I have told many of the great wonder afforded me each time the community gathers in worship, because almost every time, those gathered have direct roots in every inhabited continent of the globe. You have shared with me, taught me, about the breadth and depth and uniqueness of cultures and countries in Africa, including Nigeria, Guinea, North and South Sudan, Ghana and more. You have cared enough to tell me of the islands of which many of this community are native.

Of course it does not stop there. You have shared your cultures, stories, traditions, and love, rooted and grounded in countries of the Pacific Rim, Asia, India, Eastern Europe, and more. The greater metropolitan area has afforded me gracious conversations and profound moments that connect me to lives, loves, origins, and traditions, religious and otherwise, in the Middle East and beyond. To all of you, I can say without reservation or hesitation that you have gifted me, and my family, with a richer life and a richer experience of the wonder of God.

You know where I am going: you’ve known since I started. Nothing about the disparaging remarks from the President about other countries is acceptable. If the President wants to castigate and insult a country, look at our history of the treatment of native peoples, enslavement, and our usurping of resources in foreign lands. I recall something about letting the one without sin cast the first stone. Apology, contrition, and repentance are now what I look for from him. While I wait, I know that you and I will renew our resolve to respect the dignity of every human being, actively seek justice for all people, and honor the heritages that form us all.

Grace and peace,
Scott+

A Word about the Nativity

“Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow.” So goes a part of the first verse of In the Bleak Midwinter. Snow on Christmas Eve has attained an iconic, romantic place in our culture. The work of Norman Rockwell on covers of the Saturday Evening Post, movies such as White Christmas and Holiday Inn, countless holiday card manufacturers, and even commercials for a certain mass-produced hoppy beverage featuring large draught horses have imprinted this association deep within us.

It is a cultural thing, and a northern hemisphere thing, to be sure. Bethlehem of Judea does not get much snow. Folk in Argentina, Australia, and anywhere else in the global south are generally not expecting such conditions at Christmastide. Further, I can tell you as a priest of the Church, even an “it might possibly … could maybe … there is an outside chance of … (snow) weather forecast on, or approaching, Christmas Eve or Christmas Day is an unwelcome thing. It plays havoc with attendance at services for which there have been weeks and months of preparation; it plays havoc with making the year-end budget as well. Just ask any clergy of a tradition with services on Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day. They will tell you that Christmas is twelve days long. Let the first day or so be clear, and then the rest can be as white as you want!

But there’s a thing: The stuff I mentioned above is factually true, but that does not necessarily elevate their importance regarding our celebration of the nativity of Jesus. What is important? Celebrating the Christ Mass is important! It is extremely extraordinarily important, in ways that are for me, and for others, deep and profound. It is important for me to join with heavenly angels and the passing shepherds to celebrate the ancient Nativity – the birth of the Christ child, Emmanuel (God with us) – in a moving, mysterious, wondrous way. My life needs awe.

It is important to contemplate, in the here and now, that which breaks into the created and predictable order of stuff and things to introduce incarnation and adoration, grace, salvation, and love. It orients time for me. It resets my clocks – spiritual and spatial.

The hymn with which I began this reflection concludes, “What can I give Him? … Yet what can I give Him? Give Him my heart.” The Nativity of yesteryear is only a sentimental journey, like the Rockwell paintings, snowy musical movies, and video Christmas cards, unless we allow for a real-time nativity wherein Christ is born (or born afresh, if you like) in our hearts in this very moment. Our hearts are his manger, his home, this day and each day until his coming again. Since the Divine is still not constrained by time and space, this birth or birth afresh can happen whenever, wherever. When we are celebrating with others in Divine Worship, or contemplating the flakes that apply a chill white blanket to the world around us. What falls to us is the opening of our heart’s door.

Christmas blessings,
Scott+

“…this fragile earth, our island home.”

The prophet Amos invites us to “Seek him who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night; who calls upon the waters of the sea and pours them out upon the surface of the earth: The Lord is his name.” (Amos 5:8)

At this moment, upon hearing the news that the current U.S. administration intends to withdraw from the Paris Accord (an agreement on climate change), it seems that seeking the Lord is the only thing left in me.  I fully and freely admit that I am one of those individuals who does not consider issues of climate change to be opinion. I consider them to be fact; there is too much science present.

I am also willing to admit that scientists could be wrong, and that we could be in a climate cycle.  That said, if we take action to reduce greenhouse gases, lessen or remove our dependency on fossil fuels, embrace the development of green and renewable energy, and while we are at it pick up and reduce our trash, and it turns out to be a cycle, we have lost nothing.  If it turns out the science was right, we’ve gained much.

I’m reminded of the Rabbi Gamaliel in the fifth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles. He counseled that one ought be prudent in how quickly one dismisses things. In his case he addressed the established faith community saying, essentially, if these men (the apostles) and their undertaking is of human origin, it will fail, but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. Why, you may even be found to be fighting against God.  In the case of climate change, to go against the science could cost us “this fragile earth, our island home.” (Eucharistic Prayer C, 1979 Book of Common Prayer) Going with it would only strengthen and sustain the common good.

The strengthening and sustaining of the common good seems to me to be very consistent with God’s intention. When in Genesis God gives us dominion, I believe it was a carefully chosen word – a place of habitation and of living.  It was not domination.

We can keep cutting the tops off of mountains. We’ve gotten pretty good at it. We can keep gouging the land and shattering the aquifers, causing the very earth to move beneath our feet. We can continue to pump metric ton after metric ton of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere – and enjoy the red sunsets they create. But at what cost? The making true again the declaration that the sins of the parents will be visited upon our children to generations upon generations.

To those who shout about jobs, I hear you. I care about you. Really smart economists indicate that even in the beginning the jobs lost would be equaled or exceeded by the jobs created. Jobs that will lead us to new and bigger and more sustainable things – the things upon which economies, and here I’m really talking about the lives that populate and drive economies, find generative vitality and longevity.

The psalmist invites us to “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness; let the whole earth tremble before him.” (Psalm 96:9) As people of faith, I believe our stewardship obligation extends to the creation, and like so many other things, we cannot, we must not, wait on governments and the interests they serve to exercise the decisive stewardship over all that has been entrusted to us.  We are Christians. We should stand up and act like it.

A Thought or Two on Cathedral Challenges

[An article in The Telegraph inspired these thoughts. A link to the article can be found at the end of my reflection.]  SSH+

I have heard people rail against English Cathedrals charging a fee – including US clergy from pulpits. After having spent time in various cathedrals and churches in the U.K. a couple of years ago, I’ve become appreciative of their predicament. I never encountered one that charged at times of worship. Some have small chapels where one can pray anytime without cost. Others would have such space if they could but the historic nature of their structures and/or the physical layout make that impossible. I have talked and prayed with deans and parish clergy lamenting and heart struck over this very predicament.

The wear and tear of visitors, averaging from 300 a day to well over 2000 presents enormous cost challenges. Add to that the waning respect for sacred space and the challenges expand. As noted in the article, each cathedral is its own financial entity, and while admittedly anything they do reflects on the Church (for good or for ill), the wider Church does not share in the costs of its witness, worship, and mission – including being a source of art, music, and general contributions to community and culture.

As dean of an Episcopal cathedral in the US, I’m not without skin in such a conversation. There are no easy answers. While I recoil at the notion of charging to enter a space intended to be a place of God for all people (and never ever with a cost for worship), I am constantly amazed, broken-hearted when, in the cathedral, I find partially eaten food, discarded trash, coffee and other beverages spilled, people climbing on altars to get a photograph, brass plates pried off for a souvenir or scrap money, urine (and, shall we say, other things) on our front steps, and more.

There is, I am deeply convicted, an important offering and witness cathedrals make – certainly I believe they are called to make – to the church, the community, the believer, persons of other faith traditions and of no faith traditions at all.

The challenge is great, of that there can little doubt. Such a loss, while debatable by all, not missed by some, in all likelihood cheered by others, would, I believe, be a penultimate wound to the life and soul of the realm, of our realm.

See More

Anglican cathedrals could be forced to charge for entry or face closure, amid dwindling public funding and expensive running costs.
telegraph.co.uk

The Day After and the Day After That …

November 9, 2016

Dear Cathedral Community and Friends,

As many of you know my undergraduate education was as an economist. Statistics are no stranger to me. As I write this, statistics indicate that nationally, and as a state, I am writing to an audience equally divided over the outcome of the presidential election. If I were to consider solely Wayne County, or Detroit, the city where the Cathedral is located, I am writing to a people who are statistically more disappointed with the outcome. The thing is, I’m not writing to or about statistics, I am writing to you.

As I have reflected, through sleepless hours of the night, I have come to a place of understanding this election as a referendum on fear. Three elements, which I hold as truths, emerge from this for me. First, the source of fear for one person, or community, is not necessarily the source of another’s. Second, I do not get to define the fear a person or community is experiencing, nor do I get to discount, dismiss, or judge it. Third, your fears, my fears, the community’s fears, may have been heightened or lessened by any number of the recent electoral decisions.

As light began to overcome the mist of the morning today, I became aware of other truths that existed yesterday, exist today, and will exist tomorrow. I, along with my sisters and brothers who are marked as Christ’s own forever, have vowed to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving neighbor as self. That vow is not dependent upon, or conditional on, anything else. The work that we had to do yesterday: to minister to the hurting, hungry, marginalized, broken, terrified, and disenfranchised, along with the healed, hopeful, joyful and loved; and to share the loving, liberating, life-giving way of Jesus, is still the work we have to do today and tomorrow. (And, there is plenty of it to do.)

To our sisters and brothers who are feeling lost, dismayed, and dismissed, whatever the genesis, our holy writings offer this invitation from Jesus, “Come to me all you who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.” (Matthew 11:28)

As I conclude, I take counsel from an almost lost verse that concludes Luke’s telling of the healing of the ten lepers (Luke 17:11-19): “… your faith has made you well.” It will not be any government, any society, or any societal decision, that makes us well. That comes from the increasing awareness that God is our constant companion through Eden-like gardens and through valleys of shadow. Emergent from these journeys, we claim, even cling to, faith that sees us through; that makes us well.

Your priest and your brother,
Scott+

After Orlando … and Newtown … and Aurora … and San Bernardino … and ….

Many people have had many things to say in the wake of yet another horrific episode of mass murder and psychological violence; this time in the early hours of Sunday morning, June 12, in a nightclub named Pulse in Orlando, Florida. Cold statistics on a page add up, they say, it is the worst such event in United States history: fifty dead, more than fifty more wounded. (I doubt that, because I’d bet money I cannot afford to lose that to begin with Native Americans were slaughtered in the late 1700s and 1800s in groups far larger than 50 – but that’s another reflection for another day.)

It is a misleading set of figures in another way: there is no way to calculate the grievous and mortal wounds to the psyche and spirit of family members, friends, staff, survivors, responders, and people of the Orlando community and the world. Parents of the innocents of Sandy Hook (Newtown) and other similar events have written open letters to this newly devastated community in an effort to offer some sliver of hope while dealing with the white-hot flashbacks of their own living hell.

This has to change. We’ve rapidly legislated and considerably funded a greater response to the prevention of the transmission of the Zeka virus, than to the prevention of death by automatic and semi-automatic weaponry.

People, lots of them, will tell you that I don’t know much, but here is what I do know:

Hearts and lives are shattered and broken, and the wounds, physical, emotional, spiritual, will continue to ravage many every waking moment, and many sleeping moments, for the rest of their lives.

I know that my sisters and brothers live in fear daily – some are LGBTQ; some are Muslim; ALL are created in the image and likeness of God.

I know that far too many have become numb to the news of such violence and tragedy. I know that the Houses of our Congress sold its collective soul to the devil, with an approving wink from the NRA, when it looked the other way after the massacre of children at Sandy Hook (Newtown) and failed to ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines and clips.

I know that that there is no need for ordinary citizenry to possess automatic and semi-automatic weaponry or high capacity clips and magazines. I know that purchasing a firearm and can be done at a legitimate gun shop or sketchy and unregulated gun show as easily, and more frequently, than purchasing a decongestant (pseudoephedrine) from the pharmacy. I know that military and law enforcement personnel have to be qualified (tested) on the possession and use of even their standard issue pistol every year and often multiple times a year, but we require nothing, or next to nothing, of the general population.

I know that pistols were designed for self-defense; rifles and shotguns for self-defense and hunting; and any AR -, AK-, or other automatic or semi-automatic rifle or carbine was designed with the single purpose of killing people, lots of them, as quickly and lethally as possible. I know that I have yet to hear, via a single news or statistical report, that such a weapon has been used to legitimately defend a home from invasion. They have to go.

I know this: “weeping spends the night…” (Ps 30:5) – and this night is too damn long

I know that rage, bigotry, racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny, poverty, drugs, evil, and religion are blamed for Orlando, Newtown, and last night’s murder in “your town.” I know that they are the fertilizers of fear. I know that blame is wasted time. Blame does nothing: nothing to help, nothing to comfort, nothing to heal, and nothing to change

I know that change… is… possible, and that certain changes are proven, proven, to have a big effect. Australia and several countries in northern Europe have enacted laws that have done nothing to impair hunting, but effectively reduced/eliminated mass killings.

I know that the only change I can absolutely insure is in me. I cannot change anyone else. Further, my teachers, Rabbi Edwin Friedman and Pastor Peter Steinke, have taught me two things: 1) that when I change the systems of which I am a part will experience change, and 2) systems resist change, so be prepared for them be resist/fight back with all their force.

Here is my change: It was a “Jesus come to me” moment a few days ago in the quiet of my morning routine.  I had to face the fact that I’m not usually a single-element litmus test kind of person. I like decisions, and I don’t like putting them off.  But, as those who know me best will tell you, I try to examine all the moves on the chess board, and several layers on down as well. Life is intricate, and I like its intricacies. I have to change that now. This is simple.

This is the change. To every candidate for any office with the power to legislate, if you want my vote, you will have to pledge to do all in your power

  • to ban automatic and semi-automatic weapons and high capacity clips and magazines
  • to ban all sale and transfer of firearms except through licensed dealers
  • require universal background checks from a common database
  • strive to insure quality, accessible, affordable mental health care for everyone

If you do not commit to do this (or more of this than any other candidate), regardless of your other positions, you will not get my vote.

I’m committing, with God’s help, to make this change in myself. The real-world evidence is that this will make a difference; it will save lives. And I will continue to ask my God to continue to show me other way I am to change.

Now I use this “pulpit” to invite, challenge, and implore you to change. Yes, weeping spends the night; but joy comes in the morning. It comes, in the words of Desmond Tutu, because, “Goodness is stronger than evil; love is stronger than hate; light is stronger than darkness; life is stronger than death.”  Yes, “joy comes in the morning” (Ps 30:5), but when the morning comes will actually be determined by us.

Shalom, salaam, peace,
Scott+

[This post derives, in part, from a challenge to change I made at Shalom, Salaam, Peace: An Ecumenical and Interfaith Service of Prayer and Remembrance held at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul on June 17, and a sermon I preached on at services on June 19.]

Resurrections

Our mother (mine and my sister’s) died on a Saturday morning. Her life changed: not ended.

Thomas, the one called the twin, was no doubter. (John 20:24ff) He believed; so profoundly that he was totally devastated. He was living the psalmist’s words, “Weeping spends the night…. (Ps 30:5)” Entombed by his grief, only the most unimaginable extreme, touching the wounds of hand and side, held the faintest chance of reaching his brokenness. Peter, too, grieving both the loss and his own denial, is in that place where he doesn’t don’t know what to do, so he does what he knows. (John 21:3ff)  “I’m going fishing.” It’s what he could do. He didn’t do it well, but ….  He is us: “I’m going to work.” “…going for a long walk.”

Jesus meets them both. Gently he comes. No anger. No disappointment. (Make no mistake, this is no sanguine love – this love is stronger than death; fiercer than the grave.) Thomas, peace.  Thomas, touch. Peter, eat. I’ve got you. I’ll restore you. I’ll raise you to new life.

From the dead this Jesus rose, savior and redeemer, that at the end of our earthly days, life is changed, not ended. Too, he comes to us when we are dead in our grief, our sadness, our loss, and offers us a patient and prolonged presence, that in time we may have new life in this life – a resurrection.  The psalmist’s verse is made complete – “Weeping spends the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Our mother died on a Saturday morning, when we exited the place of her last days, the rain was over and gone, and voice of birds, perhaps turtledoves, was heard around us. Dogwoods in bloom; azaleas just come forth. It was Saturday … in Easter Week … a good day for life to change, not end.

Scott+

From Fear to Peace – An Invitation to Holy Week & Easter

In the wake of the bombings in Turkey and Belgium, and also the chilling refrains of daily news cycles, I am aware of a rising fear that appears systemic. I suppose in large measure it is systemic, but I am of the mind that the origins of such systemic or societal fear are actually individual. John Cassian, a monk and theologian of the early fifth century wrote, “It is not an external enemy we dread. Our foe is shut up within ourselves. An internal warfare is daily waged by us.” If I were to name that enemy, most days its name would be Fear. Fear of not enough. Fear of danger. Fear of violence. Fear of loss. Fear of uncertainty. Fear of different from ourselves.

Fear, it seems to me, is the absence of peace. That’s easy to say, and it implies that the act of turning off the fear and turning on peace is akin to flipping a light switch.  Seriously, claiming peace is more difficult than flipping a switch or adjusting a phrase to speak of its presence. Finding peace, embracing peace, committing to peace, is hard. It is contrary to the world around us, which embraces, encourages, and propagates fear.

If you long for peace, I invite you to come take a walk. There will be dinner. There will be time in a garden. There will be moments where we witness the fruits of fear in form of injustice and violence. There will be death, but it will be revealed to us that the death we will witness will not be for naught. It will lead to life. The truth is, we all have to call out the tens or hundreds or thousands of small deaths at the hands of fear that dwell within us.

Come take a walk with me and find the place where Christ shatters the shackles of fear, and the bonds of death are cast aside so that we may find peace and daily increase in its life-giving, life-changing light. Come walk with me, and with the Cathedral Community, along the path of the Great Three Days of Holy Week.  Maundy Thursday our walk starts with something new(at 7:00 pm), and it continues with a garden vigil. On Good Friday (at noon) the darkness of fear, our own and that of all humanity, confronts us – it is not fun, but it is necessary of fear’s bonds are to be broken. And on Easter Eve (at 8:00 pm) the New Fire is kindled, and the light of Christ shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. A new path, the one that leads us out of the valley of the shadow of death and fear, and into the way peace, is illumined.

Come. Join us in love’s labor of leaving fear for peace this Holy Week and Easter.

Pax Christi,
Scott+

2016 Annual Meeting Address

Almighty Savior, who at noonday called your servant Saint Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles: We pray you to illumine the world with the radiance of your glory, that all nations may come and worship you; for you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.  (BCP p. 107)

As is our custom, we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, as our patronal feast. In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of his Damascus Road conversion. In the Letter to the Galatians we hear of his mission to the Gentiles. In the Gospel we are told by Jesus what Paul himself would learn firsthand: That living a converted life that bears witness to Jesus’ love will open us up to the scorn and brutality of the world. Charming little dose of reality, don’t you think; and just the thing to encourage new folk to join in.

It is equally “delightful” (I put that in quotes in my text because my tongue is firmly in my cheek) that these are always the lessons for the occasion of our Annual Meeting. That means that amongst the business of electing vestry and hearing of the year past, it is also that time when the dean gives to the people of the congregation information on the state of the parish and recommends to their consideration such measures as he or she shall judge necessary and expedient.

If you take a look at the carving of St. Paul on the reredos behind the altar, you’ll see that he is holding a sword.  It is, according to Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, the sword of the Spirit. It is, I pray, with the guidance of that Spirit that I come to you today, and through which I offer you this small piece of Paul’s writing from the Letter to the Philippians to frame today’s considerations.

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:1-5)

The beginning of this passage can be confusing, and lead to some misdirection. “If then there is any encouragement…” sounds like a conditional clause, not unlike if it is raining I’ll carry an umbrella. That’s not its intent, it is a form of argument that is really declarative, like saying: “If I am your friend, and I am ….  So we can hear it this way: If then there is any encouragement in Christ (and there is), any consolation from love (and there is), any sharing in the Spirit (and there is), any compassion and sympathy (and there is), make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love

For this reason, I will use the declarations of this passage, Encouragement, Consolation, Sharing, Compassion and Sympathy, Joy and Love to share some glimpses of our journey. These create, by the way, a worthy outline for each of us to use, at the close of our day as we reflect back upon it, asking of ourselves, where have I manifested these things in my life to the benefit of others in witness to Jesus?

Encouragement – The Cathedral has not been the easiest place to reach throughout much of the year.  The M-1 Rail project has made getting here a challenge, and the “perception of getting here” an even greater challenge. Still, you have persevered, and to you I say thee, well done! The work will continue for about another year, so I will seize this moment to encourage your continued effort.  Because our side of Woodward is done, it won’t be as challenging as the year past; keep coming and keep encouraging others to come and see.

By the way, more people are coming and seeing what is happening here. This year we’ve had the highest number of transfers in since I became your dean. What we do, in worship, in service to others, in education, in being a community presence, and in promoting and enhancing the arts is making a witness.

Consolation – This year, perhaps more than any other, we have commended into God’s loving arms many who have journeyed with us. Some rather new to the family, others of many venerable years; we will pray for them by name before the end of the day. Life has been celebrated even as we have, and continue to, grieve. Each of them now are part of that wonderful communion of saints – loved, missed, embraced, and healed. We are richer for having known them, but we miss them deeply.

Sharing – We are sharing our gifts. A practical example is found as we concluded 2015 in a financially healthy way.  We proposed to you a budget last year that was essentially balanced (around a $1000 budgeted surplus). We finished the year about $15,000 to the good.  The overall number of pledges has increased 12+%.  The number of new pledges are the highest they have ever been in any single year. That’s great, but as you will hear from our Treasurer later, there are challenges and opportunities ahead of us.

1500 scarves, mittens, and hats; meals – The Breakfast, the Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day festivities; evening classes, and more; contributions to Mariners Inn, Crossroads, the Mayson Foundation, and Veterans’ Organizations all manifest Christ’s sharing in the Spirit. The hosting of Citizen Detroit and their efforts to raise awareness of community issues and empower informed citizenry is an exciting part of this sharing as well.

There’s another way also: Our sharing of the Spirit has increased with our Sundays at 4:00. Only half a year into a two year commitment, there is no doubt that our Evensongs, both choral and congregational, are providing new ways to new people and the cathedral community to worship, pray, and share in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Compassion and sympathy – The students and faculty of the CHIPS clinic, our program in concert with Wayne State University Medical School, the Schools of Pharmacy, Nursing, and Allied Health has been recognized in to two very high profile ways, including the Arthur Johnson award for impact in the community.  Waller Health Center on Cathedral Green has expanded to include dental and pediatric care. Our Lay Healing Ministry, every week, seeks to meet people in their most vulnerable and tender moments. Listening ears and hearts in pastoral visits and Eucharistic visits extend the altar rail.

A shout out to our Deacon is in order here as well. His work with a very unique pastoral situation over a number of months, coupled with his weekly grief work at Mariners Inn, and a new aspect of his diaconal ministry through the board of St. Anne’s Mead broaden and bear witness to this part of our life in Christ.

Joy – We celebrate well at the Cathedral. The New Year’s Feast, the Cathedral Foundations work with Williams Pavilion – summer picnic, and the Christmas celebration; a festive Newcomers Tea, something new with more to come, we hope; coffee hour chatter, the Concert Series, Lessons and Carols, ordinations, Noel Night, Veterans’ Day, and more.

Love – Love starts us and ends us, if we look at the Philippians text carefully. This year we have taken steps to seek the mind of Christ that it may be in us, that we might draw the circle of love larger to include a bigger understanding of loving relationships. For many it has been a very long time coming, for others, there is still a struggle to understand or embrace. Our call is to live Christ’s love to all. It was, as we know, a bumpy road for him, time and again it appears to be that way for us.

Allow me a moment to express my love and appreciation to my colleagues in leadership: Canon Alltop, Deacon Shaffer, Canon Tarrant, Susan, Charles, Kit, Robin; Emery and Bob, or wardens; the vestry, the Chapter members and staff, and our volunteers. It is a privilege to walk with you, serve with you, and I am blessed by each of you.

These elements that Paul presents to us can be, and often are, challenging. We have some other challenges as well, so I want to depart from his elements for a moment to speak of them.  As I do, I want us all to recognize that every challenge is also an opportunity.

The stock market was not, shall we say, our friend toward the end of the year, and that means that funds available to us to support mission and ministry from the Green Trust are down. We remain profoundly thankful for Leslie Green’s vision, but later our Treasurer will show you that for the first time in a number of years, we are showing you a deficit budget. When you see it, please help out where you can.

In addition to that, our beautiful cathedral needs some important care. Care that, if we defer it, will double in cost pretty much each year. Care that we have not done over about thirty years of those wonderful Michigan winter freeze-thaw cycles.  The stone and windows need to be tended to – tuckpointing, resetting coping and finials, removing the protective glazing on the stained glass and replacing it.  This will be about a $125,000 expense.  The Cathedral Foundation is willing to generously assist, but we will have to raise our share. More on that to come.

Some opportunities are a challenge, as well. We have been working with a sculptor, Tim Schmaltz, to try to bring a stunning work of art to the Woodward lawn of the cathedral. It would be a permanent installation of his work, “When I was a Stranger.” This piece of art would create a new way to witness to and invite the community in, as we look to the increased exposure that the M-1 Rail, and growth of midtown and the city will present. A small maquette will be in Barth Hall today, and I will say more about this there.

As I work to conclude this part of our time together today, I have to reflect on the world around us. Chaos seems to reign: the racism, the sexism, the injustice of the justice systems, gun violence, violence and mayhem in the name of God, the failure of government to honor the public trust and be a force for good, discrimination of all kinds – minority, religious, sexual orientation. People say they’ve never seen it like this before.  That’s part of the problem – these things seek to live and thrive in the shadows. They don’t want to be seen, but it does not mean they were not, and are not present.  They have been, and they are. The lid, the shroud, the veil, they are all being torn away.  That’s a good thing.

As people of faith and conscience, we must acknowledge our collective and individual roles. People of privilege don’t have to apologize for how and where they were born, but we do have the obligation, along with institutions of privilege, to dismantle anything that thwarts our oneness in Christ and that compromises the dignity of any, any, human being; for we are to be neither slave nor free, male nor female, Jew nor Greek, as scripture tells us, but one in Christ. That examination of conscience, along with repentance, and amendment of life are never easy or comfortable – but all things are possible through Christ who strengthens us. As I said earlier, those six elements from Paul’s letter can serve as a good starting place for reflection and change: Encouragement, Consolation, Sharing, Compassion and Sympathy, Joy, and Love.

The prayer with which I started, prays that God illumine the world with the radiance of [the Divine] glory. We are the lamps of that illumination, so I pray you to continue to let your little lights shine – brighter, bigger, and bolder.  Amen.