Ever wonder what it's like to be a bishop?

Join Bishop Fisher here as he reflects on the experience of leading the Episcopal branch of the "Jesus Movement" in Western Massachusetts.

We Need to be Good Citizens: Bishop Fisher’s Statement on Election 2016

 

“The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”

Gospel of John

“Your Kingdom come on earth, as it is in heaven.”

The Lord’s Prayer

“We are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream that God has for it.”

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry

19445971-mmmain - CopyChristianity is not an abstract faith. It is not a “world-escaping” faith, but just the opposite. We are a world-engaging faith. We believe in the Incarnation. God is here, among us. We believe God’s Reign is coming here. We believe Jesus has given us a Spirit to transform the world.

If we are to engage the world, then we need to be good citizens and be informed about the issues of our time. And we need to speak to those issues – even when those issues are complex and they always are.

In my engagement with politics, I often go back to criteria that then Senator Barack Obama put forth in a series of speeches during the presidential campaign of 2008. He invited churches to “enter the public square” and to “inject morality into public discourse.”* He offered these guidelines:

  1. Know what you are talking about. Study issues in depth. We can’t just proclaim “God says…”
  2. Your stance on an issue needs to cut across denominational lines. Your position needs to make sense to people of other religious traditions and to people of no religious tradition.
  3. For the sake of progress in political action, you must be willing to compromise. Too often, in Senator Obama’s opinion, churches take an “all or nothing” approach to legislation.

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In this election year, I encourage our church leaders to urge people to vote, to be informed and to bring Gospel values into their discernment. But there are things we cannot do. We cannot endorse any candidate publicly. Nor should we speak against a candidate by name from the pulpit or in church publications. I invite you to read and study the very helpful TEC ELECTION TOOLKIT. In it you’ll find the “pledge to vote” button and “Policy for Action” – an easy-access guide to all the issues from the perspective of General Convention resolutions.

Another very helpful resource is this “Open Letter to Maine Clergy About Political Advocacy” by Stephen Lane, the Bishop of Maine.  He has all the facts we need to know and he explores some gray areas. Read what he has to say about “church publications” and wonders if the personal Facebook pages of clergy could be considered a “church publication” if that is where people go to get news about their church.

And I recommend “A Word to the Church” issued in Holy Week by the House of Bishops. In it we call for civil political discourse and point to the danger of political rhetoric that turns neighbor against neighbor and threatens those on society’s margins. Although issued in Holy Week, this statement is a useful reminder throughout this election year.

As we vote, as we choose our leaders, as we engage the issues of our day, let’s do so as a people who follow Jesus in his mission of mercy, compassion and hope.

+Doug

* Full text of Senator Obama’s “Call to Renewal” Address on Faith and Politics, June 26, 2006

More death. More words. And no action.

A Statement on the Mass Shooting in Orlando

They lurk in ambush in public squares

and in secret places they murder the innocent;

they spy out the helpless.

Psalm 10:8

I write to you again in response to yet another mass shooting in America. Elementary schools, high schools, movie theaters, shopping malls, office buildings, churches and gay bars. No place is safe. No one is safe. Not as long as assault weapons are legally available to the one who hates, to the one who is ill, or to the one who wants to bring terror.

More death.  More words. And no action.

The public health crisis that is gun violence just claimed 50 more lives. Add this to the 91 per day that die in the United States through gun violence. Just ten days ago Bishops United Against Gun Violence co-sponsored the #WearOrange campaign. Episcopalians all over the country wore orange and took over social media for the entire day. When will we wake up? When will our elected officials show some courage? In the wake of the slaughter and wounding of 100 LGBTQ people in Orlando, we must acknowledge that homophobia and racism are also at the heart of our dis-ease.

They say in their heart, ‘God has forgotten; he hides his face; he will never notice (Psalm 10:11).’ But God sees. God needs us to break the cycle of fear, hatred and scapegoating with a love that defies the darkness. Yes, our laws must change. Our elected leaders must bear responsibility for the state of gun safety legislation. But we must speak love to those who mourn, to those feeling a wave of justifiable anger. In time and with grace, we must speak love even to the one who brings death.

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Our hearts are broken for Orlando and for LGBTQ people who are absorbing the reality of this violence. Our love surrounds all who bear the weight of this tragedy.

Rise up, O Lord;

Lift up your hand, O God;

Do not forget the afflicted.

Psalm 10:12

+ Doug

The Rt. Rev. Douglas J. Fisher

IX Bishop of Western Massachusetts

Wear orange on June 2 because “we are human.”

Recently we celebrated Pentecost and many in our churches wore red. I was at The Church of the Nativity, Northborough that Sunday and they take this tradition seriously. I looked out at a sea of red. Red stands for the fire of the Holy Spirit and illustrates our prayer:

Come, O Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit, and they shall be created. And you shall renew the face of the earth.  Amen

Now I invite you to wear another color that also proclaims God’s love and a desire to renew the face of the earth. The color is orange.

Hadiya Pendleton

Hadiya Pendleton

In 2013 Hadiya Pendleton – a majorette and high school student from the south side of Chicago – was shot and killed just a week after marching in President Obama’s second inaugural parade. Soon after this tragedy Hadiya’s childhood friends asked their classmates to commemorate Hadiya’s life – and the lives of hundreds claimed by Chicago gun violence each year – by wearing orange. Why orange? They said,

“Orange is used because hunters wear orange to warn other hunters not to shoot. By wearing orange, we are showing others that we are human and wish not to be gunned down.”

Numerous groups, including one I belong to – Bishops United Against Gun Violence – have declared June 2nd (Hadiya’s birthday) as Gun Violence Awareness Day. As a sign of solidarity “that we are human and wish not to be gunned down” are all invited to wear orange on that day. Clergy are invited to wear orange stoles on Sunday June 5th. Mine is being made now.

Gun violence is a public health crisis in our country. On average 91 Americans a day are killed due to gun violence. The stories and the statistics are staggering. Here are a few links to the facts.

Since Sandy Hook

Toddler Mortality from Gun Violence

Domestic violence

Polling

Comprehensive research website

Academic research in Preventive Medicine journal

Gun Violence Stats

And, because we are the people who wish to “renew the face of the earth,” we need to act on what we know. 5743341b83ae5Bishops United Against Gun Violence urges our cities, states and nation to adopt policies and pass legislation that will reduce the number of Americans killed and wounded by gunfire. These include common sense gun safety measures that already have the support of a majority of gun owners, such as:

  • handgun purchaser licensing
  • background checks on ALL gun purchasers
  • restrictions on gun ownership by domestic abusers
  • classification of gun trafficking as a federal crime
  • encouragement for the development of “smart gun” technology
  • federal funding of research into gun violence prevention strategies

And on June 2nd wear orange. Post your photo on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtags: #WearOrange and #Episcopal. Bear witness to the belief that our country can do better – much better – in addressing this public health crisis. Wear it because we are the Jesus Movement, because we are out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it.

+Doug

Daniel Berrigan: “I pray for his clarity.”

This April 9, 1982, file photo shows Daniel Berrigan marching with about 40 others outside of the Riverside Research Center in New York. The Roman Catholic priest and Vietnam war protester, Berrigan has died. He was 94. Michael Benigno, a spokesman for the Jesuits USA Northeast Province, says Berrigan died Saturday, April 30, 2016, at a Jesuit infirmary at Fordham University. (Photo: AP)

This April 9, 1982, file photo shows Daniel Berrigan marching with about 40 others outside of the Riverside Research Center in New York. 
(Photo: AP)

Dan Berrigan, who died last week, once said he was motivated by “outraged love.” His friend and fellow advocate of peacemaking and non-violence, Jim Forest reflects:

“Many people are driven by rage, which rarely does any good. But outraged love is mainly about love. Dan loved his church, his Jesuit community, and he loved America. But in all three zones there was something outrageous and Dan was never able to be silent or passive about our betrayals.”

I have long been inspired by Dan Berrigan. I was too young to understand what was going on when he was protesting the Vietnam War and was arrested for burning draft records (“Our apologies, good friend, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children…”). But when Dan and his brother Philip and Elizabeth McAllister expressed their “outraged love” at the nuclear arms race of the late 1970’s and 1980’s, I was feeling the same thing.

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CaptureThe strategy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) required a response. As a young priest I was arrested twice with the Berrigans while protesting at a “nuclear war think tank” in the heart of Manhattan. For me that meant being put in a paddy wagon, brought to the police station and released. Philip and Elizabeth, however, would go to jail many times as protesters of MAD.

I remember standing on a street corner before one of those protests. The Berrigan brothers and my seminary classmate Bill Schmidt were there. I was trying to look calm outwardly, but inwardly I was an anxious wreck. My anxiety was in sharp contrast to the peacefulness and the relaxed banter of the Berrigans.

Perhaps that demeanor came from Dan’s identification with the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a reluctant prophet and perhaps Dan was as well – at first. But eventually Dan, like Jeremiah, realized he had no choice. God called. They had no expectation of success. Berrigan wrote often: You will speak and no one will hearken (Jeremiah 7:27). Faithfulness to our God of “the promise” demanded Dan’s commitment while bearing the “burden of awful events.”

Berrigan wrote that the God of Jeremiah begins with a “no.” See today I give you authority over nations and kingdoms, to uproot and pull down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant (Jeremiah 1:10). For Dan that meant:

“no to our history of crime, war, bloodletting, greed, racism and injustice of every sort. A ‘no’ and then a ‘yes’ to God’s kingdom. A ‘yes’ to love and hope.”

I have been inspired by Dan’s willingness to engage the Church in the issues of our time. In protesting the war in Vietnam, he wrote “We confront the Catholic Church, other Christian bodies and the synagogues of America with their silence and cowardice in the face of our country’s crimes.” I might have been thinking of Dan when I urged the Diocese of Western Massachusetts to “double down on social justice” in my 2015 Convention Address.

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I pray for Dan’s clarity. I’m not sure if he ever met our Presiding Bishop Michael Curry but I am sure he would resonate with his passion for “the Jesus Movement that is out to change the world from the nightmare it is for so many into the dream God has for it.” Dan would be clear about what the “nightmares” are and the changes that need to be made. I think my friends Margaret Bullitt-Jonas and Jim Antal have that clarity about the nightmare of climate change. Other prophetic friends have it about other issues of justice. They inspire me.

As this great prophet and poet is laid to rest, I pray that he rise in glory. And, I pray that his spirit will never stop challenging me, and calling me to an “outraged love.”

+Doug

PS – A fuller description of the many dimensions of the fascinating life of Dan Berrigan can be found here.

Gathering of Leaders: An experience of the “aliveness of God”

 

Presentation1One of my favorite theologians, Walter Brueggemann, often contrasts the anxiety, cynicism, greed and “deathliness” of society with the God of “aliveness”, hope, generosity and Resurrected Life that we know from the Scriptures. My experience at the Gathering of Leaders in Fairhope, Alabama from April 11-13 (my first one) was an experience of the “aliveness of God.” Started by Bishop Claude Payne of Texas, it is an “invitation only” gathering of young (under 40) clergy who have demonstrated leadership potential. Here is a little bit about the Gathering of Leaders from the organizational website:

 

Vision Statement

We envision the renewal of the dioceses and congregations of the Episcopal Church through transformational leaders dedicated to the missionary call of Christ and growing the Church in spiritual depth and in numbers as it effectively serves all sorts and conditions of people through the transforming power of Jesus Christ.

Mission Statement

The purpose of the Gathering of Leaders is to assist in the empowerment, support, and development of such leaders. To this end, the Gathering provides a place for leaders to come together without contentiousness and partisanship to share their love of Christ and of the Church, to empower each other through mutual encouragement, to deepen their skills as transformational leaders, to establish networks which will aid their ministries, and to clarify their understanding of God’s emerging vision for the renewed Episcopal Church.

 

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The energy of the group was evident everywhere and in everything. The presentations were made with joy and enthusiasm right from the first sentence. Liturgy was deeply prayerful. Dinner conversation and “networking time” were filled with stories about grace. As a bishop, this gathering gave me hope for the future of our Church as I witnessed the Christ-centered focus of these “youngish” clergy.

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The theme was By Whose Authority? Faithfully Exercising Authority in the Missionary Church. Our first presenter quickly and convincingly redefined “authority” as “followability.” The Gathering of Leaders crowd is so creative, we even invent our own words. For clergy leaders, authority comes from God, through the Church and through bishops, but that authority counts for little without the trust of the people and their willingness to follow a leader in a collaborative effort to embody the mission of Jesus – a mission of mercy, compassion and hope – in this world.

I am grateful for these clergy who “get it” in this era of the life of the Church. Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, is so clear in telling us we are the Episcopal branch of the Jesus Movement. We seek to change this world from the nightmare it is for so many into the Dream God has for it. From what I experienced at the Gathering of Leaders in Fairhope, Alabama, the Jesus Movement is rolling on.

+Doug