The Fast That I Choose

Fasting, as a spiritual practice, has long been with the Church. But depriving ourselves of food is no gift to God unless it yields some good. Spiritually, fasting can “clear the deck,” make space for God in our normally fast-paced, hunger-driven lives. Many of the holy ones in our rich tradition fasted regularly and found the practice nurtured gratitude and contemplation.

But human beings can always find a way to make something “all about me.” Jesus warned us not to advertise our fasts by looking grim and hungry. He challenged us to fast with joy. Even more important is the idea that a fast should be a blessing for the world, for God’s people. The prophet Isaiah, Jesus’ go-to prophet,  gave us a profound insight into God’s heart. In a passage, that we usually proclaim at the very beginning of Lent, we get a deeper understanding of the relationship of fasting to the work of justice.

Is not this the fast that I choose:
    to loose the bonds of injustice,
    to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
    and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
    and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
    and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

Isaiah 58:6-7

Yesterday, our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Michael B. Curry, invited the Church to begin a regular fast on the 21st day of every month.

We fast to fortify our advocacy in solidarity with families who are struggling with hunger. We fast to be in solidarity with neighbors who suffer famine, who have been displaced, and who are vulnerable to conflict and climate change. We fast with immigrants who are trying to make a better future for their families and now face the risk of deportation. We fast in solidarity with families on SNAP, who often run out of food by the last week of the month.”

Watch the full video here.

Michael believes that the Church was made for “a time such as this.” A fast of this nature places us in relationship with strangers whose lives are lacking the things we often take for granted. Learn more about the causes of, and fight against, hunger here. But know that the 21st of the month is very significant for persons who live in poverty. That’s when families receiving SNAP benefits begin to struggle with food security. We will be in solidarity with hungry families. And, with God’s help, our fasting will move us to some concrete action. We won’t know what that looks like until we open our hearts in prayer.

Read more about For Such a Time as This: A Call to Prayer, Fasting, and Advocacy.

While this is clearly an individual practice, we will be united with Episcopalians and Lutherans all over the country. The fast will be on the  21st of every month – beginning this Sunday, May 21 – through the end of the 2018 legislative session. I hope you will consider joining the fast. I know that you will be blessed. And that blessing will find its way into the nightmare so many live.

Fast with prayer.

Fast with hope.

Fast with joy.


After Chicago: Reflections on Racism, Poverty & Violence

The week after Easter four of us from the WMA Social Justice Commission went to Chicago to an event organized by Bishops United Against Gun Violence. It was a gathering to study the “Unholy Trinity” of racism, poverty and gun violence. My friends will share their reflections and wisdom from those remarkable days here in this blog. I’ll save my thoughts for the last.

Alexizendria Link

I left the conference with a spiritual understanding that garnered the urgency for Church reflection, movement and support for action against injustice in society.  A call for Christians to return to moral leadership and service by partnering with oppressed communities rather than serving ourselves within church communities was highlighted.

The Rev. Julian DeShazier, adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School and McCormick Theological Seminary and University Church senior pastor reminded us poverty, racism and gun violence are moral issues and the church needs to be a moral voice. He says,

“We have turned our churches into think tanks but not action centers and consider our pastors as theologians rather than community leaders.”

He reminded us the church once represented a moral center in the community and as a result provided a moral compass in our cities and towns.  Now it appears as if the church has shifted to primarily condemning.  The Church condemns racism, injustice, poverty, gun violence, climate issues and etc. but rarely are we physically doing anything in and with oppressed communities.

I believe we need to intellectually revisit, spiritually reflect and physically return to moral leadership while partnering with communities outside our church walls.

Jane G. Tillman

Attending the conference “The Unholy Trinity:  The Intersection of Racism, Poverty, and Gun Violence” in Chicago was an amazing experience of listening, learning, singing, praying, weeping, and marching.  The conference included three contextual bible study sessions which began in a large group led by Dr. Dora Mbuwayesango, a professor of Old Testament and Languages at Hood Theological Seminary.  We then went to small groups each day, to study a selected biblical text, trying to understand the characters in the story, the relationship of the characters to one another and to God, and the role of violence and conflict in the story of God’s people.  Moving from understanding the biblical text within an historical framework, we then explored how the ancient story of God’s people is like the pain we face in our current time with intergroup conflict, violence, murder, child sacrifice, political scheming, and the ongoing sin of racism, violence, and poverty.

The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, Bishop Diocesan of Indianapolis, speaking at the public witness of prayer. Photo: Lee Cheek

I felt fortunate that the facilitator of my bible study group was the Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows, an African-American-Indian priest, who was attending the conference the week before her ordination and consecration as the Bishop of Indianapolis and the first African American woman to be a diocesan bishop.  There were moments of deep sadness as well, such has when the Rt. Rev. Eugene Sutton announced that the State of Arkansas would execute one of their prisoners that first evening of the conference.  The death penalty is where racism, poverty, gun violence, and state-sanctioned murder all intersect and this was a powerful moment for me.

Lee Cheek

Two common narratives about guns emerged: (1) gun violence is mainly a problem with blacks (2) unrestricted white gun ownership and “stand your ground “is God-ordained.  We were called to challenge these narratives from a faith-based perspective.

The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas. Photo: Lee Cheek

The Rev. Dr. Kelly Brown Douglas, canon theologian for the Diocese of Maryland, challenged a mostly white church to give up resting in the comfort of believing that the problem of gun violence lies only within the black urban community. She asked us to get to know their stories and see their humanity. The violence there is a legacy of a system of unjust privilege and penalty.  The inequalities of racism and poverty are something each of us is on the hook for.  Eliminating these systems is “not a work of choice for us but what is necessary to be Christian.”

The Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical pastor from Washington, D.C., who was featured in the 2015 documentary, The Armour of Light, declared that unrestricted white gun ownership and violence against what is perceived as threat is “a theological problem” with which many evangelicals struggle. He urged us to build relationships that help them disentangle their theology from the culture of “ferocious autonomy” and individualism.

Lee Cheek, Alexizendria Link and Jane G. Tillman. PHOTO: J.G. Tillman

My thoughts on the “Unholy Trinity” event…

For me, the quote I will remember most came from Rev. Julian DeShazier, pastor at University Chapel and a hip hop artist. He said, “Too many Christian churches have become ‘think tanks’ when they should be ‘action centers’.” I’m challenged and inspired by that line.

Part of being an “action center” is to take our faith to the streets in liturgies of witness. I have shared many times in this blog and in Abundant TIMES about the value and indeed, the necessity of public prayer witness. These are not demonstrations. They are not marches. They are prayer. They are processions. As one speaker put it: “We impoverish ourselves if we limit our symbols and sacraments to just what is possible in the walls of the church.” Liturgy is a strength of the Episcopal Church, so why not take that gift and bring it to the streets? We did that in Chicago.

Photo: Bishop Ian Douglas

Two hundred of us processed through a section of Chicago’s South Side. Drums loudly announced our presence. Bishops wore vestments. Dozens of crosses were carried high.  Banners clearly stated why we were doing this. We sang hymns. We chanted.

People joined us along the way. Some stood and watched. Many took out their cell phones and recorded it. Why? Because the Church was in the streets. We were not a think tank. We were a moving “action center”, witnessing against the Unholy Trinity and witnessing for Jesus mission of mercy, compassion and hope.


From Weeping To Wonder: Bishop’s Easter Sermon

The Russian Orthodox have a wonderful Easter tradition. After the church service (which is far longer than this one), they gather for dinner and every person who comes to the dinner has to tell a joke. That is because Easter is a great and joyful event. Jesus has triumphed over evil. Laughter is a sign of his victory and the Russian Orthodox believe laughter drives the devil out of the house. So let’s borrow from that tradition and begin this sermon with an Easter joke – one that is also a true story.

One Easter morning at another church the priest invited the children to gather around him and he asked this question: “What is Easter?” Hands shot up. The first child said, “Easter is when we get chocolate bunnies.” The priest said, “True, but that is not what Easter is really all about.” The next child said, “Easter is when the bunny leaves us eggs.” The priest acknowledged her but was getting frustrated. He called on another child who said, “Easter is when Jesus died on the cross for us.” “No,” said the priest, “But thank you, we are headed in the right direction.” Finally a child said, “Easter is when Jesus came out of the tomb!” The priest was so happy someone got it. But then she added, “And if he sees his shadow and goes back in the tomb, we get six more weeks of winter.”O

The devil has just left the church.

Let’s reflect on Easter. I’ll base these reflections on Scripture but let’s put them in the context of what Franciscan Richard Rohr calls the “first source of revelation” which is nature itself.

You all know I spend a lot of time on the Mass Pike – a lot of time. For my first four years as bishop, I spent most of that time doing one of four things: taking phone meetings, listening to NPR, listening to the music of Bruce Springsteen, or thinking about the next place I was going to and what I needed to do there. But then one day, a few months ago, I noticed the sky. This is easy to do on the Pike since there is nothing blocking it in front of you as you drive along.


Cloud formations are amazing! They are moving. They have layers upon layers, depth upon depth. And, they are of infinite variety, as the time of day or the weather changes. As I look at that sky, I am filled with a sense of wonder – wonder at God’s creation. Now don’t worry. I can still see the road while seeing the sky. And I still do one of the four things mentioned above. But more and more, I just want to check in on God’s sky, and wonder with it. What do you see in creation that captures your imagination? What leads your soul to awe and wonder?

Now, we go to the second source of revelation – Scripture. The readings for Holy Week take us on a journey from weeping….to wonder. Ponder that with me.

The weeping begins before we ever get to the cross. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus himself weeps over Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. After the arrest of Jesus, Peter denies knowing Jesus three times; when the cock grows, he weeps. As Simon Cyrene carries the cross, behind Jesus, women follow him “wailing.” And in John’s Gospel, when Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb early Sunday morning, the body of Jesus is not there, and she weeps.

The Holy Week story begins in weeping but it does not end there. The discovery of the empty tomb by grieving women turns to wonder. It is a wonder that is both exciting and frightening. Mark’s Gospel is so clear about this. A young man in a white robe at the empty tomb tells the women that Jesus is not here. He has been raised. They are given instructions to, “go tell, he will see you in Galilee.” The women “fled, for terror and amazement had seized them. And they said nothing to nobody, because they were afraid.” Mark’s Gospel ends with that sense of wonder.

But the other gospels take the wonder further. Let’s look at John’s gospel. Mary Magdalene knows the tomb is empty but still she weeps because she fears the body has been stolen. A gardener asks her why she is crying. When she verbalizes her fear, the gardener says her name, “Mary!” She knows at that moment that the gardener is the risen Lord. Mary embraces him; but he won’t let her cling. Jesus has to move on – throughout all the world.

The late theologian, Marcus Borg, puts it so well:

“The tomb could not hold him. He is loose in the world. He is still here. He is still recruiting for the kingdom of God.”

I invite you to wonder about this during these holiest of days. The Risen Savior is on the loose and he knows all our names.

Now, I know this video message is getting long, and you have so much to do to prepare for these Holy Days. But let me bring out one more dimension of weeping and wondering. Don’t worry; I’m bringing this reflection home.

In John’s Gospel, the weeping and the wondering all happen in a garden. In the opening of John’s Gospel, he invites us to reflect on what happened “in the beginning,” in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve – you know the story. Why do they leave the garden? They are banished in shame and tears after the sin of eating the forbidden fruit.

Adam and Eve Banished from Paradise, c.1427 (fresco) (detail) Brancacci Chapel, Santa Maria del Carmine, Florence, Italy

Another garden – Gethsemane – is where Jesus prays on the last night of his life, as the disciples sleep, according to Mathew, Mark and Luke. Why does Jesus leave that Garden? He was “seized” and bound by the Temple police as the disciples deserted him in their fear.

Now to the last garden – the garden that contained the tomb which could not hold Jesus. If the Garden of Eden was the beginning of Creation, this garden is the beginning of the New Creation. If the Garden of Gethsemane was a place where the disciples slept and deserted Jesus, the Garden of the New Creation finds Mary awake – she recognizes the presence of the Risen Christ in the gardener. Jesus does not leave this Garden “seized” and in the hands of the violent – but free to appear anywhere and anytime bringing God’s imagination. Mary does not desert Jesus – she wants to cling to him. She leaves the garden not in shame and fear but with wonder and a mission.

May we leave this Easter with wonder and a mission. May we leave ready to go to those who weep – the poor, the oppressed, the marginalized, the refugees, the addicted, and the people in our everyday lives who are weighed down in burdens – ready to wonder what God’s New Creation might look like for them and for us. May we go forth committed to the New Creation in which our endangered earth demands respect and care. May we go forth waking ourselves up to the wonder of cloud formations and to all the grace that comes into our lives everyday if we but look.

I can’t end this sermon without quoting St. Paul about the difference the Resurrection of Jesus makes in our lives. I know this sermon is getting long but I promise you I’m bringing it home.

All preachers have a “go to” line. After all these years, you know mine is “Jesus’ mission of mercy, compassion and hope.” St. Paul had a “go to” phrase. It was …”but now.” As in Ephesians – “For once you were in darkness, BUT NOW in the Lord you ARE light.” Later in Ephesians: “Before you were far from God, BUT NOW you have been brought near by Christ.” Paul writes “but now” 27 times in his epistles.

The Risen Jesus changes things. He transforms weeping to wonder. You have met Jesus. What is your “but now?” How is your life different in Christ?

Let me offer you some possibilities:

  • I was anxiety ridden. BUT NOW I keep hearing Jesus with his “go to” line: Be Not Afraid. I am with you.
  • I was addicted to (fill in the blank). BUT NOW I have been set free.
  • I used to think of people in stereotypes. BUT NOW I recognize the dignity of every human being.
  • I used to keep whatever I earned. BUT NOW I live generously.
  • I used to complain a lot. BUT NOW I am grateful.
  • I used to be cynical BUT NOW I live in hope.

Easter tells us that Jesus’ mission of mercy, compassion and hope is unkillable. Commit to the Jesus Movement that is out to change the weeping of this world into the wonderful dream God has for it.



Holy Week: Changing Humanity’s Mind About God

Throughout Holy Week, I invite you to see the awesome strength of love unfold in the life of Jesus – a love that is stronger than the violence and the powers of this world, a love that is stronger than death, a love that includes and does not exclude, a love that reconciles and heals, a love that changes the lives of you and me.  Notice too, during this week, how Jesus’ sacrifice is not intended to change God’s mind about humanity. It is about changing humanity’s mind about God.

Palm Sunday — On this day, as Jesus enters Jerusalem humbly on a donkey, Pontius Pilate enters in grand style with his horses and heavily armed troops. Pilate is there to “keep the peace” at a time when the city is overflowing with those who are gathering for the Passover. He will keep that peace by crucifying anyone who might oppose the Roman Empire. Two parades – one offers a new way of living and creating a world of mercy, compassion and hope, and another parade celebrating power for some and oppression for most.

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday — During these days Jesus teaches in the Temple. Perhaps the whole key to the drama of Holy Week and why Jesus becomes so dangerous to the Roman authorities and the Temple leadership lies in the “riot in the Temple.” Many theologians have written insightfully about this event. One book I recommend highly is Rabbi Jesus by Bruce Chilton. The money changers had replaced the area of the Temple where the Gentiles could worship. That is why Jesus screams, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations, but you have made it a den of robbers!” On an even deeper level, Jesus was challenging the whole “sacrificial system” of the Temple which was intended to appease a God who did not need appeasing. It avoided the divine calls of their own prophets down through the centuries who proclaimed, “Is this not the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?”

Maundy Thursday  Could it be at the Last Supper, as Jesus gave away his Body and his Blood, he was bringing about a great escape? Oh yes, Jesus really died the next day, but before Pilate and his executioners killed him, he had already given himself away. Jesus had given himself to us – Body and Blood. His mission would continue to live even as he died because he made us the Body of Christ; we are the ones who continue to do what he did. Pilate could not kill the mission of Jesus.

Good Friday — Theologies of the Cross have many dimensions. One dimension I heard in a sermon by The Rev. John Osgood several years ago. He said “the reason we spend hours and hours praying before the Cross, is to instill in us that when we see the Cross we see suffering. That means when we see suffering, we will see the Cross.” In other words, in the suffering of this world, we will see Christ present. We will see Christ; the one who did not run from the cross but embraced it so there will be no place that is ever God-forsaken.

Easter — Easter is the life changing reality that with God nothing is impossible. As our Presiding Bishop has said “The Resurrection of Jesus Christ is about the eternity of hope.” It is the eternal “Yes!” of God to all that is and will be. Love is stronger than death. This truth – this gift of life that never ends – allows us to live and love in freedom. We open ourselves to new possibilities, to new hope, to new ways of living. And, isn’t that Resurrection – a new way of living?

We can share the resurrection when we ask the hurting people of this world the same question the risen One asked Mary Magdalene: “why are you weeping?”

  • Resurrection begins when we ask immigrants and refugees, “Why are you weeping?”
  • Resurrection begins when we ask the families who have lost loved ones to gun violence, “Why are you weeping?”
  • Resurrection begins when we ask our earth dying of global warming, “Why are you weeping?”
  • Resurrection begins when we ask people of color, “Why are you weeping?”
  • Resurrection begins when we ask transgender persons, “Why are you weeping?”


The Great 50 Days

Remember Easter is not a day but a whole season. It seems to me that we give an ample effort to the holy season of Lent and to the great feast of Christ’s passage from death to new life.  We don’t tend to plan the Easter season with equal energy or passion.  What might mark these days with great joy in your congregation? How might your prayer deepen with gratitude for the mystery of Easter? We can start with Easter 2.

Momentum Sunday

Easter 2 is for the survivors – the remnant who never miss a Eucharist no matter how “high” or “low” the celebration.  What if we kept the momentum of the resurrection in our life together and made Easter 2 a joyful, engaging event?  It’s good liturgy and it’s good for the mission of Christ’s Church, so I encourage you to transform “Low Sunday” into “Momentum Sunday.” Bring the choir back. Keep the liturgy highly spirited. Consider having an adult education class on Sunday morning about the basics of prayer and the varieties of prayer for those who might have come to church on Easter for the first time in a long time.

  • “How to Pray” or “Prayer 101”
  • “The Five Bible Stories Everyone Should Know”
  • “Why the Church Makes a Difference in the World.”

Have ministry tables in the church hall to provide information about the many things your church does. Don’t slow down when the Resurrection invites us all to New Life in Christ. Expect them to return.

My prayers are with all our congregations, with all our ministers – lay and ordained – as we prepare to enact the most sacred mysteries of our faith. Be as certain as I am that we who have died with Christ will be raised with him in glory. This is our faith. This is our most precious truth.


Sad News from Kumasi, Ghana

March 27, 2017


My friends,
It is with great sadness that I inform you of the sudden death of Maggie Addai, Superintendent of the Mampong Babies’ Home, Kumasi, Ghana. Maggie collapsed at the dinner celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Babies’ Home. This terrible shock leaves family, friends and co-workers lost in grief and longing for God’s peace. I know you will pray for them. I know the bond we have with the Church in Ghana is strong. I know you will continue to support the babies who will never know Maggie’s love and care.


 In Proverbs we hear about the “virtuous woman.” Maggie’s spiritual and professional leadership of the Babies’ Home is echoed in this biblical description.


She opens her hand to the poor,
and reaches out her hands to the needy.

She opens her mouth with wisdom,
and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household,
and does not eat the bread of idleness.

Proverbs 31: 20, 26-27

Mission to Ghana in 2016: Sue Schneider, Annie Ryder, Dindy Dalton Anderson, Bishop Sarfo, Collen Fisher, Maggie and Susan Franz.

Maggie is a saint in our time – a tireless, faith-filled servant of the Word of God. Those of you who knew her, because of your mission visits or generous fund-raising, know that she was special – that Maggie was responding to a call from God. The Rev. Annie Ryder, her mission companion and dear friend for many years, recognized that Maggie was blessed by God for this work. “I have never known anyone who was as faithful in prayer, as certain of God’s will in her life, and as generous with her time as was Maggie.  She gave all the credit for her amazing works to the Glory of God.”

Maggie with John Miller and Annie during her visit to the US in 2015.

Deacon Jane Griesbach and the Rev. Betsy Fowle on mission at the Babies’ Home.

The Rev. Betsy Fisher, Maggie and me at a welcome party hosted by Christ Trinity Church, Sheffield.

We will never forget Maggie’s work for God’s children, the depth of her faith, nor the way we felt in her presence. Today, we join the people of Kumasi as we say, “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all (Proverbs 31:29).”