Darren Main, who teaches Yoga on the Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral, recently interviewed me for his podcast. Please give it a listen.
Darren Main, who teaches Yoga on the Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral, recently interviewed me for his podcast. Please give it a listen.
Let us pray for the people of Ferguson, Missouri, especially for those who knew and loved Michael Brown. Let us not pray at a distance, though, and let us not stop praying as soon as the violence is stilled, for behind and below the violence is never-going-away inequality for black people.
As Stephen Gandel pointed out, writing in Fortune about the unrest in Ferguson, “The unemployment rate for African Americans in the nearby county of St. Louis City was 26% in 2012, according to the Census Department’s latest available stats on employment and race in the area. For white Americans, the unemployment rate was just 6.2%.” This is the largest gap in employment for any American city, according to the Census.
We in the Bay Area know about income inequality and its negative effects, too. Extreme income inequality is a shaping force to our daily lives here. As Alan Berube of the Brookings Institute wrote,
Inequality may be the result of global economic forces, but it matters in a local sense. A city where the rich are very rich, and the poor very poor, is likely to face many difficulties. It may struggle to maintain mixed-income school environments that produce better outcomes for low-income kids. It may have too narrow a tax base from which to sustainably raise the revenues necessary for essential city services. And it may fail to produce housing and neighborhoods accessible to middle-class workers and families, so that those who move up or down the income ladder ultimately have no choice but to move out.
To pray for Ferguson, Missouri, is to pray for us and them. Like those early friends and followers of Jesus of Nazareth, I have to ask how I should pray now. This question — how to pray — seems to have been a persistent one for the sincere people who followed Jesus. Jesus answered the questions his friends asked about praying in several ways, most famously by giving them the model of prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer.
But once he told a little story about prayer, he only tells this little story about prayer in Luke’s Gospel. It goes like this:
In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.”
Our prayers for Ferguson, Missouri, can and should start with our own actions here in the Bay Area.
Dear People of God in the Diocese of California,
I write you an Easter message this year on Holy Saturday, the moment we stop and pause, feel the losses in our own lives, in the lives of those we love, and the losses in the world. The picture on the front page of the New York Times this morning is of a grief-ravaged relative of one of the teenagers who was lost in the Korean ferry disaster — her solid, unrelieved grief is what we touch on Holy Saturday, as a small group of friends, followers and students of Jesus of Nazareth are enmired in the fresh experience of his horrific execution.
What I want to say to you all is that I see so many ways that Episcopalians in the Bay Area live true to the light of Jesus’ resurrection and to the night of pain from which this resurrection emerges. You give yourselves unstintingly to the relief of poverty, pain, suffering and loss in our communities.
On Maundy Thursday I was privileged to be part of a foot-washing ceremony for undocumented immigrants at St. John the Evangelist in the Mission District of San Francisco. The congregation and vicar had done a beautiful job of making the large community that gathered from the area welcome, and making the space where these DREAMers and other immigrants would be accorded the dignity of having their feet washed beautiful. I will share with you the reflection of one young adult who attended the ceremony, a young person who has been raised as an Episcopalian:
I just want to send a note of gratitude for inviting me to the foot washing service at St. John the Evangelist yesterday. You might not have seen me as I was sitting in the back, taking everything in. It has been a little while since being immersed in a community of faith as I was at St. John’s, and the combination of the community and the focused attention on the pressing moral issue of deportation brought up some deep emotions for me. I wanted to say hello after it was all over, but I had an overwhelming impulse to go for a contemplative walk through the Mission. Yesterday was quite the day of reflection.
The dedicated action of the people of St. John the Evangelist and the inner reflection of this young adult are both evocative of the spirit of this diocese that doesn’t only rejoice in the new life we’ve been given in Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, but remembers the pain of those who suffer in the world, those for whom Jesus was willing to suffer and die. I extend my gratitude and thanks and respect to you all.
May God bless you all with the transforming love of Christ.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has made public statements that reveal at best a lamentable naiveté and at worst both homophobia and colonial thinking. Archbishop Justin Welby has claimed that the Church of England — if it marries gay and lesbian people in England — is responsible for the deaths of homosexuals in Africa.
The archbishop was shown the mass grave of Christians from a village in Africa, killed, he was told because their neighbors did not want to become gay by association with people whose religion supported rights for LGBT people. It is clear that the archbishop was shocked by the brutality behind this mass murder and the very scale of the killing. I too am overwhelmed by it. In the face of tragedies larger than a human can take in, I think we often go to answers and solutions that we know, that are familiar. Here, I think the archbishop fell back on a solution that was already unjust, but familiar to him: retrench around marriage as only between a woman and a man. Don’t inflame violent people further.
Welby’s argument is parallel to saying that the segregation laws in the United States that obtained until the mid-60s and the disenfranchisement of women in the United States until the 20th Century should have both been continued if someone claimed that blacks and women in other countries would be endangered by moves towards greater justice here.
In a very simple world, with very few variables perhaps we could credit archbishop Welby’s reasoning. If the only factor in the safety of African LGBT people was the maintenance of unjust laws in England and the United States, I hope we would all pause to absorb this and see what could be done about it. But our world is an exceedingly complex place and the archbishop’s simplistic logic only privileges the colonial power position Great Britain once held with respect to her now-vanished empire — the Africans pay close attention to everything the center of the empire thinks and does.
Instead, Africa is a continent of countries, each with its own history apart from and intertwined with former European empire masters. Surely there are at least as many factors at work within Africa itself influencing the safety of LGBT people (and Christians in general, as Welby argues) that counterbalance whatever focus Africans may have on England.
The archbishop could be helpfully involved in Africa on behalf of the safety of vulnerable LGBT people if he wished to be, and in ways that did not continue the oppression of LGBT people in the United Kingdom. He could support the ministry of retired Bishop Christopher Senyonjo in Uganda, a courageous and nearly lone voice in the religious leadership of that country. Archbishop Welby could speak clearly to the Churches in Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria among others about their open support of legislation that criminalizes even the very being of LGBT people.
If I am right and empire thinking underlies the archbishop’s remarks, his proposed way forward — continue to oppress LGBT people in the UK — will fail to keep Africans safe for this reason: if Africa is watching the UK as closely as the archbishop would have us all believe, then they will not miss that the spiritual head of the Anglican Communion is on the side of continued second-class citizenship for LGBT people.
Twice in the hour-long phone-in program in which the archbishop made his remarks, Archbishop Welby used the modifier “incredibly” to describe how the Church must attend to the witness of the LGBT community — listen incredibly carefully and be incredibly conscious. To remember a great line from The Princess Bride, I’m not sure the archbishop knows what incredible attentiveness means.
We should remember that the archbishop has made his views on same-gender marriage clear. In an address to the House of Lords he reiterated, as he did in the radio interview most recently that marriage is a sacred institution reserved for heterosexuals. In fact, in this most recent interview the Guardian wrote that the archbishop did not want LGBT people to be treated with any greater severity than adulterous heterosexuals are treated. The core idea here if anyone cares to look closely is that same-gender relationships are sinful.
Today, local media in the diocese I serve showed one of my priests — a partnered, gay man — being led away by law enforcement officers for an act of civil disobedience on behalf of immigrants in danger of deportation. Such acts on the side of justice are, I’m happy to say, commonplace in this diocese, done all the time by gay and straight folks. Faithful, rather than sinful seems a better word to describe this priest and the many like him here.
Archbishop Welby asserts that marriage should be only between a man and a woman, and says that scripture supports his position. I would hope for a better reader of scripture in the spiritual head of our Church. Let me point to this coming Sunday’s gospel, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, in the Gospel of John as a good place to look for guidance on the issue of the safety of Christians, both straight and LGBT in Africa and elsewhere.
Jesus is so deeply moved — by the death of his friend, by the oppression of his people, by the suffering of the world — that he risks everything to go to the cave where Lazarus is buried to raise him back to life. Thomas says, “Let us go with him and die.” In order to raise Lazarus from the dead Jesus has to go right into the turbulent political waters in and around Jerusalem, where his life is danger, and where he will shortly be betrayed, tortured and killed.
This courage and compassion should be my guide, and I suggest our guide as we identify with Christ, as Christians. There are other scripture passages that might point us to how to view the question of same-gender marriage; the raising of Lazarus from the dead gives us guidance on how we should act when we confront injustice, evil and sin.
In the extraordinary series of text-less paintings of Old and New Testament stories that form a part of the St. Alban’s Psalter, there is one scene, and one only that is not from the Bible. In the midst of the Visit of the Magi, the Last Supper, the Death of Jesus, the Harrowing of Hell and other Bible stories, we are startled to find one scene from the life of a 4th Century saint, Martin of Tours.
What explains this singular inclusion of the life of a Christian saint in the other biblical stories illustrated in the St. Alban’s Psalter? Behind this question lies another: Why was St. Martin so popular throughout Europe? There are over 400 Medieval churches in Europe named for this now somewhat obscure saint. Martin was the patron saint of France for centuries, and monastery he founded in the French city of Tours, where he served as bishop lasted from the 4th Century to the French Revolution, a remarkable 1,400 years.
The scene depicted in the St. Alban’s Psalter, taken from the Life of St. Martin, provides a clue as to the saint’s great popularity. While there are many memorable scenes from St. Martin’s life in his biography, the overwhelmingly popular one is the one illustrated in the St. Alban’s Psalter – Martin dividing his Roman officer’s cloak to clothe a naked beggar.
The text of St. Martin’s biography has Martin on foot, on the same plane as the beggar (and the scene takes place in a bitter winter, emphasizing not only the poverty of the beggar but his actual peril). The illustration in the Psalter, however, and every illustration or sculpture of the scene I have ever found puts Martin on a horse, which sharpens the contrast between the status of the two men.
In the illustration, there is another part of the story, illustrated by being place above the actual sharing of the cloak. Martin is asleep, and in a dream he sees Christ wearing the half of the cloak he had given to the beggar. Christ declares to the heavenly onlookers that Martin, who had not yet officially become a Christian, was nevertheless a true follower of his.
St. Martin is included in among the Bible stories in the St. Alban’s Psalter because his acts of charity showed that the spirit of the those who knew Jesus the Christ, or those who were earlier followers of what was then called the Way lived on in the later centuries of Christianity. What Martin did in the 4th Century was one with what the disciples and apostles did around the life of Jesus. Their actions showed that heaven was breaking forth in the midst of cultures and societies that were in opposition to the reality of Christ. With Martin, the viewer is assured that Christ is alive and continuing to convert the world.
Can people see the living Christ in our actions, as people saw Christ in the actions of St. Martin?
Liturgy is more than “the work of the people.” Rather than being primarily our action, liturgy can be a structure that expresses the limits of what we understand about God, into which we pray that God will send the divine energies to take us beyond the structures of liturgy, beyond the limits of our imagination, into the transformation of life.
We adjust liturgy, shape liturgy, create liturgy in order to express the intimations of the reality of God that we receive by reading the Books of Scripture and of Nature.
Since Lynn White’s explosive article, The Historical Roots of our Ecological Christ, which pinned the current sorry state of relations on our neglect of our home, we have learned more and more about what our responsibility to the Earth is. The essential point is that we and our Earth home are inextricably bound together and the dislocations and destruction that attend climate change have made this clearer to us — this is what is meant by reading the Book of Nature.
The insights we are gaining through living in the midst of this momentous change in the planet have caused us to read our scriptures in new ways, or renewed ways. We are seeing the interconnectivity between humanity and the Earth that is the background of the biblical narratives. We see that the Earth and all its creatures are related to God themselves, that it is not just humanity that relates to God. So, once again the Book of Scripture is illuminating a new path for us.
For several years I have inserted a little phrase into the Baptismal Covenant because I believe that it expresses an emerging understanding of God and the world God made and sustains. In the last question of the Baptismal Covenant, this is what I ask: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of the Earth and of every human being?”
Now we are taking another step, creating a bigger liturgical container for our ecological awareness to be transformed by God’s action. The May 10, 2014 General Confirmation will be our first-ever Eco-Confirmation. It will be held at St. Dorothy’s Rest, in West Sonoma County at 9:30 AM, just before the Woods to Waves St. Dorothy’s fundraiser, which supports the amazing hospital camps at St. Dorothy’s every summer.
This is a great opportunity for those who wish to be confirmed or received who feel that making the broader commitment to seek justice and peace and offer the gift of respect to all of creation, not only to the human race.
It is also particularly apt as a moment when all of you who are already devoting yourselves to earth care and eco-justice might reaffirm your baptismal vows. I particularly encourage all of you in congregations doing incredibly important and committed work in environmental ministries to come on May 10 and reaffirm you baptismal promises in a new and larger context.
This compact picture of the Last Supper is filled with a powerful view of God’s love for the Cosmos in Jesus Christ.
On the left-hand side of the picture we see the Beloved Disciple, leaning against Jesus, listening to the very heartbeat of Jesus’ life. At the same time, Jesus stretches out his left hand to offer some of the meal to Judas, who will then immediately go out into the night to betray Jesus to the authorities who will then torture and kill him.
Both of these aspects of the picture, the reclining of the Beloved Disciple on the breast of Jesus and the betrayal by Judas after receiving the morsel from Jesus come from the narrative in the Gospel of John. The way John’s Gospel tells the story, the handing of the morsel to a disciple points out who the betrayer is. But the artist in the St. Alban’s Psalter has gone much deeper than a simple trick of clairvoyance.
Notice Jesus’ right hand: it is held up in blessing, a blessing that includes his beloved friend, whom we identify as John, and Judas, and all those seated at the table with him. By extension, we are meant to understand that God in Christ blesses all – all the people of the world, the world itself, and the universe that contains it. This blessing is irrespective of the worthiness of anyone to receive it.
But look at Judas, how miserable he seems. The piece of bread Jesus hands to him is, in other gospel narratives declared to be Jesus’ body; that is, he has invested himself in it, and in receiving it Judas receives him – Jesus is handing himself over to Judas in this morsel of bread, a foreshadowing of the betrayal that will happen in the same night.
So, while Jesus blesses Judas along with John and the other disciples, and all of us, there is a warning in the picture as well: taking the Body of Christ is not only a blessing but a responsibility. We are each responsible for maintaining the health of the sphere of relationships in which we live. When those relationships are violated we have the responsibility of repairing them.
We take heart, though, for that right hand is forever raised in blessing. The love of God is eternal, and the failing of Judas (and our failings) are temporal. Eternal love continues to provide the opportunities for reconciliation and restoration, forever.
The curatorial notes on the St. Alban’s Psalter illumination, The Harrowing of Hell, point out that the image of the demon in the lower right corner of the picture, just inside the gaping jaws of Hell, has been rubbed out by a reader of the Psalter in earlier centuries. There are other illustrations in the Psalter where the eyes of Jesus’ tormenters during his passion have been poked out with tiny pins.
This points to a spirituality that is foreign to most of us: First, the image has life in it, the characters and the story itself are full of vitality and character. This quality of active spiritual presence connects these English images with the icons of the Christian East. The people in these images are subjects, not objects.
Secondly, and perhaps more interestingly and importantly the readers who took action against the beings threatening Jesus believed that Jesus needed their help, and that they could indeed help their Brother Jesus.
What do you think and feel about these two ideas, the inherent vitality of sacred images, and the idea of a Savior who is so mutually related to us that love, support, help, and healing flow both ways, between believer and Christ?
The Province 8 House of Bishops had a rare opportunity to view the St. Alban’s Psalter at the Getty Library yesterday (January 9). The Psalter is a superb and unique work of medieval art and devotion. It was produced in England in the years following the Norman Conquest. The Psalter has one section which narrates the holy story contained in the Bible, scenes from the Old Testament and the Gospels, without any intervening text — a purely graphic narration.
The Psalter has been unbound for restoration and curation purposes, and will be rebound soon after leaving the Getty in February. Thus, viewing it as we were able to do is not an opportunity that will offered us again in our lifetimes.
The images in the Psalter are great art, seen individually, and together comprise a high achievement of spiritual and artistic expression. In my blog I’m going to show you some of these images and offer some meditations on their spiritual meaning.
The first image from the Psalter for us to look at is the Expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.
The seraph who will guard the garden to prevent humanity’s return stands on the left of the picture. On the right are Adam and Eve, each carrying a symbol of the work that will mark the rest of their lives — Adam a hoe and Eve a spindle. No longer children in the Garden, they will toil and sweat and bear the responsibilities of adulthood and the consequences of their choices.
Adam holds his right hand up, perhaps in dismay at what God is telling them. Eve looks forward, and points to the wide world, the new home of humanity. No longer will they be in a walled garden, protected, but also contained.
God stands in the middle of the picture, turned towards Adam and Eve. God’s right hand is lifted, the index finger extended upward and toward the pair of people — it is a sign in this style of graphic narration that he is speaking. God is delivering the news that startles the listening Adam — the Garden is no longer your home and you may not return.
The interpretive signage at the Getty says that God’s left hand is pushing Adam forward and away, but is that so? It looks more to me like reassurance. Something most precious is lost in the expulsion from the Garden, and that is unbroken intimacy with God. But God is saying, with a comforting hand on Adam’s shoulder that while the conditions of adult human life are greatly different from the sweet, dependent life in the Garden, that God is still with us. We might feel this kinder interpretation strengthened by noting that the artist has carefully clothed Adam and Eve in the hides that Genesis said were provided by God.
Now, in the world to which Eve is already pointing the pair, her eyes turned forward following the direction of her pointing finger, our relationship with God is like adult life in general – it is something we must choose, desire, and cultivate. The good news is that God is waiting for us to make that choice and bend our will in the direction of the loving Divine.
Why don't you think of him as the one who is coming, who has been approaching from all eternity, the one who will someday arrive, the ultimate fruit of a tree whose leaves we are? What keeps you from projecting his birth into the ages that are coming into existence, and living your life as a painful and lovely day in the history of a great pregnancy? Don't you see how everything that happens is again and again a beginning, and couldn't it be His beginning, since, in itself, starting is always so beautiful? If he is the most perfect one, must not what is less perfect precede him, so that he can choose himself out of fullness and superabundance? Must he not be the last one, so that he can include everything in himself, and what meaning would we have if he whom we are longing for has already existed?
Looking back at this beautiful passage of Rilke, which I first heard quoted in an Advent sermon seventeen years ago by Laurens van der Post, I now think of Teilhard de Chardin’s idea of Christ as the Omega point of the universe of space and time, or as my friends in the Community of the Holy Spirit invoke the Trinity at the end of their chanting of the Psalms, “Source of all being, Incarnate Word, and Holy Spirit,” or as St. Paul wrote, “Source, Guide, and Goal.”
This idea of Rilke’s and de Chardin’s, that came to me through Sir Laurens those many years ago, is helpful for us, living today with problems that seem quite disconnected to a Christ who came only at a moment in time past. The perils of our planet are unprecedented, and thus we need a Christ who of this complex now. As this Christ comes to us in the present and in the culminating future, he is born always connected to the needs of the world now and to come. That is, this Christ is one who is able to heal the suffering of this world.
Come, Savior Christ, be born to us today. Amen.