Category Archives: rector-blog

Reflections on January 6, Epiphany 2021

Many years ago, I was watching news coverage of flooding in the Midwest. On the television screen was an aerial view of a broad swath of brown murky water covering the rooftops of a community. As far as the eye could see, there was water. It was everywhere. As I was watching this awesome and destructive mass of water covering the community, I heard the newscaster say, “… and here is the Mississippi River at flood stage.”

Looking at the water covering the town, I immediately thought, this is not a river. This is simply a body of water, flowing wherever it can, destroying any and everything in its path. My next thought was, what makes a body of water a river? A river has banks. A river’s banks are borders and boundaries. The banks direct and guide the water to where it is meant to go. Some rivers go to larger rivers and eventually all rivers and streams find their way to the sea. A river without banks is not a river. The banks of a river provide order, direction, and purpose to the water. Otherwise, the water is a formless void capable of inflicting violence and destruction on anything in its path.

We humans, like water, need boundaries, borders. We need rules and laws. Without them, we can be prone to chaos and even destruction. For most people of faith, our foundational set of laws are the 10 Commandments. These commandments focus us on our call to be in relationship with God and each other. For citizens of the United States, our foundational documents, creating our rights and obligations as Americans, are the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution.

Like many of you, I watched with horror and dismay the events of January 6, unfolding in our nation’s Capitol on the Feast Day of Epiphany, disbelieving my own eyes. The crowd which surged toward and into the Capitol Building reminded me of the Mississippi river at flood stage. They might have had a purpose, but as far as I could tell, it was not in keeping or consistent with any faith tradition or the founding tenets of our great democracy. They were destructive, violent, and chaotic. They were like a river which had overflowed its banks.

Given our public and political discourse over the last several years, and the ever-increasing tension which has accompanied the conversations, I don’t think any of the events of January 6 came as a total and complete surprise to anyone. Maybe the scene of American citizens smashing windows, breaking down doors and ransacking the Congressional offices in our Capitol was the shock we needed to our collective conscious to show us we need to reevaluate who we are and what it means to be an American.

We need to repent—literally, we need a change of heart. We need to restore our collective national identity as Americans, which transcends political parties, race, creed, and ethnicity. We need an epiphany—a manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something. As the Declaration of Independence declares, we must always remember the self-evident truth that “all men [humanity] are created equal…” Remembering that in our Baptismal Covenant, we have promised to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” (BCP, p. 305).

 The gospel truth is this: we are all made in the image of God; we are children of God—each and every one of us. Without Christ, I am a formless void capable of destructive and violent actions and behavior. We all are. When we fail to remember and follow the inspired wisdom and direction of our nation’s foundational documents, we can resort to mob rule. That is what we recently witnessed. As Americans we are better than this. As Christians we are called to a much higher standard. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbor as ourselves; loving each other as our Lord Jesus Christ loves us.  Please let’s join together following Jesus, striving to be children of God, one to another, and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

Blessings, grace, peace, and love,

“What is Truth?”

And so says Pilate to Jesus on Good Friday just a few hours before Jesus is nailed to the cross and crucified. Jesus has just told Pilate that he came to testify to the truth and everyone who is “of the truthhears his voice. To this bold and powerful statement, Pilate wonders about the nature and, I suspect, the existence, probability and even possibility of truth.

Pilate was a politician, someone who was good at quickly discerning and pivoting to position himself to be on the right and “winning” side of issues. For Pilate, the truth was never a fixed and permanent position. The truth was always subservient to power, politics, prestige and wealth. Truth was always wrapped up in what was best for Pilate.

Pilate’s question to Jesus is especially important in the current situation we face in our culture and country. We are divided along so many lines. We have lost faith and trust in many of our leaders and institutions. I suspect many of us have asked this same question recently as we threw down the newspaper, changed the channel or turned off the TV set. What, indeed, is Truth? And how do we know and claim it?

In this time of pandemic and Covid-19 our lives and schedules have been altered and greatly disrupted. Our means of communicating and interacting have changed. For many of us, how and where we receive information is different. All of these changes have left many of us feeling untethered, disconnected and uprooted.

For me, I am able to find, discern and follow “truth” when I am connected to the Truth, which, I believe, is Jesus. When I say that Jesus is Truth (I call it “big T” truth), I am not necessarily talking about readily discernible “facts.” Facts are what I call “little t” truth. There is a difference between “big T” and “little t” truth.

Many years ago, in seminary, I was introduced to icons as an aid for prayer and meditation. My favorite icon is of Jesus as The Christ Pantocrator (Almighty) from St. Catherine’s Monastery at Sinai. This is thought to be the oldest known icon of Jesus. I have a copy of this icon at home, in my office, as well as a laminated bookmark I use in books I am reading. I have spent countless hours meditating and praying while gazing at this powerful and mysterious image of Jesus.

I must admit when I first began to “look” at this icon, it made me uncomfortable. His eyes challenged, humbled and, at times, shamed me. Even though this was “just” an artistic representation of Jesus, I did not feel worthy to gaze into his eyes. After a few seconds, I had to turn away. But when I turned back to look into his eyes while allowing those same eyes to look into my own and then into my heart, I began to sense his love, his love for me. Along with his love, I experienced his forgiveness, his patience, his mercy and his grace. Of course, when I first began this journey with Jesus, I couldn’t articulate all that he was “sharing” with me. I just knew that he cared, that I mattered, and that he believed in me, even more than I might believe in myself.

As I looked into the eyes of love that Jesus shared with me, I was invited to live into the Truth of that love. He invited me to become in my own eyes what I already was in his eyes—a child of God, made in the image of God. I am still in process of becoming who Jesus has told me I am. I often forget, doubt, mess up and find myself in a ditch. And yet, he still looks me in the eye and lovingly reminds me of the Truth he continually whispers into my heart. I am his, marked as his own forever.

When Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Jesus said no words, he simply looked at him. I believe that Pilate never forgot that look. For a time, I suspect he was haunted by that look, by those eyes. But I believe the more he remembered and thought about that last look, the more the light of love began to shine through into his heart. In that light, Pilate began to see the glory and wonder of Jesus’ Truth as well as the illusive and deceitful nature of his own “truth.”

In the weeks and months ahead, we will surely find ourselves, like Pilate, asking “what is truth?” countless times. We might easily become fearful, anxious, disillusioned, cynical, hard-hearted or enraged. Or we can turn our gaze to Jesus. We can ask him to share his Truth with us. We can listen as he whispers into our heart—“my Truth is your Truth.” You are loved. You are made in my image. You are my child. And this Truth—we must always remember—is shared by all of us, all of humanity. And so, we love our neighbor, strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being. (“Baptismal Covenant,” Book of Common Prayer, p.305)

Whenever we read or hear or see anything that conflicts or contradicts or otherwise diminishes this Truth, we must name it and call it out for the lie that it is. Please, let us know our Truth, the Truth given to us at Baptism—we are children of God, marked as Christ’s own forever. Believe it, live it, proclaim it. Our world is hungry to know this Truth.

Grace, peace and love,

Remembering John Lewis and wondering whether we can hear the words “Black lives matter” as a Gospel Mandate

Like so many Americans, I was saddened to hear of the death of John Lewis, Congressman from Georgia. He was a man deeply grounded in the gospel of Jesus and committed to the nonviolent principles he learned in his work with Martin Luther King. At an early age he articulated his beliefs and principles as one of the speakers, along with Dr. King, at the 1963 March on Washington, where King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Some two years later he was called to live out his beliefs as he walked over the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

Recently, while reading an article about Congressman Lewis, my eyes kept coming back to the photo above the story. It was a photograph from Selma, Alabama, my hometown, of “Bloody Sunday” when peaceful marchers were attacked by law enforcement officers as they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge at the beginning of their march to Montgomery. A large group of state troopers are chasing the marchers back over the bridge, with Billy clubs raised and gas masks covering their faces. One trooper is standing over a fallen man, Billy club in his hand and arm raised. The fallen man has his hand on his head. This man is John Lewis. The blow from the state trooper’s Billy club cracked his skull.

I remember as a 10-year old seeing this same picture in our local newspaper. Then, my 10-year old eyes were not drawn to the injured man. Instead, all I could see was the sign on the building across the street which said, “Haisten’s Mattress & Awning, Invest in Rest.” Mr. Haisten, who owned this business, lived down the street from me and I knew him and his wife since the boys in the neighborhood often had to climb their fence to retrieve errant baseballs which landed in their yard.

When I looked at that picture in March 1965, I did not see violence or oppression. I did not see a young black man being wrongfully assaulted. I just saw “Haisten’s Mattress & Awning, Invest in Rest.” That is all that mattered to my young 10-year old eyes. The life, the health, the well-being and safety of that young man didn’t matter. In short, his Black life did not matter.

The life of John Lewis did not matter to the state trooper who was wantonly striking him on the skull. The lives of the marchers did not matter to the Selma, Alabama Police Department. Their lives did not matter to the Dallas County Sherriff’s Department. Their lives did not matter to the State of Alabama. The lives of the black citizens who were wrongfully beaten as they crossed the bridge on “Bloody Sunday” did not matter to so very many in the United States of America until they saw on their television sets that evening what happened on that Sunday afternoon on a bridge in Selma, Alabama. And then, for many, Black lives, for a time, mattered.

We have come a long way since Bloody Sunday and the Selma to Montgomery march but still the phrase “Black lives matter” proclaims we as a country are not where we ought to be. The Black Lives Matter movement began as a response to the killing of Trayvon Martin in Florida and other violence inflicted upon Black individuals and communities. Since that time, and especially in the last few months, Black Lives Matter has become highly politicized, both by the left and the right. Like so many issues in our country today, Black Lives Matter has become a lightning rod, hot button topic in our highly polarized society.

I am writing about Black lives matter—not the movement, but our fellow American citizens whose skin color is black—because, for far too long, many in our country have acted as if the lives of Black people did not matter. I did not choose to write about this to proclaim my political allegiance to any party or politician. I feel compelled to write about this because, in these troubled times, I am struggling as hard as I can to follow Jesus and love my neighbor as myself. I am trying to work out “with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) exactly how I “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being” (Book of Common Prayer, p.305).

I often say, especially in these strange times we find ourselves in, that we are all children of God, each of us made in the image of God, bearing the divine spark of the Holy Spirit within each of us. If that is the truth—and I believe it is—then why should we have to single out one particular group of people proclaiming that they matter? Does that phrase signify that Black lives matter more or are different than other segments of the population?

One doesn’t have to look too far or dig too deeply to see that Black lives in our country are generally at a disadvantage in so many different ways when compared to other groups. As a people, and a race, Black Americans are disproportionately impacted regarding access to voting, quality education and health care. Black Americans, especially males, are more likely than other races to experience violence at the hands of law enforcement. Similarly, when one looks at arrests and sentencing, the Black population is adversely impacted at a much higher rate than other groups. The unemployment rates are higher and average wages are lower for Black Americans than other segments of our population.

In our Declaration of Independence, we say that all men (humans) are created equal and that we are “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And yet, for our entire history, Black Americans have faced barriers and obstacles keeping them from accessing these “unalienable Rights.” It is a stark judgement on our democracy and political system that a great segment of our population is denied or has restricted access to many of the rights and privileges of basic citizenship.

This is the political reality, but I want to address the gospel mandate to pay attention to and care for “the least of these” (Matthew 25:44-46). In this gospel passage, Jesus speaks about the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the sick and those in prison, asking how we have treated them. He reminds us that, inasmuch as we bless or ignore these children of God, we are blessing or ignoring Him. In our country, Black Americans are disproportionately hungry, thirsty, treated as strangers, sick and in prison. In short, in our society they are “the least of these.”

This is why I don’t believe we can say “all lives matter” and then proclaim we are following the gospel of Jesus Christ. To say simply that “all lives matter” is a way for white people – like me — to get ourselves “off the hook” saying, in effect, nothing is inherently and systemically wrong in our culture and society; that the status quo is just fine. In the United States, quite often the laws, the criminal justice system, access to voting, healthcare, and other basic unalienable rights work to the disadvantage of a specific segment of our population. Not only that, but those same societal structures have benefited the white population generation after generation, creating systemic benefits that further the racial divide.

“Black Lives Matter” does not purport that other lives do not matter. Rather, it is a declaration that a race does, in fact, matter, despite societal structures repeatedly telling and showing otherwise. To say that “all lives matter” can be a way for white people to ignore the truth that our culture and its conscious or unconscious biases have repeatedly said some lives — often white lives — matter more than others.

As Christians we are called to follow Jesus, loving God and our neighbors—all of them. In the Episcopal tradition, our Baptismal Covenant calls us to “strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.”

If we are to do what Christ calls us to do and be the people Christ calls us to be, we must prayerfully discern how our thoughts, words, deeds, as well as the structures of our society, impact, marginalize and discriminate against people of color. Jesus says how we treat “the least of these” is how we are treating Him. If we are to take Jesus at his word, when we fail to recognize and act to address these societal issues, we are ignoring the very presence of Christ in our midst

Blessings, grace and peace,

Thoughts on the sin of racism

The world, as it is at this present point in time, is unlike anything I have every experienced. The United States of America, my home, is becoming unrecognizable to me. It seems as if the very fabric of our society is unraveling before our eyes. The pandemic, as bad, dangerous and destructive as it has been seems almost secondary—and I don’t say this lightly—compared to the horror of seeing a police officer murder an unarmed man, George Floyd, in broad daylight, with witnesses and fellow “law enforcement officers” calmly looking on.

As you all know, I was born and raised in Selma, Alabama, and have witnessed the destructive horror and evil of racism. I know that sin—the sin of racism especially—unaddressed and unconfessed will continue to eat away at the soul of a society and a people. My hometown has struggled because of what happened in Selma in 1965. So much of what happened leading up to, during and following the events of 1965 has never been addressed, confessed and repented of. Because it is so painful, I don’t think the hard work of reconciliation has ever been done, and though most of the adults who were present at the time of the 1965 Civil Rights marches in Selma have died, the generational sin and impact of what happened over 50 years ago still survives.

Unfortunately, Selma’s situation is not unique. The generational sins of slavery, lynching, Jim Crow laws and state sanctioned segregation continue to haunt, impact and infect our entire country, not just the South. Redemption, renewal, and reconciliation can only come through an awareness of sin and the turning towards the new life promised to us in Christ’s resurrection. But where and how do we begin to make this spiritual turn, as individuals, as a people, as a country?

I believe the Martyrs of Uganda, whose feast day I recently celebrated, show us a way forward. On June 3, 1886, 32 young men, pages of the court of King Mwanga, were burned to death for their failure to renounce their faith in Christ. When Christianity was introduced in Uganda under a prior King, some nine years earlier, it flourished among the members of the royal court. King Mwanga, when he ascended to the throne, was angered that some of the converts to Christianity were placing loyalty to Christ above loyalty to the King. When the young men refused to pledge their total loyalty to Mwanga he sentenced them to death. On their way to their death, the young men sang hymns and prayed for their enemies.

The witness of these faithful martyrs offers me hope in these troubled, tumultuous and divisive times. In the United States, battle lines have been drawn along all sorts of lines- political (especially), economic, racial, religious, etc. The divisions have been especially strong among “people of faith,” those who profess a belief in a “higher power.” It seems that the draw of loyalty to something or someone other than Jesus has been the dominant pull for many. What if our loyalty to Christ was above our loyalty to political party or candidate? Or country? What if we looked at each other through the eyes of Christ, letting our loyalty to Christ lead the way? As 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; the old has passed away.”

The Martyrs of Uganda have much to say to us at this crucial time in history, calling us to proclaim Jesus as Lord, rather than the civil authorities and our elected officials. Our Lord Jesus calls us to tend his sheep and to follow Him. May we have the courage and wisdom to do so.

Blessings, grace and peace,

To learn more about the Martyrs of Uganda, click here.

We invite you to join us this summer in reading our book club selection, How to be an Antiracist by Ibram Kendi