The Sunday after Charleston

[This article is, subtaintially, the text of the sermon I preached on Sunday, June 21, 2015 to those worshipping at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan. I offer it to you prayerfully and humbly.  SSH+] 

The audio version can be heard here or it can be downloaded from the Cathedral’s Website .

Early in the week, when I began looking at the proper (the collection of readings) appointed for this Sunday, the readings from 1 Samuel and the Gospel from Mark seemed to come together with the precision fit of one of Glenn Miller’s (a parishioner and craftsman) dovetail joints.

The disciples are freaking out over the storm on the lake, and the Israelites are freaking out over the Philistines and their giant warrior Goliath. In similar but different ways, the Divine Presence enters in:  To the disciples in the boat. Jesus says, effectively, “I got this” and he calms the water. David, a youth, judged to be inexperienced at best, and laughably incapable by many of the Israelite leaders, particularly those who didn’t look into his experience with lions and bears, says “I got this” and armed only with a few smooth stones and faith, he steps up.

Then comes the news that I first heard on Thursday morning: Nine people murdered at their church, at a Bible Study, by a person they welcomed into their midst and who spent time with them.  We need to hear their names.  I have no doubt they will, in due course, enter the Church Calendar as the Martyrs of Charleston:

Cynthia Hurd – 54, a librarian
Susie Jackson – 87, a longtime church member
Ethel Lance – 70, a 30 year employee of the church
The Rev’d DePayne Middleton-Doctor – 49, admission counselor of a local university
The Hon. Rev’d Clementa Pinkney – 41, SC state senator, pastor of Emanuel AME Church
Tywanza Sanders – 26, recently earned a business admin degree
The Rev’d Daniel Simmons, Sr. – 74, a retired pastor
The Rev’d Sharonda Singleton – 45, track coach at a local high school
Myra Thompson – 59, church member

If you do nothing else today, if you remember nothing of what I say, of the lessons read, or the prayers prayed; if you do nothing else today remember these people, remember their family and friends who mourn, and remember our brothers and sisters of Mother Emanuel.

I have more to say:

Some have asked why I haven’t made a statement of some kind before now. In the immediate aftermath is there anything I could have said that you didn’t already know: Roof’s actions were disgusting, cowardly, racist, and hate-filled. You already know that. Those who died, those present who survived physically, but whose emotional and spiritual wounds may still be unidentified, and those of Emanuel Church did not deserve this – no one does, ever. You already know that.

I have a complicated relationship with Charleston. Many of you, know that I am a native son of South Carolina. I grew up in what is called the Upstate. Upstaters know that Charleston believes it alone was the first colony, and the rest of the area around it, meaning all of North America, is an afterthought – and a poor one at that.

This place, with the remains of a slave market in the midst of the old town, is called the Holy City. Really?  It is not that Charleston is any holier than anywhere else, but as you approached from land or water you would see the many church steeples rising high above the city because no building in old Charleston was allowed to be higher than the highest steeple. The old slave market is now a street merchant market – every time I go into it my heart grieves.  It is a disturbing “Ellis Island” of sorts, as around half of the Africans that came to this country came through the port of Charleston.

Charleston is steeped in history and traditions: You probably don’t know that SOB means South of Broad (a street in the old town), and it means that other thing too.  If you are not from there, and you are curious, read some Pat Conroy novels to get a closer understanding.  From all this you may glean that there is an attitude to Charleston – plenty of good, humble, wonderful, and down-to-earth people mind you – but an attitude nonetheless. A good while back, an Episcopal bishop of the then Diocese of South Carolina shared with me that he found Charleston both a city and a religion.  It was, he added, a magnificent city and (I’ll clean it up and say) a piddling poor religion.

That same attitude can, in some ways, be found state wide.  The flag of the Confederacy still flies on the Capitol grounds.  It is needs to go. It belongs in a museum – and along with it the full story of slavery, including the greed of northern merchants and shippers made wealthy off of capturing and selling human beings.  The Confederate Battle flag, and even the Stars and Bars, communicate the same message to many that the red and black swastika-ed flag of 1940’s Germany communicates. I do not care if one looks upon it as a part of a heritage of independent spirit or state’s rights.  Our patron, St. Paul, was clear about engaging in things that could lead others astray – even if it means nothing to you, don’t do it (1 Cor. 8).  Jesus reminds us of the consequences of causing others to stumble in Matthew 18 and Mark 9.  We must read of these flags, their symbolism and history, and we must study that so we do not forget the human capacity for societal evil. But, we should not fly them or emblazon them on anything, anywhere, any time.  But you know that.

All the articles, postings, videos, and other communiques of the week, have been bereft of the acknowledgement of the presence of evil and sin.  They are not popular words, especially among the modern sophisticates of the early 21st century, but I know them to be real.  We see their effect writ large upon all our lives, and upon our world, in an event such as this.  This was murder. Yes.  This was an act of terror. Yes.  It was racism and a hate crime. Yes and yes. But, in June 2015, when we want to believe we are past such things, we have witnessed a lynching*. A lynching of nine beautiful faithful people – sinners all – but seeking salvation and trying to walk the walk.  (*def: a terrorist method of enforcing social domination)

And so, I return to words from today’s Gospel: “Teacher do you not care that we are perishing?”

Of course Jesus cares. And Charleston, the Holy City, speak of it. There is a famous 1987 photograph.  In it appears a Grand Dragon of the KKK.  There is a man reading him the stipulations of a parade permit that has been issued such that the KKK may parade that day in Charleston.  The Grand Dragon has an ill look on his face. The man reading the stipulations is the Chief of Police of Charleston. His name was Reuben Greenberg.  He was black, and he was Jewish.

Today, this week, Charleston surely must be embraced in Jesus’ words to the storm and to his disciples: “Peace! Be still!  It is not in flames. There have been no riots, no looting. Wide-ranging parts of the community have come together for vigil and prayer.

Too, there is some serious Christianity being lived, caught, taught, and shared at Mother Emanuel. At an initial bond hearing this week, survivors and family addressed Mr. Roof, the professed shooter. More than one forgave him. He was invited to repent, and confess, and give his life to Christ.  And one, in addition to offering forgiveness ended her words, “As we say at our Bible Study, We enjoyed you. May God have mercy on you.”

As I conclude, there are things I need to remind myself – perhaps these reminders may be helpful to you.

Forgiveness does not negate accountability. More than anything else it frees the forgiver from carrying around the millstones of hatred, malice, rage, and revenge.

We must change our language – many many writings have said we must “combat” racism, hatred, and such.  Other war and violence verbiage has been widely used.  It has to go.  A violent language to get rid of violence will never work.  We must choose a language of love and respect; we must be purveyors of peace – the kind that passes all understanding.

There are those who will point to this and other things, like the aforementioned Third Reich, as evidence that there is no God – or at least no loving God.  I do not believe that is true.  And, I know this to be true: For love to be love at all it must be a free choice – and for choice to exist there must be serious options, not just token ones.

I know for sure that Jesus wept on Wednesday night, and he still weeps now.  I am sure the greatest act of Divine Will must be to allow choice to continue so that love can be real.  The sad fact is that everyone some, and some completely, reject God’s love; and they choose the ways of the world and of the Evil One.  As we observed the Feast Day of Bernard Mizeki, a martyr for the faith in southern Africa, this past week, we were reminded in Luke 2 of Jesus’ words, “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!”  God gives us choice because one has to choose love – sadly, tragically, there are those who do not.

Finally, it makes the disciples’ question in Mark today even more curious, don’t you think?  “Who is this that even the winds and the sea obey…” – I’ll add, and the hearts and minds of humankind do not.

In today’s readings, God steps up to do the stuff only God can – still the winds and the sea. God empowers and then expects us to do that which we can do, and we see David step up for his people.  They got this.  To that end, God knows, better than we seem to know, that we can love in a more profound way, and will not take back that which the Divine Self knows we can do: God refuses to say anything other than, “You, you got this.”

We do. I pray we will. And to us, to us in our moments of fear and tribulation, when the storms within us are at their worst, Jesus says, Peace!  Be still!


Season of Love … Season to Love

The past couple of weeks leading up to the Feast of the Ascension could very well be labeled the “Season of Love.” That’s not to say that each Sunday celebration is not a celebration of the love God has shown to us, and poured out on us through Christ Jesus.  It is to say that it is particularly demonstrable in the lessons appointed (via the Revised Common Lectionary) for Easter V and Easter VI.  Just in case you’ve forgotten, or in the oft chance you missed worship on one of these Sundays, I invite you to read 1 John 4:7-21, 1 John 5:1-6, and John 15:9-17.  I’m asking you to do this because there seems to be some confusion about our roles as baptized followers of Jesus.  One does not have to hunt very hard for the evidence of our confusion, two things have happened over the past several days that make this an easy reality to observe.

The first is a neighborhood sort of thing.  A billboard, that appears to be part of a series of like-messaged billboards, has been posted in Dearborn – our neighbor community to the west. It claims homosexuality is a behavior not a (civil) right.  It appears that the funders of this campaign are unwilling or un-wanting to consider the vast body of scientific evidence to contrary.  In a bit of a new twist on this, they cite Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:5. In case you don’t recall them, the Genesis is that which says, and I paraphrase here, that a man shall leave his father and mother and woman leave her home and the two shall become one.  The Matthew citation echoes the Genesis.

Now let me be clear, I believe that. I’m a living example of that. No qualifications. The challenge to using these citations is that Scripture never indicates that this is the only faithful way to live the course of one’s life.  There is no indication that blessed Paul, an apostle, and the patron saint of our cathedral ever did this.  If you really want to raise a row, suggest, even vaguely, that Jesus might have.  It just is not there in the Scriptures.  Paul, pretty pointedly suggests that marriage is a distraction to one’s living wholly and completely for Christ.  But, if you have to marry in order to avoid being “aflame with passion” then Paul says go ahead.  You can find that in 1 Corinthians 7, along with lots more that I’m not planning on tackling today.

The second is in the larger garden of The Episcopal Church. Over the past week and a half or so, some things became clear (and others may still be foggy) regarding a scheduled baptism at the cathedral in Orlando, Florida. A couple went through all the required (by canon) preparation for the baptism of their young son, Jack. Just a couple of days before the baptism was to take place the parents were informed that it was being postponed. Not all the baptisms scheduled for that day, just Jack’s.  Jack’s dad Rich, and his other dad Eric, were left in a quandary.  Eventually, the bishop of the diocese gets involved, and, well, the whole thing just wasn’t, just isn’t, pretty, because it seems that the only presenting issue is that Jack has two dads.

I could go on for a number of pages about this, but let me try to summarize.  In last week’s reading from Acts (Acts 8:26 ff), Philip baptizes an Ethiopian eunuch in what amounts to standing water on the side of the road. A person such as our Ethiopian friend was as far outside the norm or the law of first century Judaism as possible, and due to his physical alterations could never be a Jewish convert.

This week, in Acts 10 (Acts 10:44 ff) Peter, speaking of the Gentiles, can find no reason to withhold the waters of baptism from those who have “received the Holy Spirit just as we have.”

Look, Moses killed a man, and though not baptized, God used him in significant ways in our salvation history. Ruth was a Moabite, a foreigner in every way to the people of Judah, who, because of her love and care for Naomi, ends up the great-grandmother of David. Saul of Tarsus (aka Paul the apostle) had a license to hunt down the followers of Jesus to put them in jail or worse. Every time we impose our constraints, God, by actions if not by words, says, “Look what I can do; look who I can use.”

In “Seasons of Love”, a song from Rent, we are reminded that there are 525,600 minutes in a year.  As Christians, as Christians walking the Episcopal path of the journey, as people of the community of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, each of these minutes represents an opportunity to love. As those who are sealed in by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever, our whole existence after that is to be a season of love. And we have to be committed to that, both inside the worshiping walls of our cathedral and, most especially outside them.

It is our season to love, as well as being a season of love.  Let me be clear  about a couple of things: First, it doesn’t matter your age, your gender, your relationship status, economic circumstances, ethnic or cultural heritage, sexual orientation, gender identification, etcetera, as long as you are a child of God (and you are!), willing and wanting to respect the dignity of others, you are welcome here. Second, if young Jack and his parents had a relationship with this community of faith, he would be baptized here.

Right now a very small but noisy part of Christianity is working hard to draw the circle of who is included in God’s love smaller and smaller so as to exclude. We must be more resolute than that – in the words of the poet:

He drew a circle that shut me out — Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in!
“Outwitted” by Edwin Markham (1852-1940)

Yours in Christ,



Join the Journey – Holy Week & Easter 2015

Dear Sisters and Brother in Christ,

The days of Lent are waning, even as the chill air refuses to loosen its grip. We are about to step into the holiest of times for Christian people. Over this holy season of Lent I have journeyed with some of the writings of C.S. Lewis, and a couple of them resonate with me in profound ways.

As you read this, no doubt you will be keenly aware that we are beginning the Holy Week journey, and the narratives of the weeks are ripe with key elements of Lent – prayer, fasting, and self-denial. We have talked about it before, so you may well recall that I have long considered the journey of Lent to be one that is not very much about giving up this or that; nor is it about what I call “bad me syndrome;” nor are we to be maudlin about ourselves or the human condition. It is about changing, reshaping, whatever parts of ourselves impair our journey with and in God’s love. Such impairment seems to happen when each of us gets me-centric – when we lose true humility. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, gets quickly to the heart of the matter: “True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less.”

The intentionality of our journey really requires that we go all the way from the palm parade, to the upper room, to the garden at Gethsemane, to Caiaphas’ palace, and, yes, the cross. For as much as we want the gift of the empty tomb and the everlasting life it offers, if we skip these moments, the gift given on the cross is lost, or deeply obscured and despair can hem us in on every side. Again, Lewis’ words remind us of that precious and tender gift: “We need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven.” It is Jesus’ perfect gift, and it is given to us all.

So we ache for Easter even before Holy Week begins. We can hardly hold back,  but we are not done yet. The cross and the empty tomb are the consummate gift of love – given unresisting and undeservedly. It is perfect, and it calls us to the perfection which is living in, and inviting others into, that love.

Your heart longs for it. So, for the love of God (literally), come join us for the journey.

In the love of Christ,

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

And to God what is God’s …

Lent is upon us!  The great giving-up-of-stuff starts tomorrow. Lots of chocolate will be foregone. Liters of diet soda, not-so-diet soda, vino, and brewski, will be shelved. Desserts, snacks, and more, will go on the list of things “given up for Lent” only to be rejoined the nanosecond after the first dismissal is given at an Easter service. Exercise, prayer, attendance at worship may be enjoined, only to be set free before the end of Easter Week.

For some people these elements, in part or in whole, may very will be important. They may be a possible “first step” to a greater or much needed change. If that is the case, many blessings be upon you and your undertaking, and even more beyond the closing days of Lent. Substantive long-term change is difficult.

Long has the conversation and debate droned about giving something up, or taking something on, for Lent. Likewise, long has the Church suggested that Lent is a time of renewal, and of self-examination, and of repentance (changing the direction of one’s life) fueled by prayer, fasting, self-denial, and the reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

A bit of that holy Word leapt out at me today. It came from the last verse of the Gospel appointed for today (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday). The Pharisees and Herodians are testing Jesus using a tax scenario. You know the conversation, and the final part of Jesus’ response is, “Give to the Emperor the things that are the Emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17).

That is the journey from Ash Wednesday to Resurrection!  We are God’s – created in the image and likeness of God … marked as Christ’s own forever. Lent, then, becomes not so much about what we give up, or take on, but about giving ourselves – more fully, more completely, to God.

If that means giving something up, or taking something on, well and good. If it means changing the direction of our lives, that’s fine, too. No doubt some self-examination will be involved, and reading and reflecting on God’s holy Word can help me, and you, … to give to God what is God’s.

190th Annual Meeting – Dean’s Address

Psalm 67 Deus misereatur (p. 675 BCP)

1 May God be merciful to us and bless us, * show us the light of his countenance and come to us.
2 Let your ways be known upon earth, * your saving health among all nations.
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; * let all the peoples praise you.
4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, * for you judge the peoples with equity and guide all the nations upon earth.
5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; * let all the peoples praise you.
6 The earth has brought forth her increase; * may God, our own God, give us his blessing.
7 May God give us his blessing, * and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him.

God’s grace and peace be with you.  Welcome to the 190th Annual Meeting of the congregation of St. Paul’s, Detroit.

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve turned to my computer on several occasions to begin this address. It went something like this: Open the word processor, pick the document format I’ve created for sermons, blank page appears along with a much unanticipated pop-up.  The before my eyes the pop-up reads: “You wanna a dance with me?” The first couple of times I wiped my eyes and looked back at the screen. Nothing. I reached for the keyboard, and much to my dismay, nothing came through my fingers. Off to pray and ponder the Scriptures and our life together some more. Another day, same drill: computer on, double click, template, pop-up: “You really wanna dance with me?”  Shut down, walk away. Pray. Reflect some more. Agh, so much to say; so little time.

With a nod to Henry V, “Once more into the breach.” Computer on, double click, template, pop-up: “So, you really wanna dance with me?” No. No I don’t, I reply. I want to write an Annual Address. I want no part of a blank screen, you electronic piece of blank paper. The only dance I want is with the Holy Spirit.

So the music for our first dance is this: Let the peoples praise you, O God, let all the peoples praise you.

The peoples praise you, O God, because the financial operations of the Cathedral look good. Our faithful Treasurer, Chuck Squires, will report on that later, but we finished the year with revenues well better than expenses.  That’s good, but it also means we left some opportunities for ministry “on the table” as they say. We did well. We will do better.

Praise God, you have a very dedicated staff:

Canon Tarrant, with the help of lots of others, did what has not been done in fifty years: a very successful Choir Tour overseas. The residency in England was outstanding – not without some colorful challenges – but in all the ways that matter it was exceptional. It was outstanding. It changed lives – some on the trip, and some at our destinations.  And, just for fun, the Choir recorded a fabulous CD (since they had all that spare time after rehearsing for the England trip). 

Thank you. Canon Alltop, Father Nestrock, and the Cathedral and Chapter staffs, along with your Vestry and a host of other leaders made it possible for me to engage in the first sabbatical I’ve had in over a quarter century of ordained ministry. (Before I post this I need to change that: it makes me sound way too old.)  It was an amazing gift. I am grateful to them, to each of you, and to my family for making that possible. Thank you! I need to thank the Graduate Theological Foundation as well, for the Oxford Foundation Fellowship that made study at Oxford University possible.

In that same vein, but under the heading of “nothing remains the same,” we miss Richard Newman, but his departure for Grace Church, Alexandria, to be their Organist & Choirmaster is witness to the growth available through the mentorship and opportunities of Cathedral. For that, we praise you, O God.

There is more change ahead in the coming year. A predictable part is that Jim Hooker, now some sixteen years leading the daily operations of the Cathedral Chapter, will be retiring at the end of this year. His faithfulness and his love of all things old and mechanical have been a blessings in so many ways. The process has begun in the seeking of his successor. I’m pleased to share with you that Bishop Gibbs has named three very talented people so define the position and start that work: Canon Jo Ann Hardy, Br. John Brendan, and Dr. George Swan – each have great skills, and each happen to have a cathedral connection.

We have welcomed new folk into the Cathedral Community. Some of them have come to us in atypical ways – reminding us that we MUST ALWAYS show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. To all who have come to us in the past year, one more time we say, welcome. We praise you, O God, for their presence. That said, we must continue to grow.

The music for the second dance: Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity.

But, sadly, we don’t. The past year has revealed challenges, horrors, too long existent, in a stark new way. We must address them now, and in the year head. Incidences in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, Cleveland, and right here at home demand that we examine and address the things which cause us to live in such gripping fear. Fear of losing privilege and positions, gained at times at the expense of others. Fear of government and societal structures whose very existence is to offer justice, safety, equal protection, and to promote the common good, but which fail and fail badly due to fear. Fear of one another, of people that do not look, act, talk or pray like us.  As I remind myself, I remind you, all, ALL, people are created in the image of God.

Our common conversation has been challenged, and we must change the imprecision of our words. Extremists are exactly that: extremists. There is no modifier needed. ISOL and Boko Haram are no more representative of Islam than the KKK is representative of Christianity.

The music for the third dance: Let your ways be known upon earth, your saving health among all nations.

That will happen only when the each of us, individually, share those ways. The judgmentalism and vitriol of those who claim themselves to be Christians while disparaging those whose orientation, gender or religious identity, ethnic heritage, relationship choices, and those who desire to make their own choice about their own bodies, must be eclipsed by the voices of that echo the words of the prophet Isaiah: the Kingdom of God is big enough for anyone, any one, who loves God. Our proclamation, by word and action, must speak the truth that 1) we are all sinners; 2) that God will not allow that sin, that brokenness, to shut down God’s love for each of us; and 3) that we are called to be, and be known, to the world as the bearers of the cooling water of reconciliation, of hope, of trust, of justice, of peace, and of love. We are to be the purveyors of forgiveness, not the pronouncers of judgment. The world will never know what Christianity is really about unless we speak up and act (up) accordingly.

As the choir belted in Canterbury Cathedral – yes, I said belted ‘cause anything else would have been lost – “Let your little light shine!”

Before I close today, there is one more song. It is tinged with bittersweet: May God be merciful to us and bless us, show us the light of his countenance and come to us.

This is the song we long for in our times of woundedness, confusion, loss, and grief. This year, as every year it is a reality. I stand before with you today because I cannot be two places at once. If I could I would be at the graveside of the man, Grahame, for whom our daughter is named. His earthly journey ended this week. Stark is the reality that our earthly journey is finite. The notion that “we live and we die and that is it” is unacceptable to me. It is unacceptable to our faith.

Those who departed this life in the cathedral community will be remembered in Barth Hall in just a little while. Those who live in the community of your own heart, I invite you to remember now. In a different way, we walk with those of our Cathedral and broader community from Nigeria – who worry and pray for their families in their native land after the Boko Haram massacre (a second one reported this very day). We are planning a vigil to life them in prayer. More details are to come. Lord, have mercy.

“So, you really wanna dance with me?” No. No I don’t. I want to write an Annual Address. I want no part of a blank screen, techno blank piece of paper. I want to dance with the Holy Spirit. You silly boy, the screen said, you and the Cathedral already are.

May God give us his blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of him. Most assuredly, God already has, and the dance goes on.  Amen.


Christmas 2014 – A Christmas Word & Invitation

It strikes me that many of us are feeling particularly vulnerable this year. I only have to mention Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland, Syria, Lebanon, Ukraine, and some of our own neighborhoods, and feelings we always wish were distant become very near.  At times we lash out, sometimes verbally and sometimes in ways physical. Occasionally it is constructive, but often it is destructive.  We lash out because, well, that seems to be all we can do. It doesn’t help, really, but it’s not “nothing.”

Into a dangerous and difficult world, God chose to come among us in the most vulnerable of forms – a human infant. Unlike very many other just-born creatures, this one is unable to stand, or walk, or propel itself in any way.  It cannot talk (communicate) or feed itself, or offer any particular defenses like camouflage feathers or fur.

It might seem like nothing, but far from it. It is something. Real. Incarnate. Emmanuel. God with us.  St. John says, “full of grace and truth.” Our world could use some grace and truth right now. I imagine you could use some, too.  I know I could.

Come, let this be your invitation, to Christmas at the Cathedral. Come to find a bit of grace; a bit of truth. Come find that God did come, has come, and is coming to be with us, understanding our vulnerabilities, fears, and struggles, in every way. Come to love us, no exceptions. Come to call us away from fear and judgment. To offer us life, and to offer us hope. Come and join the Cathedral Community as we seek and celebrate – join the strong women, the faithful men, the field laborers, the city folk, the heads of state, the dreamers, and the Heavenly Hosts. Heaven has come down to earth, that earth may be raised to heaven. That’s not nothing, its the Christ Mass. And you are welcome at it.

Christmas blessings and peace,

Of Grand Juries, Fear, Trust, and Greed – Your Dean’s Reflection

Dear Cathedral Community and Interested Others,

I begin by reflecting on the fact that I was not a part of the grand jury sitting on the matter of the shooting of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. I have not reviewed the physical evidence, testimonies of people presenting themselves as witnesses, or the reports of medical examinations. I doubt anyone reading this has. I have not been read the law of the State of Missouri as it applies in this matter, or received grand jury instructions on how the law is to be applied in this matter.

I am hopeful that the promises to make the evidence in the matter available are kept. I believe it will help some understand how the conclusions that were reached could be reached. It will not resolve the matter, but it may help.  It may clarify for us the application of the law as it is written. It will not approach justice, nor will it quench the thirst for revenge in those who have it.

Further, I do not conclude that, had the grand jury returned one or more indictments, that that action would have approached justice. The issue of justice, in this matter, is much deeper and more difficult to obtain. In this case a young man, who allegedly stole a few cheap cigars, is dead. That is too high a price to pay for petty theft. There have been many other young men; they, too, are dead. It is too high a price to exact, period. I hope this kindles your passion (even anger) for justice, as it does mine.

That Mr. Brown was a young black man matters. His race should not matter, because every life ought to be, must be, considered priceless, period. But it does matter. In the United States of America in the twenty-first century, it matters. I will not rehearse the statistics here. Many analyses have been, and will be, written about the imbalances, racial and otherwise, in the disproportionate use of deadly force by law enforcement and others. I will not rehearse them, because, while they point to a reality, they don’t point to the heart of the matter.

For me the heart of the matter is this: We cannot continue to exist, much less thrive, or even approach being fully human if such an existence continues to be grounded in fear, in the absence of trust, and by greed.

People are afraid. Members of our communities who comprise ethnic and socio-economic minorities are afraid because a look at the numbers provides conclusive evidence that racial minorities (and males in particular) are, times over, more likely to be shot and to be killed than white males in encounters with law enforcement; receive more severe punishment from the legal system for similar crimes; and have limited access to comparable tools (e.g. education, healthcare, and job opportunities) to control their own socio-economic destiny. Grand juries are highly likely to bring indictments, except when the person in question is a police officer.

Members of the predominant culture (in 21st century America that would be “whites”) are afraid because they fear losing their “way of life,” which is to say economic, government, and social power. This fear is not necessarily irrational since “white Americans” are no longer a majority in this country, but do still remain the largest single plurality. It is reasonable to believe that, too, will change over time. It is reasonable to conclude that predominant culture privilege will shift with changes in the predominant culture, but, as I believe we are witnessing now, it will not be easily or willingly surrendered by those losing their predominance. Change, when not perceived to be neutral or to our advantage, evokes some level of fear.

People do not trust each other. This prompts two questions: Why? What do we do about it? “Why” brings us back around to the first topic: fear.  We are afraid, mostly I think, of what, or more accurately “who” we don’t know.  For all the access offered by social media, it seems to lead less to deep and genuine conversation and more to diatribes and pontification. Daily I grow in my appreciation of the work of the truth and reconciliation process in South Africa.

Secrets, generally speaking, are destructive. Confidentiality is sometimes a very necessary thing. I get that the deliberations of a grand jury, or any jury, are rightly confidential. I understand that how individual jurors may vote on a given matter is by confidential ballot. At the moment, I do not see the value in keeping the overall vote itself secret. When the Supreme Court rules, the balance of the court is made known.

Greed is the drug we have chosen in an effort to treat the symptoms of fear and absence of trust. We have succumbed to the idea that enough money, enough power, enough fortification, enough arms, are the antidote for the absence of trust. And we’ve convinced ourselves that these things will insulate and protect us from that of which we are afraid. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just ask the Romanovs, Louis XVI, apartheid, etc. The more the fear, the lower the trust, the greater the chasm between excess and poverty, the more the fear ramps up greed prompting to who have to hoard and those without to grasp at gain through any mechanism possible. Desperation always breeds destruction.

Transparency, a buzzword of sorts these days, is a great catalyst for trust, but the greatest positive influence on trust is an investment in listening to one another, and, as Stephen Covey put it, “Seeking first to understand; then to be understood.”

In the Episcopal Church there are five questions that are part of the Baptismal Covenant. These questions come after a set that are a question and response setting of the Apostles’ Creed. The fifth question is this: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”

This question, even apart from its four predecessors, is proof positive that the Episcopal tradition’s understanding of Christianity is not for wimps. It is inexpressibly hard, at times, to bring a resolute commitment for justice together with peace. We all know deep within us that it should not be that hard, but the fact remains that it is. There is all kinds of truth in the statement, “No justice; no peace.” But often times that statement ceases to be an observation acknowledged, and becomes a form of self-declared permission to cast peace aside when justice is not, or cannot be, found. In the absence of trust and in the presence of fear, this will happen.

Respecting the dignity of every human being demands no less than the embrace of peace in the midst of rage. It is, to my mind and heart, the hardest thing a human being is ever called upon to do.

It has been my prayer through the overnight since the announcement in Ferguson, and with each new dawn that we can find our way to tables (both conference and dinner), front porches and stoops, legislative chambers, in organized and in informal ways, to raise trust, lower fear, and dismantle the mechanisms of greed, which includes unjust laws, artificial protections, and unnecessary secrecy. An indictment, or no indictment, cannot accomplish this.

But perhaps the pain of the price of too many lives cast aside has now reached the point where we, personally and collectively, will be resolute and compelled to address and dismantle our fears and raise our trust. Our passion (even our anger) as well as our pain must fuel our resolve today and tomorrow and …. Some will always have more, some less, but there is plenty for all to have enough – enough freedom, enough security, enough trust … enough love.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer,

About Heaven…

Someone recently sent me an email following the funeral of a loved one: “People keep telling te she is in heaven. But doesn’t the Apostles’ Creed say “he will come to judge the living and the dead”? And  Matthew 25:32-46,  2 Timothy 4:1, Matthew 16:27 imply we won’t be judged until Jesus returns.”

The struggle for those of us still on this side of the mystery of life after death long to know, and maybe even more, long for hope. After some time in prayer, I shared the following thoughts. They are not exhaustive, and they are not “the answer.” But it seemed to help….

Your question is a good one, and one.  I have not been ignoring you, but I have needed to find more than two or three minutes of time in which to write a reply.  Even at that, this will be far from in-depth or complete.

You are right that the Apostles Creed says that “he will come to judge the living (or the quick, in older versions) and the dead.  One can only presume that the end of the age, whenever that might be, will come at a time when some have, obviously, passed from this earthly life, and some have not.  It seems reasonable to me that the final judgment is something entirely unique unto itself.  Recall with me, that Scripture gives witness to some type of life beyond this earthly one apart from the final judgment – recall the recognizable presence of Elijah and Moses on that mount at the Transfiguration.  Recall also the account of Lazarus (the other one, not Jesus’ friend and brother of Martha and Mary) in Luke’s gospel (Luke 16:19ff) who was seen in a place of comfort while the rich and rather despotic soul longed from him to reach across the abyss with a finger of cool water.

One of the traditional prayers at the time of death, you can find it in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 464) before the burial liturgies, begins, “Depart out of this world O Christian soul, in the name of God the Father who created you, …, may your rest be this day in peace, and your dwelling place in the paradise of God.  At the Commendation, the prayer goes, “…receive her/him into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.” (BCP pp. 483,499)

The witness of the faith, can in some ways be found in a single simple phrase that is in the proper preface of for the departed (which is part of the Eucharistic Prayer if using I, II, A or B) which says: “… For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended; and when our mortal body lies in death, there is prepared for us a dwelling place eternal in the heavens.”

Now, I think I know you well enough that you’d like a bit of a biblical witness beyond what I cited above.  So, I invite you think, ponder and pray on this.  In John 14, Jesus tells his disciples that he is going to prepare a place for them, so that where he is, there they may be also.

Lastly, I’ll leave you with this from Hebrews 11:1 – Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.  My friend, here is what I believe.  Whatever the difficulties were that your [loved one] may have experienced in her final time of this earthly journey, she is healed now, and that healing is one that is complete – in any way she may have needed healing, seen or unseen, known to her, to others, or only to God, that healing has been made manifest.

I hope in some small way this helps.  I look forward to seeing you when I return.

God’s peace enfold you,


I am grateful to the inquirer for the permission to share this interchange. I have intentionally taken out any references that might identify the person or the person’s loved one.  SSH+

A Fellowship in Oxford

Reflections on the Experience of an Oxford Foundation Fellowship
– July 2014

One of the definitions of psychosis is being disoriented with respect to time and space. Imagine, if you will, being strapped into a long tube for about eight hours with a couple of hundred people, none of whom you know. When the doors of the chamber open, you disembark on a different continent, on a different day. The sun says it is morning, but your body says it is night. Immediately you are hustled through a beautiful, increasingly emerald countryside, and deposited on a green in the midst of a place where the buildings convince you that you have not leapt forward a day, but emerged to consciousness in the thirteenth century.

The stones and spires along The High Street and St. Aldate’s drip with poetry of Shelley, Donne, Auden and Elliot, in ways no less real than the blood and fire that licked the cobblestones of Broad Street as Latimer, Ridley, and Cranmer were martyred. It is a majestic and terrifying thing to stand in a place where learning has taken place since, at least, the tenth century, and where each college presents itself as a fortification against both attacker and ignorance.

It is hard to stand in a place where theological wars were fought, and to lose the battle was to lose your life. In part it is hard because the news of today reminds us, that as much as we might wish it so, such deaths over faith and freedom have not been left behind in a sixteenth century past.

Only now twilight is falling, and it is just the first day. Oxford floods the senses and inundates the mind. Martin Bell wrote in his short story, The Midway of the Jackals, “Too much is not enough. Enough is enough.” Oxford is simultaneously too much, and enough. Ah, the remains of the day.

The Oxford Foundation Fellowship has allowed for the opportunity to explore several questions related to Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) famed for his Spiritual Exercises and considered to be the founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits); and Lancelot Andrews (1555-1626), Bishop in the Church of England, translator of the Authorized Bible (1611), preacher of choice of James I, defender of the Church of England, and author of Preces Privatae. Each put considerable emphasis on prayers at the end of the day.

Did Andrewes know of Ignatius and his exercises? He certainly knew of the Jesuits. His discourse through letters with Robert Cardinal Bellermine, SJ, would confirm that. (The volume containing some of those letters was so fragile as to be provided to me tied about with a linen ribbon.) But did Ignatius’ long spiritual shadow cast itself to Andrewes, who, despite the tensions of papacy and monarchy, would have no doubt respected the discipline and faith? The Oxford Foundation Fellowship opportunity to rummage the vastness of the Bodleian Library leads me to conclude: Likely not, though it is a conclusion that rests on the shoulders of silence.

And…. What does it say about the deep rhythms of the Spirit that these two luminaries pillared and buttressed their deeply disciplined devotional life on time spent in examination and contrition, reflection and intercession, at the remains of the day? Their rhythm of prayer and devotions reflects, in an interesting way, the flow of life as understood by the Hebrew forbearers of their Christian tradition. It also resonates with the leadership authors, management gurus and life coaches so popular over that last two decades; almost all of whom declare in varying forms that a successful tomorrow is the result of time spent preparing for it at the end, at the remains, of the day prior.

What remains is my continuing to pour prayerfully over the pages brought back. It is a task I anticipate with the same joy as traversing the great spiral stairs of the Radcliffe Camera. I believe that out of these pages there are reflections still to be penned that may be useful in the always important task of connecting Sunday to Monday. I am convinced that each of these spiritual mentors knew something of the profound value of taking time to heal and be healed at the end of the day. I am sure that their ability to find peace in the midst of chaos, and to lead by the examples of humility and piety, were grounded in not going to sleep on the wounds of the day past.

When so many would cast aside the remaining scraps of the day as done, both Ignatius and Andrewes claimed the vesper light as time with God, a pearl of great price, nestled neatly in the remains of the day.

Sabbatical Diary – August 3

What are you doing here …

Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts, show us your countenance and we shall be saved (Ps 80:3, 7, 19). This repeated verse, sometimes translated “Restore us….”, clearly indicates that we know that we have gone astray, and that we are looking for God’s to save us from, I presume, ourselves.

If we use “turn,” verses “restore,” the phrase takes on an air, for me, of repentence. Simply stated, to repent is to go the other way. To restore, if we take that course of translation, speaks to me of being put back in our original condition. I consider our original condition, as God made us, to be one of, shall we say, original blessing; certainly not original sin.

There is a self-awareness and a compelling understanding in the psalmist’s words that I find profound and stark at the same time. The psalmist knows we are currupt, errant, headed the wrong way, and cannot set things right ourself.

I invite you, under the lamplight of these things, to consider the state of the world at the moment. Places where Christians have worshiped for some 2000 years have been destroyed in Mosel, accompanied by the killing of Iraqi Christians. (Remember that the Detroit area is home to the largest concentration of Chaldeans – Iraqi Christians – outside of Iraq, and possibly anywhere in the world now.) Religious and ethnic persecution and genocide are happening in Sudan, Nigeria, and Ukraine. The US and Russia are posturing with one another in ways that recall to me the instability of Cold War times. Hamas and Israel are both committing wretched acts upon one another. I cannot recall, in my lifetime, the world in a more destabilized situation.

Perhaps I am aware of these things because England is beginning to mark the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. It is a solemn observence. War was formally declared by England on Germany on August 4, 1914 at 11:00 pm after Germany had invaded France and Belgium. Being here has been eye-openning, and it is my observance that we, in the States, don’t get it. We don’t get the massive sacrifice, the death, and the horrors of World War I. Let me give you some numbers to help you understand. In the four years of 1914-1918 the British Empire put 8,900,000 troops into the war effort. This does not count merchant sailers and civilian others. 36% of them were casualties of war: killed, captured or wounded. In the small and relatively rural region of Sussex in the south of England, over 7000 men died on the battlefield or from battlefield wounds. They are remembered in the St. George Chapel at Chichester Cathedral. There are similar remembrances in every cathedral and parish church I entered.

Look around the relationships of your life, at the men you know from age 16 to 45 or so. Now imagine one out of every three of them dead, wounded or captured. It is chilling. Imagine a war of this magnitude taking place about twenty miles from your border. That’s the width of the English Channel from Dover to France. It was the first time airplanes became a serious tool of war. It was the first major use of chemical weapons – principally chlorine gas. I have concluded that for us to understand World War I and the impact on Great Britain, we have to look at our nation’s experiences in World War II.

I’m not really a pacifist. There are times when one must stand up for self or others, particularly in the presence of bullies – many of them in the form of countries. But, war always, always, to me, means we have failed as humans. We have failed to be a blessing as we have been blessed. We have failed to respect the dignity of every human being. We have offended against God’s holy laws. And, thus, we need to turn, to repent, and we need to be restored, and it is beyond us to accomplish this alone.

Repentance. Restoration. O Lord, show us your countenance and we shall be saved. Only speak your word and we shall be healed.

What are you doing here …

********  The Sabbatical Diary is published with gratitude and appreciation to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan for granting me sabbatical time and funding, and to the Graduate Theological Foundation, Oxford Foundation Fellowship, which made access to Oxford University for reading and research possible.