Convention Address, 2014
“…So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation….”
I bring this quote from scripture to you, because of the many burdens that face humankind today. With gun violence wracking our cities, the hyper-violence of ISIS convulsing the Middle East, the impacts of climate change that beached 35,000 walruses in Alaska in the past month, pandemics like HIV/AIDs and Ebola and global economics that are growing disparities in incomes across the globe and in the Bay Area - we understand brokenness and a need for healing on many levels. In our world today, reconciliation is needed but perhaps feels to be in short supply.
What I want to share with you this morning in our time together, is our legacy of hope as Christians, and the assurance we can take from Christ’s great ocean of reconciled creation. I want to begin with a story from an experience with others in another faith tradition, and then to talk about our role in being the Beloved Community, forwarding Christ’s reconciliation in the world, what I witness happening in own diocese to bind up wounds, and lastly, to talk about Christ leading us personally.
Our Episcopal tradition and Being the Beloved Community
One of the prominent features of our diverse diocese is its religious diversity. There are not only many languages, cultures, and races here, we have every possible expression of religion, from the great world religions to indigenous religions followed by immigrant groups from all over the world. From shamans to Buddhism, from Sufism to Pentecostal Christianity, it is all here.
And, as with the tremendous learning that comes from our other expressions of diversity coming together in classrooms, neighborhoods, and workplaces, the coming together of religions is a potent way to learn – to learn about other ways of seeking God, or meaning in life, but also to learn more about one’s own faith by seeing it in the context of other faiths. Over the last two years I have had my own powerful interfaith experience, with Tibetan Buddhists.
Through serendipity I have been able to participate in two big Tibetan Buddhist retreat weekends, as one of the keynote speakers. The theme for these weekends was Being Brave: Is Enlightened Society Possible? As I listened to the Buddhist keynote speakers, Pema Chodron and the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, I began to hear that enlightened society is possible because, in their view, of the basic goodness of humanity.
Unlike some religious views, including views held within the world of Christianity, that see human nature as at best neutral, a blank slate waiting to be filled in, good or bad, or at worst as hopelessly depraved, Tibetan Buddhism holds that humans are essentially good. As this basic goodness is manifested it can spread, to a community, a society, and finally the world.
What came to mind while listening to these inspiring Buddhist leaders talk about Enlightened Society was the vision statement we constructed seven years ago for the Diocese of California: The Beloved Community Vision Statement. Enlightened Society, Beloved Community – there was an instant resonance between these two evocative terms.
Enlightened Society emerges from basic human goodness, in Tibetan Buddhist thought. Of course Buddhism recognizes that goodness is clouded, and thus that society is far from enlightened. Practices of mindfulness uncover the basic goodness in the human heart and allow it to shine forth. What about the Beloved Community – how does it come to be?
The phrase Beloved Community surfaced in the very early 1900s within the Fellowship of Reconciliation. In the mid-twentieth century, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation used Beloved Community extensively in his writing, sermons and lectures. Here is one example of Dr. King’s use of Beloved Community:
“There is another element that must be present in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community.”
April 15, 1960, in Raleigh, North Carolina
Mindfulness in Buddhism helps manifest Enlightened Society; reconciliation leads to the Beloved Community in Martin Luther King’s Christian vision. There is a way that Christian reconciliation is akin to mindfulness revealing basic human goodness in Buddhism, and this is the underlying work of Christ in the world. St. Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth:
16 From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view;[b] even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view,[c] we know him no longer in that way. 17 So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,[d] not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
The basic work of reconciliation is the work of Christ, and the reconciling work of Christ was to reunite humanity and all creation with God. The reconciled state is something that is, like basic goodness in Buddhism. But as observed earlier, reconciliation seems to be as lacking in our world as basic goodness, much less Beloved Community and Enlightened Society. In the face of suffering and injustice and an imperiled earth, what is our role in bringing Christ’s reconciliation in showing forth the Beloved Community?
Our role in being the Beloved Community, forwarding Christ’s reconcilation in the world
Like so many philosophic and spiritual terms, reconciliation may have had its start in an every-day, practical usage, something like reconciling the monthly (daily, momentary) statement from the bank with your own record of spending. Reconciliation soon came to mean bringing people at variance with one another into concord, and eventually reconciliation was understood in its most profound sense to be making peace between people and God.
There is something so liberating, though, to start with the idea of an existing peace between God and us. Christ made this peace, reconciled us through his faithful life, though it is his death, with arms outstretched on the hard wood of the cross that has become the universal symbol of Jesus Christ’s reconciling the world. His outstretched arms sum up all his work through his life of bringing people at odds with one another into peace.
Neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, man nor woman…these polarities are joined, connected, brought into a dynamic peaceful relationship by the outstretched arms of Jesus Christ. What we understand as Christians is that the flourishing of the Beloved Community appears in our midst as a result of following Jesus in his universal work of reconciliation. As our patron saint, Francis living and working in a small geographic area of Italy was constantly seeking reconciliation, so we work in our own circles here in the Diocese of California.
Francis of Assisi drew on the strength that came from his own inner reconciliation – the fit of his life with what he was truly called to be, and the following binding of his life with the life of Christ – to be a reconciler. He worked for the reconciliation of the poor with the wealthy, the ill with the well, Creation with humanity, Christian with Muslim. In the same way that Francis drew on the pre-existing, underlying strength of the reconciliation that was the work of Christ to be himself a reconciler, so we too are invited by God to draw on this ever-present power of love. This is like the presence of basic goodness. The end of this, as Dr. King said, is the Beloved Community. Thinking about all of this, I began to see that the Beloved Community already is here co-existent with our Christian community we prosaically call the Diocese of California (and not only here, but spread out over the world, but let’s just deal with home for now). It has broken forth because of the reconciling work of Christ and the subsequent work of the many followers of Christ who have gone before us in this diocese, and because of your own faithfulness now.
The history of the Diocese of California is full of examples of reconciliation in the name and spirit of Christ: every congregation is a meeting place, a community of disparate people finding unity around the table of the sacred meal of Christ; our diocesan institutions make reconciliation by helping people out of the isolation of homelessness or illness or poverty, and into communion.
The Diocese of California is binding up wounds
There are so many stories now of our congregations making partnerships with each other for common ministry. The four congregations in East and Central Contra Costa that are now the Holy Spirit Churches; Half Moon Bay and Belmont reaffirming their relationship and calling a new vicar together; San Bruno and South San Francisco doing the same; five congregations in Marin having one youth group with one youth minister; the congregations of Southern Alameda continuing to take a vestry retreat once a year together, and planning common work together; St. Matthew’s, San Mateo and St. Paul’s, Burlingame sharing youth ministry; the Immersion (not “mission”) Trip with youth from All Souls Berkeley, Christ Church Alameda, Church of the Resurrection Pleasant Hill and St Paul’s Walnut Creek – these are just some examples.
And, our congregations continue to stretch themselves to be essential, active partners with their neighborhoods. Good Shepherd, Berkeley is now providing lunches for the day laborers who wait for jobs just outside the church building, and the day laborers have offered their skills in gardening to parish garden; Holy Trinidad, Richmond has expanded its after school tutoring program for neighborhood children; food pantries and produce markets based in our congregations have sprung up across the diocese; Yoga on the Labyrinth is drawing over 700 young adults into the cathedral every Tuesday evening! – Transfiguration San Mateo is holding conversations among local Jewish and Christian leaders; and the emerging Braid ministry to foster youth in the growing Mission Bay neighborhood. All of the above collaborations and outreach efforts are indicative, and in no way complete or comprehensive. Please share with me the great examples of reconciliation springing from your congregations and your collaborations that I didn’t mention! Better yet, work with Joseph to get them in front of the whole diocese!
A powerful, direct example of the work of reconciliation moving in the diocese now is the new Urban Peace Collaboration. The Task Force sponsored a forum and prayer march on October 4, St. Francis Day. Over 80 people from around the diocese, from the San Francisco Organizing Project, and members of Soldiers Against Violence Everywhere from Oakland met at St. Francis’ Church, San Francisco. We heard eloquent, straight-from-the-heart witness from African-American pastors from Oakland and Imam Abu Qadir Al Amin from the Islamic Center here in San Francisco.
Pastor Michael McBride spoke with anger and from his pain about having gone to Ferguson as a Christian reconciler, and, because of his race having been shot with rubber bullets and tear-gassed. His lived experience was so many worlds away from mine, but coming together in the parish hall of St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church, and all of us making room for each other to speak and be heard brought my experience of safety and privilege together with Pastor Michael’s experience. The arms of Christ connected us, not dissolving our differences, but bringing us into relationship. There is tremendous spiritual power in being connected to each other across our differences, power that God can use to change the world.
Last night, in the opening Eucharist of Diocesan Convention we heard Dr. Jenny Te Paa Daniel preach from within the context of reconciliation in the Asian communities of the diocese. The Asian Commission has been working with Dr. Te Paa Daniels and with Eric Metoyer for the better part of this year, preparing for this convention. The intention of my invitation to the Asian Commission for this year was to continue the deep exploration begun by the Racial Reconciliation Task Force, an exploration that covered four years and focused on the question, recommended to every diocese of the Church by the last General Convention, to what extent did the diocese profit from African-American slavery.
Our Diocesan Convention last year received the Racial Reconciliation Task Force’s report, and brought our thoughts, our feelings, and hopes, our repentance into the Convention Eucharist and into discussions on the Saturday of Convention. We had already decided, before last year’s Convention to honor the great diversity of our diocese and go beyond the initiating question about African-American history and the quest for reconciliation there. We decided to invite similar reconciliation processes for Asians, for Latino/Latinas, for those being trafficked in the contemporary world.
Significantly, the Asian Commission does not bring us a tidy package of reconciliation around the histories of the various cultures that make up being Asian in the Bay Area. I welcome the stories they have brought to us, and appreciate the honesty in naming the fact that the work of reconciliation is still not finished – perhaps it is barely begun. But I equally thank them, and the Afro-Anglican Commission before them for taking these first, resonant and formative steps towards reconciliation in our diocese.
Throughout the history of Christianity we have believed that localized work, like that of St. Francis, or your faith community in the diocese, or simply in your life circle, created reverberations that were heard throughout creation. We might say that this is because all our work of reconciliation is carried out within the reconciliation of Christ. Today, though, there is a new meaning to local reconciliation having global effects.
When we look at the world and speak of global reconciliation, we begin to feel the brokenness of the natural order, of all life including human life. When the Apostle wrote that “the Creation has been subjected to futility” and that “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God,” we see a recognition of the need for reconciliation for all life, for the life of the planet, as well as for people.
Here too, in the area of ecological work, the Diocese of California has been tirelessly seeking reconciliation. I feel confident that many of our congregations will join the nine that already have installed solar panels on their roofs, and that by the end of 2015 a majority of our 80 congregations will be producing solar power. Also during 2015 we will be able to give $40,000 in small grants to congregations for environmental projects. And, from the tipping point that was the People’s Climate March in New York, we will see continued advocacy and activism on climate issues by many people in the Diocese of California.
Christ leads us personally
I was a fairly new bishop back in 2003, at my first General Convention, a momentous convention because we confirmed the election of Gene Robinson as the Bishop of New Hampshire. Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold hosted, during that convention a forum on the topic of global reconciliation. Like the Beloved Community this phrase, global reconciliation fired my imagination, but also like Beloved Community, it was mysterious to me.
There were big names on the panel – the Presiding Bishop himself, Jeffrey Sachs and Archbishop Ndungane. And there were less well known young adults presenting, Abigail Nelson and Ranjit Mathews among them. The stories these two young adults told inspired me so much, and I heard a deep pattern shared between them.
Both Abigail and Ranjit had studied about global poverty and the transnational economies connected to global poverty. Abigail had studied, as an example, the chain of economic activity that brought shrimp from coastal South America to your plate at a local seafood restaurant. Through making the connections between South American fishermen and U.S. consumers, Abigail was doing a particular form of the work of reconciliation, drawing together disconnected parts into a whole largely unrecognized.
While Abigail was doing her field research in South America she volunteered at an AIDS clinic. Sitting by the bed of a man who was in his last moments of life, she held his hand to comfort him. To her great fear, in the moment, he reached up with his last energy and embraced her. She was afraid of his sores, his emaciated body, of his disease. But in the embrace itself she felt joy, she felt within herself the overcoming of the difference between her and him. It was this particular, local, dramatic experience of reconciliation that transformed Abigail. The more theoretical work, to which she was committed suddenly became meaningful in a new way. The local became cosmic, the cosmic local.
I wanted to bring Abigail’s powerful story to you at the end of this talk, because it is these transformative moments when we move forward despite our fears, resting on the grace of reconciliation already won and the confidence of Christ with us, that is the hope and good news. Christ is born in each Christian soul, and the ministry of Christ takes place within that soul, bringing forth transfigured individuals. The reconciling work of Christ is not external to you as a person, it blossoms within you.
Following the close of my remarks, I hope that each table and each person will take the time to reflect on the power of reconciliation through Christ - how have you known that for yourself and your community, and if you can - share your story with another.
Let us be thankful that we have been given the ministry of reconciliation in this moment, when it is essential that we think and act locally and globally for humans and for every form of life, and for the planet itself. Let us be thankful that we reconcile in the frame of the universal reconciliation of Jesus Christ. Let us be thankful that Christ has reconciled us to God. In thanksgiving, let us stretch out our own arms in solidarity with our brother Francis and his teacher, savior and brother Jesus.