Sunday, October 30, 2016

All Hallows Eve

Halloween is All Hallows Eve, or the Eve of All Saints' Day:

“All Saints' Day is the centerpiece of an autumn triduum. In the carnival celebrations of All Hallows' Eve our ancestors used the most powerful weapon in the human arsenal, the power of humor and ridicule, to confront the power of death.” – Rev. Sam Portaro from “Brightest and Best”
"Halloween is the time of year when we see that Christ has so triumphed over Evil, that even little children can mock the Devil with impunity." – Fr. Victor
You, O Lord, have made us from the dust of the earth and to dust our bodies shall return; yet you have also breathed your Spirit upon us and called us to new life in you: Have mercy upon us, now and at the hour of our death; through Jesus Christ, our mediator and advocate. Amen.

Lyke Wake Dirge

On this night, on this night,
Every night and all,
Hearth and house and candle-light,
And Christ receive your soul.

When from here away you pass
Every night and all,
To Thorny Moor you come at last;
And Christ receive your soul.

If ever you gave hose and shoes,
Every night and all,
Sit then down and put them on;
And Christ receive your soul.

But if hose and shoes you gave none
Every night and all,
The thorns shall prick you to the bare bone;
And Christ receive your soul.

From Thorny Moor then you may pass,
Every night and all,
To Bridge of Dread you come at last;
And Christ receive your soul.

If ever you gave silver and gold,
Every night and all,
At Bridge of Dread you’ll find foothold,
And Christ receive your soul.

But if silver and gold you gave none
Every night and all:
You’ll tumble down into Hell’s flames
And Christ receive your soul.

From Bridge of Dread then you may pass,
Every night and all,
To Purgatory fire you’ll come at last;
And Christ receive your soul.

If ever you gave meat or drink,
Every night and all,
The fire will never make you shrink;
And Christ receive your soul.

But if meat or drink you gave none,
Every night and all,
The fire will burn you to the bare bone;
And Christ receive your soul.

On this night, on this night,
Every night and all,
Hearth and house and candle-light,
And Christ receive your soul.

Sermon: October 30

Almighty Father, even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil, for Your Son our Lord Jesus Christ, has conquered sin and death, illuminating even the darkest valley. Protect us from the enemy, defend us from all evil, and give us grace & hope to walk in the light of your Son, who lives and reigns, with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

Poor Zacchaeus

All he wants to do is see him. He has heard all about Jesus as people come to pay their taxes. Not that they were talking to him. He is probably one of the most hated men in Jericho. He collects taxes and he is rich. Many people grumble that he has scammed from the taxes and made himself quite wealthy.

Zacchaeus over heard them speak of Jesus. The miracles he has performed, the people healed. The parables told. He heard he was travelling to Jericho. When the day came, Zacchaeus found he could not see Jesus. He was short and there was such a large crowd. So Zacchaeus had an idea.

He climbed a sycamore tree ahead of Jesus so he could see him. When Jesus saw him up in the tree, Jesus said to him:

"Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today." So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, "He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner." Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, "Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much." Then Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost."

The people rejected him, but Jesus accepted him. Jesus saw his faith & his willingness to give, to set things right and declared him a son of Abraham too, worthy of respect not scorn, one who was lost but was found!

We too are called from our faith to give, to make things right, and to see ourselves as the sons and daughters of Abraham too.

Her parents were both scientists; her mother's mind had a decidedly non-poetic bent. Nonetheless, they read their young daughter poems from time-to-time because they paid attention to what gladdened their little girl's spirit.

Near the end of her mother's life such gladness was mostly a thing of the past as she struggled with the ravages of Parkinson's disease. Her conversations took strange turns. While her brain took her on far-flung journeys from reality, she always came back and knew who her daughter and family members were. She realized the stress her daughter was under; she knew that she had put her work as a writer on hold to care for her.

In the final weeks, her mother made a peculiar request. She ripped a page from a magazine she was paging through - she could no longer read much but she'd turn the pages. Then she asked the woman who was helping to care for her to tape the page to her daughter's bedroom door, up the two flights of stairs she could no longer manage. The ad was for diamond earrings. The woman had no idea why the dying woman wanted the ad taped to her daughter's door. She knew that her daughter had little interest in jewelry - she didn't even have pierced ears.

But when the daughter saw the ad taped to her door, she understood immediately. It wasn't about the jewelry. Below the diamonds, she read the shining letters: "Become a poet." One last wish to her beloved daughter: You, beloved jewel of my heart, be who you are called to be, do what you are called to do. It was her mother's final gift. [From an essay by Heidi Neumark, in The Christian Century, October 31, 2012.]

As a mother expresses a final wish that her daughter realize the talent she has put aside for her, Jesus recognizes and upholds the good in Zacchaeus - good that his neighbors fail to see. Jesus' call to the despised tax collector transforms the life of the man in the sycamore tree.

We are called by Christ in the same way: to recognize our own gifts and abilities and treasure and to be willing to use them to let the light of our faith in the goodness of God shatter the darkness of hopelessness and alienation around us; to make manifest the glory of God within us in order to transform and reconcile our world in the life and love of God.

Jesus calls forth the poetry that exists within each one of us: to transform our lives with the gifts we have – gifts given for reconciliation & generosity that God has written on every human heart.

Let me end with a poem called Zacchaeus – by the Scottish poet George MacDonald

To whom the heavy burden clings,
It yet may serve him like a staff;
One day the cross will break in wings,
The sinner laugh a holy laugh.

The dwarfed Zacchaeus climbed a tree,
His humble stature set him high;
The Lord the little man did see
Who sought the great man passing by.

Up to the tree he came, and stopped:
'To-day,' he said, 'with thee I bide.'
A spirit-shaken fruit he dropped,
Ripe for the Master, at his side.

Sure never host with gladder look
A welcome guest home with him bore!
Then rose the Satan of rebuke
And loudly spake beside the door:

'This is no place for holy feet;
Sinners should house and eat alone!
This man sits in the stranger's seat
And grinds the faces of his own!'

Outspoke the man, in Truth's own might:
'Lord, half my goods I give the poor;
If one I've taken more than right
With four I make atonement sure!'

'Salvation here is entered in;
This man indeed is Abraham's son!'
Said he who came the lost to win-
And saved the lost whom he had won. (Amen.)

A Prayer for Today

In light of the political events of this year, these words written by Bishop Philip Brooks are even more important to use. (Prayer Reposted from

O God:
Give me strength to live another day;
Let me not turn coward before its difficulties or prove recreant to its duties;
Let me not lose faith in other people;
Keep me sweet and sound of heart, in spite of ingratitude, treachery, or meanness;
Preserve me from minding little stings or giving them;
Help me to keep my heart clean, and to live so honestly and fearlessly that no outward failure
can dishearten me or take away the joy of conscious integrity;
Open wide the eyes of my soul that I may see good in all things;
Grant me this day some new vision of thy truth;
Inspire me with the spirit of joy and gladness;
And make me the cup of strength to suffering souls;
in the name of the strong Deliverer,
our only Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Election Letter from the Bishops

"Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of this land in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." -- Book of Common Prayer, p. 822

On November 8 we will again be called upon to exercise our civic duty of voting for the leaders of our nation, our states, and our local communities. It is a great privilege and responsibility to vote; one not available to all people around the globe. We give thanks for all those in our country’s history who have fought for our democratic right to vote, and for those who continue to work today to ensure that such freedoms continue.

Sadly this election season has taken on a tone that is not worthy of our country’s great democratic ideals. The political rancor and mean-spiritedness shown in the campaigns has too often resulted in distorted relationships in our families, in our communities, in our church, and in our nation. We are thus reminded of the words of the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer that speak of the sinfulness in our lives and in our world:

“Question: What is sin? Answer: Sin is the seeking of our own will instead of the will of God, thus distorting our relationship with God, with other people, and with all creation.”(BCP p. 848)

How often have the sins of racism, classism, and sexism been used by candidates to alienate sectors of the electorate from each other in vain attempts to win votes? How often have we, as communities and as individuals, been like the Pharisee in last Sunday’s Gospel (Luke 18:11) criticizing those who favor a candidate not of our liking with characterizations that are unthinking, wrong-headed, unpatriotic, and even worse? Such is not the way of our nation. Such is not the way of God. We all need to repent for the sinfulness in this election season, seeking amendment of life and a return to wholeness with God and with each other as American citizens.

And when we are on our knees seeking forgiveness for how sin has crept into our hearts this election season, let us also turn to God and pray that these remaining weeks of the election season will be marked by a return to the civility, respect, and unity that has historically characterized our American political processes. Let us pray that Election Day will be free from violence and that due process will prevail. Let us pray that there will be a peaceful transition of power following the election. And above all, let us pray that those who have been elected to lead our nation, our states, and our communities will dedicate themselves to healing the divisions and hurts that have crept into our public life. Pray that God will bring us together in justice and in peace.

Our colleague bishops in the Episcopal Dioceses of Massachusetts and Western Massachusetts, the Rt. Revs. Alan M. Gates, Gayle E. Harris and Douglas J Fisher, respectively, have called on all Episcopalians in Massachusetts to participate in a vigil of prayer for the election from noon on All Saints Sunday, Nov. 6 through noon on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 8. We would like to do the same, calling all parishes and worshiping communities in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut to a similar vigil. Such vigils could be as simple as a special closing prayer or litany on Sunday, November 6;  saying Morning, Noonday, and Evening Prayer on Monday November 7; or a continuous period of prayer with individuals and/or groups praying in shifts. Resources for prayer can be found on the EpiscopaliansVote website at: and at Forward Movement’s “Season of Prayer for an Election” website at:

We invite you to connect and share your ideas with ECCT by using our diocesan hashtag #ECCT and by tagging our diocesan Twitter account @EpiscopalCT. We would love to see what you and your parish or worshiping community are doing to prepare prayerfully for the election.

Finally, we urge you to exercise your right to vote on Election Day, November 8. We have a civic duty to participate in the political processes of our nation, our states, and our local communities. Please vote prayerfully.


The Rt. Rev. Ian T. Douglas, Ph.D.                        The Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens, D.Min.
Bishop Diocesan                                                      Bishop Suffragan 

The Problem of Bias - Towards Women, Different Races & Native Americans

I found three articles worth our attention as we attempt in this country to work on making all lives matter equally, because they don't now...

Too Sweet, Or Too Shrill? The Double Bind For Women 

Her experience is one that researchers have described as a "double bind" — a set of assumptions that get at our implicit assumptions about men, women and leadership.

"The female gender role is based on the stereotype that women are nice and kind and compassionate," says social psychologist Alice Eagly. By contrast, she says, "in a leadership role, one is expected to take charge and sometimes at least to demonstrate toughness, make tough decisions, be very assertive in bringing an organization forward, sometimes fire people for cause, etc."

So what's a woman to do? Be nice and kind and friendly, as our gender stereotypes about women require? Or be tough and decisive, as our stereotypes about leadership demand? To be one is to be seen as nice, but weak. To be the other is to be seen as competent, but unlikable.

How ‘Bias’ Went From a Psychological Observation to a Political Accusation

The most profound division may be over the nature of bias itself. Now that frank prejudice is ostensibly out of bounds, the country finds itself in murkier territory, arguing about the kind of bias that is less obvious and intentional. While some people (mostly on the left) puzzle over the lessons of studies like “Seeing Black,” others (mostly on the right) feel blamed for what they see as an imaginary problem.

Battle Over Indians’ Name and Logo Moves to the World Series

Yenyo, who is from Cleveland, was part of the protests at the 1997 World Series, in which the Indians played the Florida Marlins, and he has helped organize protests on opening day in Cleveland for the last two decades.

He said the goal was to educate fans, many of whom cherish the Indians’ name and the Chief Wahoo logo. Chief Wahoo has been around in different forms since 1947, the year before Cleveland won its last World Series. The Cleveland team itself had numerous names in its early history, including the Blues, the Bronchos and the Naps. But before the 1915 season, the club became the Indians, according to, and it has been Indians ever since.

That puts the team into the middle of a sustained and often emotional debate. Many people vigorously oppose the use of Native North American names and images as mascots and logos, saying they are demeaning and worse. The Chief Wahoo logo in particular stands out because it is a caricature.
Lots of food for thought...

Uncivil Religion

These days bring to mind the line from William Carlos Williams’ poem “To Elsie”: “The pure products of America go crazy – ” Williams was writing in the early 1920s, gazing out on a despoiled Jersey landscape, tenderly lamenting the daily grind that so many Americans faced to the point of desperation and derangement. Nearly a century later, his words echo.

Lately the national catalogue of “pure products” and their human cost has expanded. The list includes a fascination with certain runaway abstractions – a nostalgia for the 1950s, the fever dream of an armed citizenry, a creedal loyalty to market freedom or racial superiority. These body politic visions of purity go crazy.

Writer Peter Schjeldahl once said the USA is an idea that stands on three legs: “first, a set of 18th-century political documents, which we argue about continually; second, the cautionary example of the Civil War, which fates us to stick together no matter what; and, third, daily consumption of mass culture. That’s it. Everything else, however tremendous, is secondary.”

Relegated to his secondary list is religion. That demotion looks doubtful. An American civil religion, a belief that this pluralistic nation is blessed by the Creator, is a historic marker of our identity and exceptionalism. An old thought – God is watching – always did egalitarian work over here. It was a way of saying we’re all equal, and equally vouchsafed, in the economy of salvation.

The assumption of God’s providence is now under strenuous reassessment. The pressure of events – economic pessimism, gun slaughters, the rages of ideology – is rattling the confidence of many. On the big plasma screen, enchantment surrounds the powerful celebrity, as if to fill a spiritual void. Extremes of rhetoric and violence carry a dark glamour. And so the will of God gets an updated rival – the human will to power – stockpiled with firepower to enforce a perfect isolation inside the castle of individualism. Ideas that stand up for a functioning public life scatter in retreat.

American Christianity often gets defined as a religion of individualism. When that happens, little is expected of it in the arena of public solutions. The faith, however, teaches a wisdom that has consequences for political reform: an abiding affection for creation, a love of the things God has made.

What God has made is exceedingly, unnervingly diverse, and evidently it flourishes only if a balance is struck, a system of mutual courtesy. That seems to be the point of the much-repeated scriptural commands about Golden Rule, love of neighbor, and forgiveness. This group of commands isn’t there to flummox people with guilt. It arrives each moment as a practical principle.

And it applies everywhere. Golden Rule, regard for neighbor, the power of forgiveness – the world couldn’t manage without them. Daily business transactions depend on them. So does all the unglamorous work of organizing a neighborhood, launching a bond issue, or improving police-community relations. The everyday world is messy and plural. It resists our quaint impositions of ideological purity. Things go wrong when militant zeal becomes a spellbound fixation.

In his new book Putting God Second, Rabbi Donniel Hartman suggests what happens when the pure products of devotion hold sway: They lethally distort religion’s best values, and then faith is dishonored and the public is harmed. It’s possible to be so consumed with pious intoxication that one becomes morally blind to God’s will, which is always to respect what God has made. The corrective is, as Hartman provocatively puts it, to “put God first by putting God second.” Serve God by repairing the world and greeting the divine image in others. Here the theological and the political meet.

“Creation in the divine image is not merely a statement of value but one of purpose: a special charge to humanity to engage in tikkun olam, ‘repairing the world,’ grounded in the responsibility to be God’s partner in governing and managing creation,” he writes.

In its marrow, faith is a pragmatic force for sanity – people working for a humane future, feeling solid earth underneath. Politics too is about getting things done, and doing it together, after the bluster of ideology moves on to its next self-defeat, away from the hybrid surprises and graces of real life.

Uncivil Religion By Ray Waddle (Spirit and Politics: Finding Our Way 2016)

Standing Rock & the Episcopal Church

[Episcopal News Service] The coming winter and changing attitudes on the part of some Dakota Access Pipeline project opponents and law enforcement officials near the Standing Rock Sioux Nation are changing the Episcopal Church’s ministry in that part of North Dakota.

Episcopalians spent part of Oct. 24 driving church vans around the state picking up protestors who had been arrested over the weekend. A planned camp move will put a winter protest camp close to an Episcopal church that will be able to bring even more services to campers.

The Oct. 22-23 weekend was a heated one near the proposed pipeline route. The Morton County Sheriff Department said Oct. 24 that 126 people were arrested two days earlier for “illegal protest activities” during a day of often-violent encounters with those protesting the pipeline that will run under the Standing Rock Sioux’ water supply, over its treaty lands and through some of its burial places. One person was arrested on Oct. 23, the department said, bringing the total number of arrests to 269 since the protest started Aug. 10.

Some pipeline opponents, who prefer to call themselves “protectors,” seemed to “have upped the ante and got themselves in place to block construction,” the Rev John Floberg, supervising priest of the Episcopal churches on the North Dakota side of Standing Rock, told Episcopal News Service Oct. 24. The authorities, he added, responded with what he called “overwhelming force.”

“From my side of this, the authorities have always been provocative and excessive, and the people that are doing their protection acts are getting pushed to take a harder stand that is still non-violent,” said Floberg in a telephone interview as he drove a church van to Fargo, North Dakota, about four hours to the east of the camps to collect some of the protestors who were taken there for arraignment.

On Oct. 22 Floberg and his colleagues on the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council asked federal and state officials to “de-escalate military and police provocation in and near the campsites of peaceful protest and witness of the Dakota Access Pipeline project.”

The council resolution is rooted in the Episcopal Church’s support of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation in its struggle against the pipeline. That support has come from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry both in words and his presence with the protestors as well as visits by Heidi J. Kim, Episcopal Church staff officer for racial reconciliation; the Rev. Charles A. Wynder Jr., staff officer for social justice and advocacy engagement; the Rev. Heather Melton, United Thank Offering staff officer; and the UTO board.

After the violent weekend, Floberg began recruiting at least 100 ordained people for a “united clergy action,” now scheduled for Nov. 4, to show both the tribe and law-enforcement officials that clergy are standing with Standing Rock.

“It’s also for those engaged in the protest to see that clergy are bearing a witness of non-violent peaceful protest,” he said.

Clergy participants will be trained before the protests in “how to walk up to the line and not cross it.”

“What I have made very clear is that in every statement that has been made, no matter what denomination has made that statement, the solidarity is with the Standing Rock Sioux tribal chairman and council,” he said. “We are going to follow their lead in whatever it is that we do. It is not a statement of solidarity with the camps; we never declared that.”

Floberg acknowledged that the camps have been criticized for their lack of unified leadership. “And people have stepped beyond the bounds of what the Standing Rock Sioux tribe has said that they wanted done and or not done, so we’re trying to reinforce the chairman’s position,” he said of the clergy action, explaining that the tribe’s position calls for protest against the pipeline along with the acknowledgement that the pipeline will be stopped through efforts in court and in other government arenas.

The nature of the camps is about to change. Floberg told ENS during the Executive Council meeting that the Sioux tribal council voted Oct. 19 to invite the campers in the Oceti Sakowin Camp to come to what is now being called Winter Camp on reservation land two miles south of the current location and near St. James’ Episcopal Church in Cannon Ball, North Dakota. When the tribe asked the Cannon Ball community to consider taking in the camp, the church hosted the meeting – and supplied supper – for residents to discuss the issue.

Read the whole story here and more here.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Sunday: October 23

Most gracious God, we give you thanks for every good gift we have received through the bounty of your love. Guide us along the path of giving that binds us together and connects us with you, the Great Giver, so that in every act of mercy and justice we are acting as conduits of your love. Fill us with a sense of holy generosity, that we, as your Body of Christ, may bring the light of your eternal love into our broken world. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit, live and reign, now and forever. AMEN.

Give to the Most High as he has given to you, and as generously as you can afford. For the Lord is the one who repays, and he will repay you sevenfold. (from Sirach)

Our first reading reminds us that it is God who calls us to give. To give generously of ourselves and what we have for it is God who repays, who has given us so much. And through such giving, to reach out…

For God will listen to the poor and the prayer of one who is wronged. God will not ignore the supplication of the orphan or the widow…

Through the generosity of God, God expects us to reciprocate, to be generous not only to God but towards others too, to remember the orphan and widow, the poor, those on the margins of our society.

For God will hear the cry for justice from the orphan and widow, the cries of the poor, and God looks to us to help from the abundance we have been given. But we struggle with such help and we struggle because we live alienated from one another, as our Bishop, Ian Douglas, has talked about:

In our country, it seems that everywhere we look we are increasingly alienated from each other in ever more distorted human and political relationships… there is no lack of incivility and even hate in our society today as we scapegoat the “other,” the marginalized, the one who is different, in an attempt to alleviate our fears, our insecurities, and our sense of loss.

We hear such alienation echoed in our Gospel reading this morning: And the Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.'

Jesus short little parable this week is his commentary on humility, on how we put down others to make ourselves the righteous ones. The Pharisee does not see himself like the others.

And yet, the tax collector is the one praised and the Pharisee is not, Jesus again shakes things up and wants us to see our place as with other people. For the tax collector simply prays for God’s mercy, as a sinner. He is the one who speaks rightly.

As Jesus said, “for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted."

We need to practice such humility, never putting others down to build ourselves up, always looking towards God’s mercy and love. Generosity toward others and humility towards ourselves is a good start for our lives as Christians. What does this look like today?

Lewiston is an old mill town on the Androscoggin River in south-central Maine. Like many small cities in the northeast that once thrived on manufacturing, Lewiston now struggles economically. But Lewiston is re-creating itself - thanks, in large part, to its high school soccer team.

The Lewiston High soccer team brought home the city's first state boys soccer championship in 2015, going 17-0 and outscoring opponents 113-7. The team is ranked 22nd in the nation. But its success extends far beyond the scoreboard.

The team is made up of players from the Congo, Kenya, Turkey, Germany and Somalia. The students on the team are widely credited with building ties among this small Maine city of 36,000 and its 7,000 new residents from overseas.

In 2001, Lewiston became an unlikely destination that offered safety, affordable housing, and low-wage jobs for Somalis fleeing the horrific civil war in their homeland. Word spread from early arrivals, and the African immigrant population swelled. But the first refugees were not welcomed and struggled to establish roots. But the success - and character - of the soccer team has helped bring the communities together.

The team is defined less by its excellence than its example of unity. Building the team has been anything but easy. At first, black and white students rarely sat together during practice. But the coach, Mike McGraw, changed that dynamic by purposely placing blacks among whites and whites among blacks. "I told them, 'This is how you have to be on a team.'" Now black and white players mingle seamlessly on the field and off of it.

The goalie, one of the local players on the team said: "They're just like our brothers, our family. There's no difference." And an assistant coach believes: "The way the world should get along is the way these kids treat each other. This is the best place to be a soccer coach - anywhere."

For refugee families, Lewiston has been a new day after surviving a nightmare - and their presence has opened up a new world perspective for this old-world Maine town. [The Boston Globe, August 20, 2016; Portland Press Herald, November 7, 2015,, November 19, 2015.] also Real Sports on HBO!

The Lewiston High soccer team possesses the humility and generosity of heart of the tax collector that bridges the chasms created by such divisive attitudes: each member of the team, black and white, realizes their equality and the value of each member's gifts to the good of the team and school.

Their perspective stands - or kneels - in sharp contrast to the Pharisaic attitude of moral and cultural superiority over others. God is not just "ours"; God has not breathed his life into us solely for our own happiness and satisfaction. Humility that compels us to treat others with respect and generosity will be exalted in the kingdom of God, a reign that is realized, here and now, on our own soccer fields and schools, and marketplaces and churches and our dinner tables too.

In this season, as we remember the offerings we give to God, through what we give here at St. Peter’s and beyond, we are called to be generous and humble to help our alienated world become reconciled.

For if our lives are marked with such generosity and humility, then we will be living our lives as St. Paul said, as “ambassadors for Christ” and through such generosity in how we give and humility in how we live, we will “be drawn more deeply into God’s passion and the mission of the Church to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” Amen.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

What Are Our Values?: An interview with Carlos Correa Bernier

Carlos Correa Bernier is an American Baptist Church minister, clinical psychologist, theologian, environmental justice advocate, radio broadcaster, and director of Centro Romero, a United Church of Christ related educational center near the San Ysidro Port of Entry, the world’s busiest international land border crossing. Located on the US-Mexico border in San Diego, Centro Romero is a place of community building, ministry, education, and prayer that annually serves hundreds of passengers and immigrants. Correa Bernier teaches psychology at the CETYS Universidad in Tijuana, Mexico, and has a private counseling practice. He has a doctorate in family therapy with specialization in violent behaviors and is completing a Ph.D. in psychology of religion at Oxford University.
REFLECTIONS: Do you see a pressing challenge coming out of this historic political season?

CORREA BERNIER: The urgent question is, What are our values? That is, who are we, and who do we want to be in the future? America – its music, movies, culture, spirit – has global influence. But it seems we have forgotten how to globalize ourselves and recognize and accept our own diversity. We still have difficulty with the “other,” how to relate to the stranger, how to welcome them, how to be changed by them. We are having trouble deciding who we are as a nation in this globalized world.

REFLECTIONS: What should we be standing for?

CORREA BERNIER: I think of freedom and democracy. Those ideas are central. And many people use the words. But if we are going to celebrate those values, we must place them at the center of every single decision we make through our government. I don’t hear much about that commitment. The political mood has been to invite hate and condone physical violence. Psychologically speaking, this isn’t an embrace of freedom and democracy but an anxious attempt to assert power and control.

REFLECTIONS: US immigration history has always been turbulent. Is anti-immigration sentiment today any worse than previous decades or centuries?

CORREA BERNIER: Think about the many migrations from Europe that helped shape American history. The Irish, Italians, and others went through struggles to get settled into their own communities – then they made efforts to assimilate. It often took a generation or longer. That’s how the nation understood assimilation: The new group was given time to organize its communities and neighborhoods, then assimilation would happen from there. But something different is happening now, as new others arrive not from Europe but from elsewhere. They face a demand that they assimilate from day one. The nation’s attitude has shifted from valuing community-building to focusing on individuals. An anti-immigration viewpoint regards new immigrants not as communities, not strengthened by community structures, but as individuals who must change who they are right now if they are going to earn our respect in the US. Or they are scapegoated. It seems that modern culture’s emphasis on individualism has had an effect on our attitude toward immigration. We’ve become impatient with structures of community. We put the burden on individuals to do it alone.

REFLECTIONS: Can the churches’ good news change this climate?

CORREA BERNIER: As my good mentor Leonardo Boff says, “the church carries within itself constant tension,” since we proclaim what can never be put into practice, the utopia of the Kingdom of God and radical fraternity. I’m part of a binational base community that contains many nationalities, and we try to embody the Kingdom and practice what we teach and preach. It’s a struggle, but we are committed to it. It involves being sincere and authentic with each other, welcoming the poor, the other, while acknowledging the tensions within us. Throughout all of it, the church is in a position to experience the joy of this Kingdom, connecting our ekklesia as an institution to the struggle of folks out there, in the world. In our situation we concentrate on communal theological reflections on all the experiences that define our daily lives. Our worship time begins after this discussion together is over. What is the alternative to facing the struggle within? Compartmentalization, an all-too-familiar strategy: limiting our church exposure to Sunday between 10 a.m. and noon, then disengaging from the togetherness, and concentrating on daily isolated lives of individualism.

REFLECTIONS: What is the next move?

CORREA BERNIER: We have a choice. We can embrace a future of absolute nationalism and isolation or a future of commitment to inclusivity and social justice. I think it is crucial to ask ourselves two questions, as citizens and as churchgoers: What is it that I believe, and what am I going to do with that? These questions have a deep spiritual character, and it gets us back to that first point of our conversation, “Who are we, and who do we want to be in the future?” Our answer should inform, constantly, not only our behavior and but also our politics.

Spirit and Politics: Finding Our Way (2016) - Read it here.

Prayer for Tolerance

Dear Heavenly Father,
You created us.
All of us
You sent your beloved Son to redeem us.
All of us
You sent the Holy Spirit, the Comforter, to us.
To comfort all of us.
Please fill our hearts with love, so that there is no room for hate.
Fill our minds with understanding, so that there is no room for fear.
Fill our eyes with wonder so that we may see only uniqueness, and not strangeness.
So that we may love, understand and enjoy our fellow brothers and sisters to your glory.
All this we ask in the name of our heavenly Brother, Jesus Christ our Lord.
(written by SUZANNE K. BECKLEY )

A Prayer for Living into our Diversity

O God, there is so much misunderstanding and fear about the changing cultural landscape in our country. Help those who are afraid that their schools are being ruined by other cultures to see the rich new educational opportunities available as a result of the diversity. Guide those who find themselves in positions of power to embrace the diversity and differences found among their constituencies and create new and dynamic forms of power-sharing. Open the hearts of those who feel that their communities are being invaded and destroyed by the "other" so that they will find new ways of being in community. Help those who feel resentment because they think that the immigrants are taking all the job opportunities away from them, that they may trust in God's abundance. Amen.
(written by NORMAN HULL)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Time For Deep Listening: An Interview with Rita Nakashima Brock

From Yale Divinity School - Reflections
Spirit and Politics: Finding Our Way 2016

Theologian Rita Nakashima Brock has been a voice for social conscience for decades. She is director of the Soul Repair Center at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, TX. She is widely known for her work in moral injury – a dimension of trauma that refers to the shame or turmoil one feels for the morally compromised part one might have played in an episode of extreme violence in wartime or other conditions. She is co-author of Soul Repair: Recovery from Moral Injury After War (Beacon, 2012) and Saving Paradise: How Christianity Traded Love of This World for Crucifixion and Empire (Beacon, 2009), among other books. A native of Japan, she received a Ph.D. from Claremont Graduate University, the first Asian- American woman in the US to earn a doctorate in theology.
REFLECTIONS: Many old racial and economic conflicts have been churned up this election season. Are we learning to face our problems?

RITA NAKASHIMA BROCK: From our western European heritage we have a deeply embedded way of thinking about ethics: Goodness is subjective. We evaluate an action based on whether we feel good about it inside. If you don’t have evil intent when you harm someone else, then it’s easy to feel you have done nothing wrong and don’t have to make amends. This way of thinking dominates how we look at legacies of harm in the US.

One way or another, virtually every non-European who lives here has been touched by white supremacy – the history of slavery or the theft of native lands, forced labor, or colonialism. But if the nation says we didn’t intend harm, then the nation deems itself innocent. That innocence plays into our deep sense of exceptionalism. Every day, we talk about goodness in a way that protects our innocence. We need to be asking, What harm has been done, and how do I attend to it?

REFLECTIONS: How do you regard our racial politics today?

BROCK: In some ways we’ve been witnessing the last gasp of white supremacy. What I see, though, is white people who once were dominant and now feel increasingly marginalized. Many are good-hearted people who are struggling economically and watching their world slip away. Human beings want to feel respected. That’s why I think there’s a bigger problem here: the skewed power of corporations and wealth.

Working-class income has slipped, with lowpaying jobs that make a person feel worthless. The economy has shifted to make rich people richer. They own the government now. You have to be a millionaire to run for high office. There’s no magic fix for our problems and divisions. But if we don’t take care of the common good, we will go into terrible decline.

REFLECTIONS: What would a healthier public life look like?

BROCK: We need to learn what it takes to be a society and not just a collection of angry individuals. We’ve been taught for decades to hate the government, but I think we must attend far more to certain fundamental rights, expectations, and responsibilities in society where we need good government – for instance, universal single-payer health care and free college tuition.

Connected to this would be universal conscription – compulsory service to the country, a young person’s two-year commitment to serve in some way. It could be the military or the Army Corp of Engineers or Americorp or the Peace Corps. In return, they would get free education at a college or a trade school.

This would serve many purposes. One good result would be interaction with others – people who you’d otherwise shun or never meet. This kind of interaction happens in military service, which is why the military has been an agent of social change. It was the first US institution to integrate, in 1948, and it recently dropped all barriers against women and gay and trans people too, and it allowed gay marriage before the Supreme Court acted.

There’s so much to be done that universal conscription could address! It would teach us the power of common goals. We’d discover that personal success is such a paltry ambition. Why not make a difference for the good of others?

REFLECTIONS: Does the church have a role?

BROCK: Churches could become places where honest conversations and deep listening can happen and where we don’t have to make everything a political debate that derails trust.

The easiest thing to change is the discourse. It’s much harder to change our embedded feelings like fear or hostility and embodied ritualized behaviors that protect ourselves from an honest encounter with someone else. Look at what the 24/7 news cycle does to us. It is relentless bad news; the nonstop images of terrorism, violence, angry politics are so corrosive. I’ve been watching the Olympics, and I feel the time is a spiritual break. Just to be able to cheer for something beautiful and excellent is uplifting.

Implicit Bias

I found this story fascinating and helpful!

Implicit bias has become a key part of the national dialogue on race in America. To learn more about the history of the term, we turn to Mahzarin Banaji, one of the researchers who founded the theory. (From NPR)

Listen or read the transcript here.

In order to just think about where implicit bias comes from, it's a good idea to think about it as a combination of two things. First, our brains - human brains have a certain way in which we go about picking up information, learning it. If I repeatedly see that doctors are male and nurses are female, I'm going to learn that. But the second part to implicit bias is the culture in which we live.

There is a culture that, for whatever reasons, has led to men being surgeons and women being nurses. If I lived in a culture where the opposite happened, I would have the opposite bias. At any moment when we discover things about ourselves or about the world that are new, we have to expect the kind of reaction that we're getting. But the mark of an evolved society is how quickly do we come to terms with it?

How quickly do we realize that finding out that we're biased need not mean that we have to remain biased? So I have great hope just because I look at the history of this country, where we used to be and where we are today, and I see nothing but a path that is on the way towards doing better.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Sermon: October 16

O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of your Spirit lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Jesus told his disciples a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He ends the parable with this question: “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Jesus gives to us a parable of prayer & faith – the great singer Mahalia Jackson would say that “Faith and prayer are the vitamins of the soul; one cannot live in health without them.” And so Jesus told us a story that goes to the soul.

A widow kept going to a judge, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” He refused. But she would not go to her home and give up. Over, and over again this scene would happen... The judge, as we are told, who does not fear God or respect anyone else, decides to give her justice, not for her sake as a widow or because she is right, it is not for the sake of justice, but so that she stops being a nuisance to him!

The unjust judge in the parable has all the power for he can grant justice to the widow or not. The widow of course, in the time of Jesus, is vulnerable, she can be exploited or forgotten, her very survival could be at stake because she has no husband, and maybe no kin to take care of her.

She is on the margins of that society, insignificant, and would seem to have no power in this situation. And yet, she does not give in to his refusals. She uses what she has available to her, her persistence, & her voice, “Grant me justice.” The widow refuses to be marginalized, does not lose heart and uses her voice to be heard.

It reminds me of an old Aztec fable… Once upon a time a small fire quickly grew out of control and began to consume the forest. As the flames spread, the animals began to flee. An owl making its own escape noticed a small bird, a quetzal, constantly flying back and forth between the river and a section of the burning forest.

"Are you crazy?! the owl hooted. "The forest is burning! You must leave at once!" But the little red and green bird ignored the owl's warning and returned to the river, where it gathered a few drops of water in its beak before flying over to the brush to release the droplets on the flames.

The owl flew down and met the quetzal bird at the water's edge. "What are you doing?" "The best I can with what I have," the bird replied as it gathered another few droplets of water in its tiny beak and returned to the flaming brush.

Inspired by the quetzal's courage and determination, the owl began to help. Soon, other animals - and even humans - joined them, and the great fire was conquered.

The little quetzal bird possesses the spirit of hope and optimism that Jesus asks of us, his disciples. In today's Gospel, Jesus praises the widow's perseverance in fighting for what is right and just and assures us that when we act out of such a heart, the Spirit of God will be with us in our struggle to find the words and courage to confront evil and hurt, to challenge those who threaten to harm us and those we love.

All of us have seen this kind of perseverance: in parents who continue to love their sons and daughters despite the messes they make of their lives; in couples who work together to mend their marriages; in those quiet, committed souls who do their jobs conscientiously not because of the money or demanding supervisors but because they know their work matters. Jesus honors such perseverance in the conviction that what is just and right calls us to live our faith, to pray and not lose heart even when the fight is long.

Georgetown University was founded by the Jesuits in 1789, in Washington DC. In 1838, the university was in dire financial straits. To keep the university operating, Georgetown needed to raise cash fast, so it sold off its slaves.

Two of Georgetown's early presidents, both Jesuit priests, organized the sale of 272 of the slaves that worked at the college and at Jesuit-owned plantations in Maryland. The sale raised about $3.3 million in today's dollars, enough to pay off Georgetown's debts and secure the university's future.

The slaves were shipped to estates in Louisiana. Promises of keeping families together and the safe, humane treatment of the slaves were broken; many were brutalized by their new owners. The enslaved were grandmothers and grandfathers, carpenters and blacksmiths, pregnant women and anxious fathers, children and infants, who were fearful, bewildered and despairing as they saw their families and communities ripped apart by the sale.

Like many American colleges and universities founded during that time, Georgetown has been struggling with this dark chapter of its past. Urged on by students and alumni, Georgetown convened a Working Group on Slavery, Memory and Reconciliation, made up of administrators, faculty, students and alumni, to make recommendations on how to address the university's historical connection to the institution of slavery.

Georgetown will begin offering admission preference to those whose ancestors were used or sold as slaves by the university - not only the descendants of the 272 sold in 1838, but any slave who worked at Georgetown and the Jesuit farms, just as the university offers preference to the children and grandchildren of alumni. And two buildings at Georgetown, named for the two presidents who brokered the 1838 slave deal, will be renamed. One of the buildings will be rechristened Isaac Hall, named after one of the victims of the slave trade at the time. The other will be called Anne Marie Becraft Hall, in honor of an African-American woman who opened a school for black girls in Georgetown in 1827.

Georgetown has also established a historical research center to provide genealogical information from the university's archives to descendants of Georgetown slaves. A public memorial to the slaves is also being designed. And Georgetown plans a formal apology to the families of the enslaved. While Georgetown has gone further than any institution in facing its dark history, the university realizes it is just a beginning.

Jesuit David Collins, associate professor of history at Georgetown, notes: "The story of the sale that saved Georgetown draws our attention to 272 specific people, and meticulous Jesuit record-keeping unwittingly spares these victims the final indignity of forced anonymity. We know the people's names; when they were born, married and buried; whom they were sold with and whom they were separated from. We can trace their family connections, sometimes even to the present. Those 272 biographies sting in a way a statistic of one million can't . . . this story cries out its injustice against our American tendency to distance ourselves from the ugly realities in our history." [The New York Times, The Washington Post.]

Securing justice can sometimes take a long, long time. But Christ calls us, his disciples, to be as persistent as the widow in today's Gospel, to realize that reconciliation, peace and mercy are values that should be pursued, that the passage of time does not justify injustice or excuse responsibility, that no effort to correct another's suffering is ever too little or too late. Such persistence, such critical self-reflection, is the mark of the follower of Jesus; discipleship recognizes that the principles of the Gospel often put us on a collision course with the values of the world.

We possess a faith that empowers us with hope and courage, enabling us to persevere despite the overwhelming despair, anger, ridicule, hatred and evil that we may encounter. Like the persistent widow of the Gospel, may we always realize that, through God's work of hope, mercy, and reconciliation, we can make God's presence and grace real and alive in our world if we but keep the faith, pray and not lose heart. Amen.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Prayers for our Election

Read more here.

For those who Influence Public Opinion

Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write what many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, and its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

For Vocation in Daily Work

Almighty God our heavenly Father, you declare your glory and show forth your handiwork in the heavens and in the earth: Deliver us in our various occupations from the service of self alone, that we may do the work you give us to do in truth and beauty and for the common good; for the sake of
him who came among us as one who serves, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Donald Trump & Boundaries

As a priest in the Episcopal Church in Connecticut, periodically I go to a training to help maintain a safe church for everyone involved. On October 1, I attended a re-certification for clergy here in Connecticut. Our training focused on "boundaries for excellence."

Sadly, there have been too many instances where clergy have abused their position, crossed boundaries, and have through different misconduct, injured many people.  For people in positions of power and care, boundary crossing and violations are harmful for the communities we serve.

That is why we go through training.  That is why we have supervision networks.  That is why there are policies in place for healthy and safe environments at church.

As some of the scandals have broken out around Donald Trump, the republican nominee for president, I have been listening to what people have been saying (including the nominee himself). This past week a tape from 2005 was revealed and the nominee said some terrible things about women. (Similar words were given in various Howard Stern radio shows over the years as well.)

Many are rightfully outraged at his words and behaviors. To name a few:
  • he kissed women, without permission
  • he grabed their genitals, without permission
  • he walked in on contestants changing at his beauty pageants, without permission or warning
  • he often talked about the appearance of women
A few people have said his words were just "locker room talk" and the nominee has also given this excuse.  Problem is, we have evidence it wasn't just talk (as terrible as those words are, of which he apologized), that he indeed did what he talked about. (see NY Times articles: here, here and here.)

Their accounts revealed unwelcome romantic advances, unending commentary on the female form, a shrewd reliance on ambitious women and unsettling workplace conduct. The interactions occurred in his offices at Trump Tower, at his homes, at construction sites and backstage at beauty pageants.

What this says to me is that Donald Trump violates boundaries regularly and has done so all his life.  He believes his prestige, power and money affords him that luxury and it is unquestionable. When asked by Anderson Cooper if he understood what he talked about was sexual assault, he denied it. (Washington Post: here.)

The electorate will have to decide whether this or anything else he has said or done (see here) disqualifies him for president. I know that I have raised my boys to treat women with respect and not as horribly as he has, and I have warned my girls about guys like him. I know that if I said or did anything like Donald Trump, I would be removed as a priest from the church and rightly so.

(Sadly, too many women in our country have had this experience in their lives. See here. We as nation can and must do better than this.)

Look with pity, O heavenly Father, upon the people in this land who live with fear, injustice, terror, disease, and death as their constant companions. Have mercy upon us. Help us to eliminate our cruelty to these our neighbors. Strengthen those who spend their lives establishing equal protection of the law and equal opportunities for all. And grant that every one of us may enjoy a fair portion of the riches of this land; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Sermon: October 9

O God, the source of all health: So fill our hearts with faith in your love, that with calm expectancy we may make room for your power to possess us, and gracefully accept your healing; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

When we think of being healthy, it is more than just not being ill. As one author put it,
“The word in Hebrew which refers to being healthy is shalem, which means to be whole, complete, or sound. The related term is more familiar to us: the noun shalom, "peace." Just as peace in Hebrew means more than the absence of war, so health means more than the absence of illness. In both cases, what is at issue is becoming whole, whether individually (in the case of health) or socially (in the case of peace).” (Bruce Chilton)

And how we become whole again is the focus of our readings from 2 Kings & the Gospel of Luke.

Naaman – the commander of the army of the king of Aram (Syria), was a great man and in high favor with his master, though a mighty warrior, he suffered from leprosy.

I can picture Naaman quite proud of his name and his stature. He has power & prestige as commander of the army, but one thing he has that he doesn’t want is leprosy. Leprosy as we know it, Hansen’s disease as it is called today, is not the same as the leprosy described in the bible, the Hebrew word covered lots of different skin diseases or illnesses. In any case, Naaman would not have felt whole with such a disease, especially for such a commander!

Then he hears from his wife about an Israelite slave girl, talk about the most powerless person around him, and she startles him with the revelation that a prophet in Samaria can cure him. Outrageous! Samaria! But… He goes to his king who gives him permission to go and he even sends a letter to the King of Israel on his behalf.

The King of Israel, though, is not impressed. He rends his garments and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me…”

The King of Israel knows that he cannot bestow health on another, that is God’s domain, but like leaders of today, he sees this as a confrontation from the other king. Elisha, who is waiting in the wings, doesn’t and has Naaman come to him. But, Elisha doesn’t go out to meet him.

He sends a messenger instead to Naaman who has his horses, his chariots, and his entourage with him. The messenger tells him to go wash in the Jordan, 7 times, and he will be made clean.

Naaman was furious, felt disrespected because the prophet didn’t come out to see him, didn’t call upon God and didn’t do anything. The rivers back home are just as good as the Jordan! Impudence! But…his servants approach him and remind him that if the prophet had given him a hard task to do, he would have done it. Why get upset about going to the Jordan to wash and get clean?

And for the second time, Naaman listens to a servant, listens to the least in his presence, and he goes and does as Elisha had said. And lo and behold, he is made clean, his leprosy is gone! By listening to others and then going to the Prophet and then following through and washing in the Jordan, Naaman is healed, he is made whole.

We do not know if he returned to the prophet or thanked God for the healing, but God’s healing brought wholeness even to the enemy, to the one seeking shalem. One of the lepers Jesus healed did return & give thanks.

As Jesus entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" They kept a distance because they had to, no one was to touch them, they lived apart. Many saw them as cursed by God rather than infected with a particular disease.

But Jesus looked upon them with the eyes of mercy. When Jesus saw them, he said to them, "Go and show yourselves to the priests." To be declared clean or healthy, a leper was to show him or herself to a priest who would then make the judgment. So by sending them, Jesus healed them.

And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. And Jesus would declare, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they?”

Jesus notices the one who has faith and applauds the person. Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?" Then Jesus said to him, "Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well." The faithful one who returns to Jesus to praise God and give thanks for the healing, is a Samaritan, someone outside the Jewish faith, someone whom the disciples of Jesus or those who heard this Gospel in the 1st century would have been shocked to hear praised.

God is at work in healing, in these two stories, he works through the other to help bring wholeness. Wholeness is accomplished not only through healing but gratitude.

They had been married only a few months. Both had endured some hard blows in their lives: the death of his first wife after a long illness, her acrimonious divorce. Finding each other this late in life - both were in their sixties - had been an unexpected gift and everyone they knew shared their joy.

But then one night, he suddenly went into cardiac arrest . . . and he was gone. At the funeral she was asked by friends how she was doing. But instead of grief, she quietly and firmly said that all she could do was give thanks - thanks that she and her late husband had had each other for even the brief time that they did. "You know we never stopped thanking God that so late in our lives this could happen," she said. "Every evening at dinner we did the most important act of our day. We would reach our hands across the dinner table to hold each other, and then we would close our eyes, and just say, 'Grateful. Grateful.'" [Adapted from a sermon by the Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd, Washington Cathedral.]

A beautiful story of gratitude. Like the Samaritan leper in today's Gospel, we realize that our blessings far outweigh our struggles, that we have been made whole despite our brokenness, that we have reason to rejoice and hope despite the sadness and anxieties we must cope with. If we approach life with a perspective of gratitude, we will come to realize the love of God in our midst: in the birth of our child, in the tenderness of our spouse, in the ability we have to bring joy and hope into the life of another.

May our lives be illuminated with the realization that we have been made "whole' and well by God - created in God's image, sustained by God's forgiveness, transformed by God's grace. As the Samaritan leper discovers in today's Gospel and the widow tells her friends, each one of us has been given much by God, and realizing those gifts, such a spirit of gratitude is the beginning of transforming our lives and our communities in God's grace & healing and in becoming whole. Shalem. Shalom. Amen.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A Season of Prayer: for an Election

From Forward Movement:

This election season has been among the most contentious in recent memory. But whatever our politics, as Christians we always have something we can do. We can pray. For the 30 days leading up to the election, Forward Movement is calling Episcopalians and all others to join us in a time of prayer.
We come together, asking God for courage and wisdom, thanking God for love and joy. As we move toward the election of new leaders for the United States, may we all join in a season of prayer, committing to offer to God our fears and frustrations, our hopes and dreams. Starting October 9 and continuing through the election, we suggest a theme to guide your prayers each day, and we offer you a collect from The Book of Common Prayer.
You can find these themes and prayers in weekly bulletin inserts, on the Forward Movement website (, or link to them from Forward Movement’s social media channels. We encourage you to share your prayers with friends, either in person or online.


For this season, we encourage you to pray this litany every day:

O Lord our Governor, bless the leaders of our land, that we may be a people at peace among ourselves and a blessing to other nations of the earth.
Lord, keep this nation under your care.
To the President and members of the Cabinet, to Governors of States, Mayors of Cities, and to all in administrative authority, grant wisdom and grace in the exercise of their duties.
Give grace to your servants, O Lord.
To Senators and Representatives, and those who make our laws in States, Cities, and Towns, give courage, wisdom, and foresight to provide for the needs of all our people, and to fulfill our obligations in the community of nations.
Give grace to your servants, O Lord.
To the Judges and officers of our Courts give understanding and integrity, that human rights may be safeguarded and justice served.
Give grace to your servants, O Lord.
And finally, teach our people to rely on your strength and to accept their responsibilities to their fellow citizens, that they may elect trustworthy leaders and make wise decisions for the well-being of our society; that we may serve you faithfully in our generation and honor your holy Name.
For yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and you are exalted  as head above all. Amen.

Sermon: St Francis Sunday

Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve God with great humility. Amen.

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed…” When I think of St. Francis, I think of someone who had such faith. I think of his preaching to whomever would listen, his connection to creation, and care of animals. I think of his prayer, the Canticle of the Sun, from which my opening prayer was taken from. His faith could move mountains. I think of what Pope Francis said in his encyclical last year:

In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with colored flowers and herbs…” Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.

St. Francis can be a help to us as we consider our connection to God’s creation that joyful mystery and how we are called to be good stewards of the land and the animals. But St. Francis can also be a help to us in these anxious times, as we consider our relationship with others, especially those of other cultures & religions than our own.

Let me tell you a story…

Over 800 years ago, in the year 1213, Pope Innocent III called for the Fifth Crusade. Armies from all across Europe slowly gathered and headed for Jerusalem & Egypt to conquer them once again. The Muslim and Christian armies confronted each other in Egypt in 1218. As the war raged on over the next three years, thousands were killed on both sides.

Sultan Malik al-Kamil, ruler of Egypt and a nephew of the great Kurd warrior Saladin, tried to negotiate peace but the offer was rejected.

In Italy, St. Francis had always dreamed of preaching the Christian faith peacefully to the Muslims and yearned for an audience with a Muslim leader. Now his moment had arrived and he was going to forbid war and be a peacemaker. In June 2019, Francis took a few brothers with him and sailed on a perilous journey across the Mediterranean to the war zone.

Upon reaching the banks of the Nile, Francis was deeply grieved to see the horrific sight of casualties of war on both sides. He retreated into deep prayer and contemplation and wondered what he could do. He began to preach vigorously against the war and the threatening disaster but was faced with foulmouthed jeers and taunts; to the Christian soldiers the barefoot little holy man was a heretic. Despite this, Francis continued his opposition to the crusade but all of his efforts were to no avail.

Finally, Francis decided that he would act and he and brother Illuminato would venture out to meet the Muslims in their own camp. Francis understood the risks; death or imprisonment were the likely outcomes of his plan to cross the enemy lines during wartime. But Francis had a bold idea to prevent bloodbath. If the Crusade leaders would not seek peace, he would. As Francis and Illuminato crossed the enemy lines, the Muslim sentries saw them and thought they were messengers or had come to convert to Islam.

Francis, unable to speak the soldiers’ language, cried, “Sultan! Sultan!” The soldiers seized them and led them to the sultan’s tent. The future saint and the sultan were roughly the same age, al-Kamil was 39, Francis 38. Francis stood before al-Kamil. The sultan looked over the odd duo, barefoot monks dressed in coarse, patched down tunics. The sultan thought that the Franks had sent them to his tent with a response to his latest peace proposal. The sultan, made weary by war, desperately wanted a deal that would end the Christians’ siege of the port city of Damietta where his people were dying of disease and starvation.

“May the Lord give you peace.” Francis surprised the sultan with his standard greeting. It perplexed the sultan. He noticed the similarity between Francis’ greeting and the familiar Muslim greeting of peace, “Assalam o alaikum” or “peace be upon you.”

Uncertain about his visitors’ intentions, the sultan asked if they had come as representatives of the pope’s army. “We are ambassadors of the Lord Jesus Christ”, Francis responded, asserting that he was God’s ambassador, not the pope’s.

This daring little man and his companion intrigued Sultan al-Kamil – they even resembled the similarly dressed Sufi men the sultan revered for their mystical insight into Islam. “If you wish to believe us, we will hand over your soul to God,” Francis continued.

Whatever Francis said, the sultan became very attentive to and listened closely. It was an amazing scene of a monk preaching the Christian faith to a Muslim monarch in the middle of a war. The sultan’s religious advisers rushed into his tent. Once they found out that al-Kamil was going to let Francis preach, they warned him that this would violate Islamic law. Al-Kamil had a prominent Sufi as his religious adviser and he saw Francis in the light of Sufism and the Muslim tradition calling for respect for Christian monks.

Francis was a dynamic preacher. He preached from the heart and the sultan and his court listened to Francis attentively. Their discussions went on for several days and had multiple participants. It was a peaceful exchange of ideas about the two competing religions. Francis and Illuminato were treated as honored guests in the Muslim camp.

Francis was deeply impressed by the Muslim religious practices, especially the call to prayer. The sultan offered Francis many gifts but Francis turned them down, as was his practice. Francis did, however, agreed to accept a token of their meeting; an ivory horn used to make the Muslim call for prayer, which to this day is displayed in a room of relics at the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi. Francis used it to call his monks to prayer on his return to Italy.

Although Francis was disappointed not to have converted the sultan, he had shown Sultan al-Kamil what it meant to be a true Christian. He and al-Kamil had found a way of talking peacefully during a gruesome war. Sultan then sent Francis and Illuminato back to the Christian camp under his protection.

The Fifth Crusade ended in 1221 in a decisive victory for al-Kamil which resulted in a great number of losses on both sides and eventually in the surrender of the pope’s army. Al-Kamil agreed to an eight-year peace agreement with Europe. Francis returned to Italy soon after his encounter with the sultan but held the sultan deep within his heart. He grew ill but his yearning for peace intensified. He constantly preached to abolish war and renew peace among all people. [adapted from an article by Navid Zaidi]
As one commentator put it, “Today, the most dangerous cultural divide is between Islam and the western world. Too easily and too frequently we hear of Muslims being demonized with absolutes and generalizations.”

As we remember St. Francis today and the faith he had, and bless our animals, may we remember also remember how St. Francis moved beyond the religious and cultural prejudices of his day when he engaged the sultan of Egypt and his Sufi advisors in peaceful religious dialogue. Despite the many differences between them, the two men discovered goodness in one another.

May we, like Francis once did, reach out in peace and witness to our fearful world today. Amen.

For more information on this: