Blessing of Journalists: The truth will set us free.

Below is the text of Bishop Fisher’s exhortation given today at the Blessing of Journalists at Christ Church Cathedral.

Henry Luce wrote “I became a journalist to come as close as possible to the heart of the world.” That sounds like a calling of religious magnitude.

I have been asked “why a blessing of journalists?” Well that goes to the nature of blessing. Blessing is both an appreciation and a commitment.

Those blessed “are” a blessing. You are a blessing to our democracy and essential to our common life. As Thomas Jefferson said:

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost. Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the later.”

In our own time, Senator John McCain:

“If you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free AND many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid we would lose much of our individual liberties overtime.”

A videographer from a local television station listening to a reading.

You are a blessing because you tell the stories of the poor, the abused, the underrepresented, and the oppressed. These are the people that Jesus and the Prophets raised up. And you do too. Thank you for telling the stories of Dreamers. Thank you for giving voice to those teenagers in Parkland Florida who demanding changes to our grossly inadequate gun laws. I am grateful to you for giving voice to the earth, which is so vulnerable to climate change. This is holy work. Thank you for speaking truth to power.

Bishop Fisher giving his exhortation. Deacon Linda Taupier, far right.

You are a blessing because you help build community. From small town newspapers to big city daily papers to radio and television and news streams on the Internet, you have the power to gather people in ways small and large. Churches do that but it does not need to be a church service that brings people out of isolation into community.

The Rev. Lauren Holm, pastor of Bethesda Lutheran Church, Springfield, reads words from Pope Francis on journalism.

And you are a blessing because you are an inspiration. I was in high school during the Watergate years and several of my classmates went into journalism because they were inspired by the journalists of that time. Many have compared this era to Watergate. Right now young people are watching you and wondering if they too are called.

Mr. John Cheek of Grace in the Berkshires, sings, “There is a Balm in Gilead.” Accompaniment by Scott Bailley, Music Director, Episcopal Church of the Atonement.

Blessing is an appreciation and it is also a commitment. It is not another “our prayers and thoughts are with you.” Prayer is a prelude to action.

One of those aforementioned high school friends of mine who went into journalism wrote this to me: “We all need blessings in this time when curiosity about others, truth and compassion are under daily assault.”

(Left-right) Dean Tom Callard, June Watson, Bishop Fisher.

My own Communications Director, Vicki Ix, who is in frequent communication with many of you, thinks of this time like the days of Noah. “It feels to me as if a storm is coming and we are building an ark. People of faith and journalists share fundamental values that may be critical in the days ahead.”

Journalists, you are a blessing. And people of faith bless you with our commitment, because the one we follow said “The truth will set you free.” And with you, we want to come “as close as possible to the heart of the world.” Amen.

+Doug

What I long to know.

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abiliene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.” Luke 3:1

In the second year of the Presidency of Donald Trump, when Paul Ryan is Speaker of the House, and seventeen students and teachers are killed in Stoneman Douglas High School, and AR-15’s are bought legally, and the NRA contributes millions a year to buy votes, and there have been 1607 mass shootings since Sandy Hook, what is the word of God saying to the Church in the wilderness?

+Doug

 

In God’s eyes everyone counts: 2020 census

“The Census at Bethlehem,” oil on panel, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1566

In 2020 the United States government will undertake a census of the people. There is a lot at stake in the census, but the most important thing for us to remember is that federal funds will be allocated for ten years based on this census. When the numbers are inaccurate, the funding is inadequate. One of the reasons for an inaccurate count is that there are human beings living on the margins who do not get counted: people experiencing homelessness, the elderly poor, veterans with PTSD, those suffering from addiction or fleeing domestic abuse. Churches – ours included – can help support the work of the census because many of these people are part of our lives.

In Western Massachusetts we have significant engagement with the poor and elderly through our “outdoor cathedrals” in Pittsfield, Greenfield, Northampton and Springfield. We also serve lunches to military veterans in eight locations. And “Walking Together,” a storefront ministry in the challenged neighborhood of Main South in Worcester, offers a welcoming space for 12 Step support, and community programming.

My church leaders in these areas tell me “couch surfing” is the biggest reason that the poor go uncounted – staying with friends and relatives for a short period of time and then moving on. This is especially true when the count is done in the winter. The Rev. Jenny Gregg, who leads the outdoor ministry Cathedral of the Beloved in Pittsfield, told me many individual stories of people who would share space with a friend in rented apartments and then would be forced to leave when the landlord found out about the arrangement. She also reports that many feel unsafe in the shelters because the shelters are underfunded and have too few staff .

“Friends of the Homeless” had 1000+ individuals sleeping in their facilities in 2017. They have a marginal number of beds compared to the number of people needing beds. In some facilities there are as many as 20 people a night sleeping on the floor.

My deacon at Springfield’s “Church Without Walls” says the “tent cities” in Springfield are constantly shifting locations.

Although much of our work is in urban areas, there is tremendous need in the rural areas. Studies show the average weekly wage in the “hill towns” is 43% of the state average. And the poverty rate for young children is 23% in Greenfield, 22% in Ware and 39% in Montague. The Berkshires is aging faster than the rest of the commonwealth and many struggle with rising health care costs and transportation.

There are good people already preparing to make this census comprehensive. The Census Equity Fund has a plan for making 2020 a census that reflects the needs of all the people in the Commonwealth. The Episcopal Church stands ready and willing to help count all of our neighbors. We are blessed with several strong ecumenical partners and we will work with other churches in this effort. We will do this because in God’s eyes everyone counts.

+Doug

DACA + TPS = community over chaos

A few weeks ago, Bishop Alan Gates of the Diocese of Massachusetts and I signed an Amicus Brief on behalf of our dioceses joining 85 other religious organizations in support of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Yesterday Alan and I joined with Episcopal City Mission in supporting Centro Presente in a witness at Boston City Hall. We heard from immigrants here in this country through Temporary Protection Status (TPS) and from their children.

The Rev. Arrington Chambliss, Executive Director of Episcopal City Mission, Bishop Fisher, Bishop Alan Gates of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts. Photo: D. Fisher

These are two separate political issues relating to immigration, but my participation in both is rooted in one theology. Biblical imperatives about welcoming the stranger abound throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Here are just a few:

When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God (Leviticus 19: 33-34).

If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you (Leviticus 25:35).

You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt (Exodus 23:9).

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me (Matthew 25:35).

Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God (Romans 15:7).

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares (Hebrews 13:1-2).

At a prayer service before going to City Hall, Natalie Finstad of Episcopal City Mission described a key aspect of the early Church as she understands it from the book Transforming Mission by David Bosch.

“The nature of the early Christian mission manifested itself from the new relationship that came into being in community. Jew and Roman, Greek and barbarian, free and slave, rich and poor, woman and man, accepted one another as brothers and sisters. It was a movement without analogy, indeed a ‘sociological impossibility.’ Small wonder that the Christian community caused so much astonishment in the Roman Empire and beyond. In fact, the Christian community and its faith was so different from anything known in the ancient world that it often made no sense to others.”

Community. At City Hall, Mayor Marty Walsh took up that theme.

“They (immigrants here through TPS) are our neighbors and coworkers. They’re members of our faith community. They own homes and businesses. Taking this protection away these young people and family members will not make our community safer. To the contrary, it’s going to introduce chaos.”  (Cristela Guerra for The Boston Globe)

Chaos. Ten-year-old Gabriela Martinez of Leominster contrasted her dreams with chaos. She told the crowd that she wants to teach English as a second language to help immigrant families. She said that she doesn’t want to see families destroyed or divided. “In order to accomplish our dreams, our parents and family need residency, not just TPS,” the fifth-grader said. (Boston Globe)

Much of recent theological reflection has centered on finding out what God is up to in the world. We have a dynamic God, a community of divine Love always active, and not confined by, the church’s walls. I see God acting in the work of Amy Grunder, Director of Legislative Affairs for the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA). We had a long conversation in which she said she needs more allies in Western and Central Massachusetts. I see God acting in the testimony of Centro Presente and in the support of Episcopal City Mission and continuing collaboration of our two Episcopal dioceses. And, I see God at work in our Church, The Episcopal Public Policy Network is following these legislative developments closely and provides us with everything we need to advocate.

Protect Immigrant Youth: Support the Dream Act

Defend TPS

 

Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has given us a working definition for the 21st century. “We are 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.” Some of the change will come about if we resist the forces of chaos and become the community God intends for us to be.

+Doug

Tweet the reign of Jesus

Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for liberty.  — Thomas Jefferson

President Donald Trump re-tweeted three videos from the far-right group, Britain First. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, reacted quickly and critically.

“It is deeply disturbing that the President of the United States has chosen to amplify the voice of far-right extremists. Britain First seeks to divide communities and intimidate minorities.”

This has been another big week for our President on Twitter. He has attacked other politicians, NBC, CNN, and implied Joe Scarborough was involved in a murder.

Presidents have always used the communication tools of their times to tell us what is important to them.

The speeches of the earliest presidents were published in newspapers. That was true for Abraham Lincoln and he also used the telegraph. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was famous for his weekly “fireside chats” on the radio. (Calvin Coolidge was actually the first President to address the nation on radio.) Harry Truman was the first to use television. Ronald Reagan brought back weekly radio broadcasts. Barack Obama did short videos designed for the Internet.

It is obvious the current president’s preferred mode of communication is Twitter.

At first I dismissed his Twitter rants as nonsense. Pay attention to what he actually does, like gutting the Environmental Protection Agency, I thought. But I realize now that the President wants us to take his tweets seriously. This is his mode of communication to our nation. I have changed my mind. Like the Archbishop of Canterbury, I will see these tweets as an expression of the President’s values, his intentions and his state of mind.

In my preaching, writing and prayer I keep coming back to the first verse in the third chapter of Luke’s Gospel.

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”

May it be said many years from now,  “In the first year of the Trump Presidency, the word of God came to the Church in the wilderness.”

May it be said that we proclaimed the reign of Jesus’ mercy, compassion and hope.

Let’s Tweet that.

+Doug