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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,
Robert+

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

We have a new assistant priest!

The Rev. Michele Simmons, our next assistant priest

The Rev. Michele Simmons

I am excited to announce to you that I have called Michele Simmons to be my new assistant. She is a senior seminarian at Sewanee from the Diocese of Colorado. If you were paying attention to March 11’s entry in our Lent Devotion Book, you’ll have gotten a brief introduction to Michele’s theological perspective already.  In early September, Derrick Hill, the rector of St. Timothy’s, recommended I talk to Michele who completed her field work at St. Timothy’s as their seminarian. Her preaching, teaching and involvement in the life of the parish were a great addition to St. Timothy’s while she was with them.

Michele and I have been in conversation since mid-January. She spent an afternoon with our staff, as well as some time with a few members of the parish. When I was able to see her interact with our staff and Good Shepherd folks, I felt that she would be a perfect fit in our parish and a wonderful addition to our staff. Moreover, I believe she will be a very good partner for me and that we can work well together.

Michele is originally from California and graduated from the University of California, Davis. She worked for over 20 years in the national park service, serving in California, Arizona, Nevada, Alaska and finally, Colorado. In her work in the national park system, she did a great deal of teaching and training of guides. I am especially excited about her work with the training of guides because I believe this will be an aide to us in developing more lay leaders within our parish.

Also, her love of nature will be a plus for activities like parish hikes, family camp and other outdoor events that she could coordinate and lead. Clearly her previous job as a park ranger reflects her love of creation and the outdoors. I am excited to see how she can use that love to help our community to grow in our love and appreciation of the outdoors and God’s creation.

On a personal level, I really love her varied experiences of all the churches she has been involved in throughout her adult life. Because she moved around in her work, she had to worship in whatever church community existed wherever she lived. And wherever she lived, she made sure to become involved in a faith community. This shows an adaptability and openness to other traditions as well as the capacity to live with those who might think differently. Furthermore, as we attract more and more people who did not grow up in the Episcopal tradition, her real life church experience should serve us, as well as our newcomers, well. She also has a quiet, peaceful presence and wisdom that will, I believe, draw y’all in.

Her gifts of preaching, teaching and her warm, friendly, approachable and wise presence will be a comfort to many that will transcend both age and gender. Finally, I am excited to have a female priest as a colleague. We have had female priests for much of our history, but not in the past 10 years. Her voice and experience will, I believe, be a great gift to us all.

You can get a taste for her sermons and preaching style on her YouTube channel. Click here to access a selection of her sermons. I think you will enjoy hearing her. She is quite a good preacher.  Please feel free to drop Michele a line and welcome her to Good Shepherd.  You can email her at michele@gslookout.com.

Grace and peace,
Robert+

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