Tag: social justice

Following Jesus is Anything But Tranquil

Throughout this liturgical year the Sunday gospel has been from Mark. One of the passages we skipped is Mark 6:1-14. In this passage Jesus preaches in the synagogue of his hometown of Nazareth after teaching and performing miracles in many other places. Many are “astounded.” “Where is he getting all this wisdom? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!” Then we hear, “And they took offense at him.” Why would they take offense at that?

Photo of Mount Precipice, Nazareth, Israel by Connor Ellsworth @unsplash

Maybe we skip it as a Sunday Gospel because there is a very similar story in Luke that is on the liturgical calendar in another year. It is also the story of the first time Jesus taught in the Nazareth synagogue. Jesus stands up to read and chooses a passage from Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.”

Like the astonished people in Mark, “all spoke well of him and were amazed.” Jesus tells them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Their reaction was more than taking offense. They tried to throw him off a cliff.

This incongruent response makes we think of one of my favorite prayers. It appears several times in The Book of Common Prayer, including the Easter Vigil and at ordinations.

“O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working out of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

The Book of Common Prayer 1979 p. 291

I still love that prayer, but when I put it next to the experience of Jesus in his hometown synagogue, there is a glaring contradiction. We ask God to help us, “carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation.” The response to Jesus was anything but tranquil. Indeed, when Jesus could have chosen “tranquility” he chose the cross.

Michael Curry reminds us who we are. “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.” And when we, as humble sinners, name the nightmares and work for change, it is not work carried out in tranquility. In my experience, when we address the public health crisis of gun violence, it is not met with tranquility. Nor are the other pressing issues of our day which include climate change, systematic racism, immigration, income inequality, and more.

The change Jesus brings about in the world upsets the status quo. It creates turbulence. That turbulence may never be violent for followers of Jesus. Using our voices for advocacy, “praying with our feet” in the streets, praying the truth of injustice in our worship – this is how “things (and people) cast down are raised up.”

The monk Thomas Merton writes, “The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.” Jesus gave us a vision of the Kingdom of God: a world of mercy, compassion and hope. As followers of Jesus, we humbly engage this world. We use the power of love (not the love of power) to reshape the world to be all God intends it to be – even if this work cannot be done “in tranquility.”

But what if I’m misinterpreting this prayer? Maybe the tranquility is not an outward tranquility but an inner tranquility. I know many people who are working to move us from the nightmare to the dream who have an inner peace. It comes from knowing they are following the way of love, which includes love for those with different opinions, and who make different choices. Jesus says the kingdom is “within” us. And he loved those who “took offense” at him – even the ones who tried to throw him off a cliff.

God’s power is unchangeable, and through Christ, it courses through the Church. It has never been easy to follow Jesus. There are dangerous cliffs to avoid and systems to unsettle. May we remain steadfast in the tranquility that comes from God’s abiding presence. May we each, with the Church, do our part for the plan of salvation.

+Doug

Would Jesus get away with the Lord’s Prayer in Congress?

With many of you, I am following with interest the controversy surrounding the Chaplain to the House of Representatives, Patrick Conroy S.J. I’m reflecting on it from the viewpoint of someone who was a “guest chaplain” for a day on September 22, 2010. The Congressman from my district (the 22nd in New York) Scott Murphy nominated me for this honor.

The Rev. Doug Fisher, Fr. Daniel Coughlin, and Congressman Scott Murphy, NY.

The Chaplain at that time was Fr. Daniel Coughlin, a Roman Catholic priest. He was warmly hospitable to Betsy and me. Before my prayer, which would open the day in the House, Father Dan took us on a tour. When we arrived at the Chapel, knowing Betsy is also a priest, he asked her to say a prayer for us in that sacred space.

Doug and Betsy in DC.

In 2010 our nation was still in the throes of the recession caused by the 2008 crash. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were still raging. And, like now, immigration was hotly debated. In trying to offer a  prayer that was more than generic, I wanted to include the unemployed, immigrants and those serving in our Armed Forces. Here is the prayer in full:

Father Conroy seems to be in trouble with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan for a prayer he gave in October 2018 as the new tax laws were being debated. In that prayer Conroy asked for God’s blessing, and urged lawmakers to “guarantee that there are not winners and losers under the new tax laws, but benefits balanced and shared by all Americans.” After that prayer, Conroy recalls Ryan saying “Padre, you just got to stay out of politics.” Conroy believes that this prayer, and a desire to have an Evangelical chaplain who might be more conservative politically than a Jesuit, were the causes of the request for his resignation (which he gave and then rescinded).

The Rev. Patrick Conroy, SJ Chaplain, US House of Representatives Photo: CBS News

I would argue that my prayer, and that of Father Conroy, stand in a tradition of prayer that is incarnational – praying with a God who “dwells among us.” The Psalmists and Jesus prayed in this way. Their prayers were not abstract. Their prayers were not disembodied.

Consider the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name.” So far, that prayer would be OK in Congress. But then it gets political. “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread.” In heaven there are no “winners and losers” so it should be that way here too. Jesus is calling for a kingdom where all are fed. Would Jesus get away with saying that in Congress?

At the Continental Congress in 1774, there was a contentious debate over prayer. The decision was to allow it.

First prayer at the 1774 Continental Congress

The Rev. Jacob Duche, an Episcopalian, prayed, “Take them (American states) under Thy nurturing care…detest the malicious designs of our cruel adversaries; convince them of the unrighteousness off their cause.” With that prayer ringing in their ears, the 1789 Constitutional Congress declared that every day they were in session would be opened in prayer. It has been that way ever since.

As one commentator on the Conroy controversy put it: “Taking care of the poor and standing against injustice is part of his (Conroy’s) sacred creed.” I think our elected leaders need to hear that creed. I do. Every day. Do you?

+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

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

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.

+Doug