Full Court Christians

What a significant week this has been in the life of our country!  From the extradition efforts on Edward Snowden to the repeal of protections of the Voting Rights Act, to the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act to the upholding of Proposition 8 in California.  On the State front there is still inadequate funding for our schools, major attacks on women’s health, and the immediate movement to obstruct full participation of people of color in our democracy.

As Christians, our baptismal covenant requires of us to seek and serve Christ in all people and to respect the dignity of every person.  Our worlds coalesce today as our politicians and jurists put before us stark and nuanced choices about the worth of persons.  How we treat and think about those who differ from us is a sign of God’s presence or absence in the world.

We may not all agree on every policy that comes down the line as Christians.  As followers of Jesus though, we have to insist on respecting every human person and to do the work of our Lord.  Healing, embracing those at the margins, proclaiming freedom, working for wholeness, caring for the widows and orphans and the demon possessed is our ministry.

Today a major step has been taken in our country by the Supreme Court’s striking down of DOMA and Proposition 8.  Full justice has not been achieved.  May we continue as the Church to model dignity and work for it.


Death and Transformation

White LilyDeath and resurrection are the two poles around which the Christian life rotates.  This elemental rhythm of the life of Jesus is the one his friends dance to as well.  We see this transformation happening all around us because we are looking for it.

Last Sunday as we celebrated the witnessing and blessing of Gary Patterson and Jeff Meadow’s lifelong covenant.  The sense of resurrection joy was palpable.  The love in the room genuinely lifted the rafters.  The music soared.  The smiles were contagious.

Our sense of resurrection sprang from our previous experiences of death, which, of course, take many forms as well.  Some of us are carrying the cross of weariness.  Others of us have suffered estrangement from our families.  Others of us bear the stripes of the culture wars.  Death bears down on us and yet is not the final word in God’s vocabulary.

Transformation happens!  What was dead becomes reborn.  Hopelessness succumbs to possibility.  As we begin our walk into Holy Week this Sunday, let us become mindful of God’s beat in the world around us and within us.  Let’s use this time to reclaim the dance of our faith.

One of the ways we observe resurrection is to offer thanks for special people and to remember  those who have died by offering flowers at  Easter.  If you’d like to order lilies, and see our Easter Sunday activity schedule, please click here.

Amazing Place

This Monday, I had the privilege of going to Amazing Place, a ministry to those who are living with dementia, with our choir from St. Stephen’s School and a number of parishioners from St. Stephen’s Church.  There we were with 30 folks who ranged in age from 45 to 80 something, whose memories are now less reliable, singing our hearts out to Christmas carols.

One participant caught my eye.  He was probably in his seventies and he could no longer read, but he knew the music.  He kept time by pounding out on the table the rhythms to “Rudolf the Red Nosed and Reindeer” and the other songs we sang with utter joy.  He captured the glory of the season by his exuberance.  Light was breaking into darkness.  He beheld it and so did we.

These winter holidays, whether we are observing Advent/Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanza, invite us to hone our skills at seeing light as being more powerful than darkness; good triumphing over evil.  We develop this sensibility through symbols and song, not only through intellectual argument.  Our children and students learn to hope and to live a good life by sharing in the light—singing, serving, cooking, eating together, lighting candles, hearing stories.   Our children come to name these longings by doing these practices with us.  These experiences last, even when darkness falls on our bodies and minds.

As we face the struggles and obligations of this season, I hope we can keep our focus on the light and on the practices that nurture it.  Let’s let  the other stuff go.

New School Chaplain

Diversity.  Living Tradition. Union of faith and reason.  These are marks of both St. Stephen’s Church and  School.

I was reminded of this as I gazed out over the faculty this week as we gathered for in serve, under the leadership of our interim Head of School, David Coe.  Men and women spanning a wide age range, coming from a variety of socio-economic, cultural and religious backgrounds, holding a variety of faiths and none at all, our faculty share a love of students, a commitment to critical thinking, and integrity.

One of the new developments this year is the addition of a chaplain to their ranks.  St. Stephen’s Church and School have collaborated to create this new part-time position to lead worship, teach, research religion curriculum, and organize community service.  Chapel in an Episcopal school setting is not conceived of in the same way as worship in the parish.  According to the National Association of Episcopal Schools’ Guidelines of Good Practices,

  • The school has a fundamental commitment to be an inclusive community grounded in respect for each of its members. The religious pluralism of the school community provides a magnificent opportunity to foster the religious and spiritual formation of people from a variety of religious backgrounds…
  • Episcopal schools have been established, however, not solely as communities for Christians but as diverse ministries of educational and human formation for people of all faiths and backgrounds. Much as Jesus spoke to all present before him, both followers and non-believers, Episcopal school worship embraces the full breadth of the human family.

The Rector, Head of School, and Chaplain work together to steward to school’s spiritual life and to develop its Episcopal identity.

I have called Ryan Beaty, an ordained Assemblies of God minister, to serve as chaplain this school year.  He will work with me to create meaningful worship, to serve our school community pastorally, to begin to cultivate the service learning and world religion classes at our school.  Ryan has extensive experience working with children and youth, writing curricula, and leading worship.  He also brings experience in innovation and technology in church contexts.  While Ryan will guide the day to day spiritual life at our School, I will be responsible for insuring the Episcopal identity of our offerings.

I am excited about this new partnership and the school year and I welcome Ryan into our community of faith and learning.

Making Community

As we are kicking into the academic New Year around St. Stephen’s, I am struck by how much of our mission involves us in the fostering of human beings.  We will begin our Christian Education offerings for children and youth on August 26, our offerings in mission and study will be showcased in the Outreach Festival on the 26th after church, our day school students will enter freshly painted halls on August 27, and our afterschool program which will welcome middle school students on August 27 as well.  Our Christian ministry is predicated on the care and love we find in Christ.  In turn we offer it for the life of the world.

You cannot buy community, you make it.

There is much talk now on the eve of the party conventions of the role of government and its size.  Many of us disagree about this.  One thing is sure to me, the size and role of government or markets is not synonymous with the vision and requirements of Christian faith and practice.  As Christian citizens of the United States, my primary loyalty and values are shaped by the Scripture, Christian tradition and reason.  The bottom line for me is not profit, but human dignity.  At the end of the day what is important for me is not change that I can believe in, but whether the poor are truly cared for and that I don’t kill God’s children.

I am reading Michael Sandel’s new book, What Money Can’t Buy:  The Moral Limits of Markets.  He argues that economics is an insufficient lens through which to make decisions on many moral issues.  He is not an anti-capitalist; rather he suggests that while markets are good for many things, alone they fail us in determining the good.

We are entering a new season.  May we engage in learning, in creating, and in questioning.



Our Earth Connection

I’ve been traveling across the Midwest to visit my mother and father in Ohio. From Texas to Arkansas, from Missouri to Illinois, from Indiana to Ohio, miles and miles of drought.  Shrivelled corn, skrawny soybeans whiz past the windows.  Looking at the distressed trees and the dusty fields, I am aware of what an urban person I am.  Living in my air conditioned cocoon, I think myself inured from the effects of global warming and the desparate longing for rain.  I would be wrong.

The ranchers and farmers whose lands I pass, are connected to me not only economically, but spiritually.  What happens to the land  literally and metaphorically touches my soul.

As urban people, we are often shut off from the seasons, let alone the rainfall.  This climate calamity calls us to recall our interconnection with the earth and one another.  I will certainly be more observant of the weather and more sympathetic to those who work the land on my behalf.

Finding the Divine in Thin Places

You never know how God will be present in seemingly random acts of kindness and justice.  Today I experienced two such glimpses through our ministry here.

St. Stephen’s will host a vigil protesting the death of Yokamon Hearn by lethal injection in Huntsville.  A group of Quakers coordinates these vigils each time a prisoner is put to death in our name.  St. Stephen’s is part of the site rotation.  It turns out that Naomi, one of our new members who was baptized here on Pentecost, has represented Mr. Hearn for six years as his lawyer.  She called to thank us for being witnesses in this way and to thank us for the support of her ministry.  She will be with his family as he is executed tonight.

The other peek at God action today took the form of Everett.  He called to tell me that he was being released from the hospital and that he has discovered that he has diabetes and will most likely become blind.  Everett has now been clean for one year.  He called to tell me that our ministry to him enabled him to get off the streets and to come to faith.  He also said that his faith will give him strength to face his surgery and the outcome.

I don’t believe in magic.  I am all about the scientific method.  I take subatomic parts seriously.

But I also know that if you look, you can find healing and hope; possibility and love poke through unexpectedly.  You can call it God or not.  I choose to see the divine in these oh so thin places.