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

Gratitude: the posture of the Christian life.

6th century icon, Sinai

 

Gratitude is the posture of the Christian life. Because of Jesus – because of all he did and said and what he was willing to die for – we know the infinite depths of God’s love for us. We know that whatever happens, the risen Lord is walking with us toward a world transformed by love and justice. So, as Thanksgiving approaches, I wonder how this elemental gratitude can inform my experience of our chaotic world, how I can keep watching the news and still say, “Thank you, God.”

It is complex, isn’t it? We have so much for which to be thankful, but we are weighed down by fear.

Talk of nuclear weapons at the ready, regular mass shootings, scandals in leadership, the abuse of power and the sexual violation of women – it’s more than any one of us can carry. I know that I carry these concerns with the Church – with God’s people – and we carry them to God in prayer. I know that when I participate in some good work like a veterans’ lunch or speak at the Islamic Society or celebrate at “Church Without Walls”, I know the Body of Christ is in motion toward the dream God has for us.

(Left-right: veterans’ lunch, St. Paul’s, Holyoke; walking Pioneer Valley with Respected Wissam Abdul Baki, imam of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts; baptizing members of “Church Without Walls,” Springfield)

Our family Thanksgiving is redolent with tradition – special foods, fine wine, the gathering of dear ones at table. This very American celebration reminds me of Isaiah’s prophecy:

Isaiah 25:6-8 

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
    of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.
And he will destroy on this mountain
    the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
    the sheet that is spread over all nations;
    he will swallow up death forever.
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
    and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
    for the Lord has spoken.

We believe this day is coming. We believe that what we do matters. Soon, we will begin a new liturgical year and celebrate the Advent of the Lord. This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for our faith. I am grateful for the Word of God that calls us to prayer and action. I am grateful for God’s faithful people praying and doing no matter what the headlines say, no matter the hashtag of the moment. I am grateful that we all follow Jesus in his mission of mercy, compassion and hope.

+Doug

Bishop Fisher: Why We Kneel

Pilgrims kneel at the site of the murder of Jonathan Daniels, during the 2015 remembrance of his martyrdom in Alabama. Photo: Montgomery Advisor

For those who are able, while some of us pray standing, sitting or lying down. 

We kneel…

To pray in gratitude for God’s abundant blessings – for that which goes beyond what we can ask or imagine.

To pray for forgiveness for things “done” and “left undone” – our failure to love, to forgive, to serve, our hypocrisy, our exploitation of human beings, our greed, our dishonesty, and our spiritual laziness (BCP, Ash Wednesday). 

To pray for those who “work or watch or weep this night (BCP, Compline).”

To pray in repentance for the sin of racism.

To pray in repentance for our abuse of creation.

To pray for refugees and for the generosity to help them.

To pray for the victims of hurricane and earthquake.

To pray for those who mourn, for all who have died, and entered the glory of God.

To pray for those in need of medical care and for those responsible for legislating healthcare.

To pray for all who serve our country, and work for peace.

To pray for educators and health care workers.

To pray for wisdom for our government leaders.

To pray for Jesus’ Mission of Mercy, Compassion and Hope.

To witness to the presence of the Spirit in our midst.

To proclaim the transforming reality of God’s kingdom.

That is why we kneel.